It was an event that was different from any other. Few people know what transpired at Guba, 683 km from Addis Ababa, last Thursday before it was broadcasted live on state media outlets. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) announced that the second turbine of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) has become operational. The turbine has the capacity to produce 375 MW of energy, just 100 MW less than its actual capacity now. It is the same as the first turbine, which was inaugurated last year the same period in the same fashion.
Abiy addressed the crowd during the ceremony, where President Sahlework Zewde was present, and remarked, “This generation is not only lucky” to achieve such a historical milestone, “but also a champion.” Kifle Hora, the dam’s main engineer since Simegnew Bekele (Eng.) was found dead in the center of Addis Ababa, appeared upbeat as he briefed the PM and other authorities in attendance at the inaugural event on the dam’s present state.
When Kifle described the accomplishments made so far by his team, he appeared pleased. “We have achieved our target of operationalizing two turbines and with our current progress; the whole project will be delivered in the next two and a half years, which will enable us to generate 5,150 MW of electricity. It’s a statement made just a day before the nation announced the completion of the third filling of the giant dam, which has been a source of controversy since its inception 10 years ago.
Ethiopia seized the opportunity during the Meles Zenawi’s administration to begin building the dam following the Egyptian revolution. Meles passed away a year after the dam’s construction was put into motion, but his successors, Hailemariam Desalegn and Abiy, carried on his legacy despite having political disagreements on a number of important national issues. The dam is viewed as a symbol of national identity by Ethiopia’s political leaders.
However, Egypt views it as a danger.
Under the direction of Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, the North East African nation is utilizing all diplomatic channels to prevent Ethiopia from building the dam. Egypt has used every tool at its disposal to do this, from diplomatic pressure through western nations to military threats, as it views the dam as a threat to its survival.
Egyptian officials predict a decrease in water flow to their country if Ethiopia keeps building the dam, even though no evidence of this has been shown thus far. In fact, water flow to the two lower riparian countries is greater than ever as a result of the Nile River’s rising volume due to the robust rainy season.
In the past two years, Sudan has experienced flooding, whilst Egypt has received a supply of about 860 million cubic meters, or about one billion daily. Sudan even got to the point where it drained reservoirs in preparation for additional water to arrive from Ethiopia.
Thanks to this circumstance, Ethiopia was able to press on with its water filling plan. The water is flowing above the reservoir, with the dam’s highest point reaching 600 meters above sea level. Abiy praised Ethiopians for achieving their long-held national aspiration, calling it a significant accomplishment. “About 70 islands, each sprawling on about 10 hectares, have been produced by the GERD reservoir. We share this blessing with the rest of the globe,” he added.
Abiy believes lower riparian countries would greatly benefit from the dam. “Abay is a free gift of God to Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan. We will share it accordingly.”
The PM also called on Sudan and Egypt to continue dialogue on the dam, which has been interrupted for over a year. Egypt has also been calling for the resumption of the dialogue, which was interrupted by the “unwelcomed involvement of the US,” in the mediation process, the conflict in North Ethiopia and the instability in Sudan.
In July 2021, when the UN Security Council (UNSC) met to discuss about the dam, Tunisia—the only Arab (non-permanent) member of the body—submitted a draft resolution urging Ethiopia to engage in negotiations within a deadline of six months to reach an agreement under the auspices of the AU. However, the session ended without a vote on the resolution.
Two months later, the Council released a statement asking Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt to start the negotiation from where they left off and make “a mutually acceptable agreement on the filling and operation of the dam within a reasonable time frame.” A year later, at the end of last month, Egypt again took the case to the UNSC.
“Egypt maintains its legitimate right… to take all necessary measures to ensure and protect its national security, including against any risks that Ethiopia’s unilateral measures may cause in the future,” said the Foreign Ministry of Egypt.
Based on the agreement signed in 2015, Ethiopia notified Egypt and Sudan on the continuation of the third filling of the dam, though it was a move opposed by the two lower riparian countries.
Ethiopia is refusing to sign a legally binding agreement, despite the fact that Egypt and Sudan want it to do so. The two lower riparian nations wanted Ethiopia to sign a treaty that would restrict it from working on any projects along the Blue Nile. Ethiopian officials consider this and Egypt’s request to involve professionals from the two nations in the operation of the dam to be a violation on its sovereignty.
In the meantime, several nations are attempting to mediate between the three countries, while the US, which was acting as an observer during previous dialogues, is staying out of the situation. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), however, believes in a “successful conclusion to negotiations,” between Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia over the controversial GERD is “within reach.”
In its statement released on August 2022, the UAE described the GERD dam as a great opportunity to enhance regional integration and cooperation, welcoming all three countries to the African Union (AU) led negotiations.
Time will tell if the three nations accept the proposal and resume negotiations where they left off.