In the middle of an eventful week, where the Ethiopian government has announced the completion of the first stage filling of the reservoir behind the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), and a major breakthrough in the negotiations mediated by the African Union (AU); the administration of Donald Trump is reported to be severely divided regarding the US foreign policy towards the region and a proposed aid cut to Ethiopia in support of Egypt over the GERD issue.
The latest from Foreign Policy Magazine (FP) revealed that President Trump’s foreign policy team is considering holding foreign aid to Ethiopia in relation to the latest negotiations on the filling of the GERD and the position that Ethiopia has taken. The report also talks about the dissenting voices from within the administration that are uneasy about the level of partiality the US is displaying in this controversy.
Back in December 2019, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt went to Washington for a tripartite talk, whereby the US Treasury Department and the World Bank were selected by President Trump, to observe and facilitate negotiations.
As the talks progressed and more contentious issues started to appear, the roles of these organizations, most importantly the Treasury, started to evolve into a mediators and, soon, when an impasse was reached, into an all-out champion of Egyptian demands. The Treasury and its Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, went as far as issuing a threat-like statement to Ethiopia, following the country’s decision to accomplish the first stage filing of the reservoir behind the GERD.
“The Trump administration has gotten it into its head that it has to take Egypt’s side on this,” a US official told the Magazine. “Nobody in the White House seem to be looking at this through the Africa lens and its impact on Ethiopia, which is equally important,” the same official added, while lamenting, “This is just shooting ourselves in the foot.”
The latest controversy, however, arose in the backdrop of positive developments in the AU mediated talks on the GERD. On Monday, a brief video conference among the three leaders and leaders of mediating African countries, chaired by South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, was said to have achieved a major milestone in the GERD talks, where the three countries agreed to resolve the technical issues in relation to the second and third round of filling.
A statement released from Ethiopia’s Office of the Prime Minister confirmed that the parties have achieved consensus, regarding technical matters on the filling of the GERD’s reservoir, on Monday. And this was mainly possible because the first stage of the filling process was completed at the end of last week, according to the statement, and these facts were presented to the negotiating parties helping the process to progress.
It is to be remembered that, beginning the first filling process was the most controversial issue, the three nations have encountered on the talks. Egypt garnered support from the Arab league and the US presidency on the matter. To this effect, the US had issued a statement through the Treasury claiming that Ethiopia shouldn’t/couldn’t start the first filling without a clear agreement on the GERD and an understanding among three parties with regard to the filling, and that it does not harm the interest of anyone.
On the statement, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) further noted that heavy rainfall recorded in the Goba area, Benigangul Gumuz Regional State, this month, has contributed to the ramping-up of the filling process and enabled the reservoir to hold 4.9 billion cubic meters of water in the stated period.
In fact, the statement also said the filling of the reservoir is not only complete but has “topped over,” holding adequate water to test the first two low-head turbines installed at a height of 65 meters from the Dam floor or 565 meters from the sea-level. The first filling would enable the generation of some 700MW power by 2021. With power transmission lines already in place, the Ethiopian Electric Power (EEP) is set to start exporting surplus power to neighboring countries including Kenya and Sudan.
The second stage of the filling is expected to take place in the next rainy season, with the target of elevating the water volume held by the reservoir to 13.7 billion cubic meters. This level of filling would raise the total height of the reservoir walls to 595 meter from sea-level, enabling it to test the remaining 11 turbines. The third and final stage is expected to hold a total water volume of 74 billion cubic meters, amounting to 2 times the volume of Lake Tana, the largest in Ethiopia.