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Is the involvement of a third party good in GERD negotiations?

The Nile, as a trans-boundary river, is in the realm of international relations engagement among nation states. The Blue Nile takes its source from Ethiopia; however, it flows extensively through Sudan before it joins the White Nile and flow onwards into Egypt. International Relations (IR) theory can help us understand the way international systems work, as well as how nations engage with each other and view the world. Various schools of thought in international relations – realists, liberalists, and constructivists – have theories on conflict and cooperation. The realists concentrate on hard military power and why cooperation is very difficult and complicated to achieve among states. They state that all nations are working to increase their own power, and that those countries that manage to horde power most efficiently will thrive, as they can easily eclipse the achievements of less powerful nations. The liberals, also called “liberal internationalism”, believe that the current global system is capable of engendering a peaceful world order. They believe in the power of institutions, and rather than relying on direct force, such as military action, liberalism places an emphasis on international cooperation as a means of furthering each nation’s respective interests.

Constructivists rest on the notion that rather than the outright pursuit of material interests, it is a nation’s belief systems – historical, cultural, and social – that explain its foreign policy efforts and behavior .Constructivists also argue that states are not the most important actors in international relations, but that international institutions and other non-state actors are valuable in influencing behavior through lobbying and acts of persuasion. In this article, I focus on third-party involvement as the means of international cooperation by indicating a role in facilitating negotiation between contesting parties and alleviating the risks of cooperation. The Article looks into the case of third parties and in particular it aims to provide an overview about how these groups define and engage in the process of water diplomacy and what their roles may look like. I have heard the debate over how third party involvement can   reduce the tension of negotiation among Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan over Nile River? Before answering this question it is imperative to give snapshot of the involvement of the third party as an alternative workable solution in trans-boundary water resources cooperation so as to   set the stage for a consideration of the forms of third-party intervention. Below, I offer some existing techniques.

Diplomatic third-party involvement

Diplomatic third-party involvement has had different iterations throughout recent history.  It comes from entities such as embassies, the United Nations, the US State Department, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or a neighboring neutral country’s government. The third party may be publicly recognized or kept secret. The engagement can be invited or offered. In the two cases, the involvement is appreciated in order to keep the conversation going, to assist with expertise through consultants, or to host talks and meetings or negotiations. Largely, third parties are sought for their ability to witness and bridge dialogue.

Virtual stakeholders

Virtual stakeholders are those stakeholders who do not live in the shared basin and perhaps do not directly use the shared waters, but nevertheless have great influence on how the shared waters are managed and allocated. One type of virtual stakeholder as a third party is that of money lenders and their associated ‘experts’ such as large international banks, such as the World Bank and other development banks. The concept of ‘virtual water’ is high-visibility interests that are linked with the shared water resources. Money lenders can alter and influence the management of shared water resources, even if they do not offer the loan to do so.

As it is known before the involvement of the third party tripartite negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan were held but failed to bridge the differences between the three countries with regards to the Renaissance Dam over the Nile River. After the involvement of diplomatic third-party (US) and virtual stakeholder (World Bank) Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan are expected to sign a final agreement by the end of February on Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). The involvement of the US and the World Bank, sets out the rules for filling and operating the dam on the basis of the six principles that the three parties agreed to in their last meeting in Washington DC on January 15, 2020.

So, in my opinion, the involvement of a third party plays a critical role in the cooperation process. The many roles it played include: helping recognizing the benefits of joint actions, finding the balance between the aspirations and the options of each of the parties involved, helping to root discussions on technical and scientific evidence rather than on emotions or ideology and provided the required technical basis of the agreement. Experts in the third party on international public law might engage for their indispensable knowledge and expertise on legally binding documents between governments. Additionally, it might provide fresh approaches to problems that seem to be at an impasse in deliberations among officials. The involvement of the third parties has shown their ability in bridging dialogue to expedite in ending the tension of negotiation among Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan. The involvement of the third parties reduce the tension of negotiation significantly and leading Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan are able to outline a pathway for GERD to be filled. The third parties are encouraging Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan to approach the dispute as a chance to establish a resource-sharing partnership. It is my hope that several technical sticking points of the negotiation will be avoided and the necessity of keeping nations peacefully together, handling disputes in a clever way, maintaining good relations and the implementation of integrated water management through cooperation among trans-boundary states will be realized. So, it is good to shift from a pessimistic view of the involvement of the third party in the negotiation of Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan. This welcome development negotiation has not stirred bias as facilitated from US and World Bank. It should rather be assumed that parties facilitating the negotiation because they expect to achieve a better outcome by doing so.

I believe that the third parties are creating communicative link between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan for the purposes of identifying the issues, lowering tension in the form of negotiation. Finally, I would like to point out that Ethiopia  is  expected continuing  with the possibility of increasing effectiveness by sequencing and combining interventions  for the negotiation in a complementary fashion  to safe guard its national interest.

Ed.’s Note: Getachew Mekonnen is researcher at the Institute for Strategic Studies (ISA). The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute or The Reporter. The writer can be reached at [email protected].

Contributed by Getachew Mekonnen