Print options

June 18, 2013

Ethiopia, Egypt Meet to Ease Nile Dam Tensions

by Marthe van der Wolf

Egypt and Ethiopia are taking steps to defuse tension over Ethiopia's diversion of the Nile River to construct a massive hydroelectric dam.
 
The ministers of foreign affairs from both countries held talks in Addis Ababa on Monday and Tuesday. At issue: the tensions that rose after Ethiopia began diverting part of the Blue Nile to advance construction the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.
 
Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom told reporters in Addis Ababa Tuesday that both nations have agreed to implement recommendations made by an international panel of experts and to hold further talks.
 
“Both ministers, in a spirit of brotherly relations and mutual understanding, agreed to embark on consultations at the technical and political levels," Adhanom said, "with the participation of the Republic of Sudan, to implement in a speedy manner the International Panel of Experts' recommendations.”
 
The diplomatic language is a far cry from the heated exchanges over the $5 billion dam, which Egypt fears will threaten its vital water supply.
 
Most Nile river water originates in Ethiopia. However, colonial-era treaties written by Britain gave Egypt as much 87 percent of the Nile's flow.

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has gone so far as to warn this month that "all options" were open in terms of his country’s response to the dam project.
​​
 
The high-level talks come after Ethiopia last week became the sixth country to back replacing colonial-era treaties with a new commission to oversee Nile projects. Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda have already signed the agreement. Egypt is among several nations that have yet to do so.

Despite the calmer language, Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr says his country need not apologize for some of its politicians who suggested the right course of action may be to sabotage the construction of the dam.
 
“It’s not a matter of regrets or apologies," he said. "Some pronouncements were made in the heat of the moment, or because of their emotions. No regrets were required.”
 
Minister Tedros is expected to travel to Cairo soon to continue talks over the dam’s possible impact.  
 
Ethiopian officials argue Egypt can make up any reduction with better water management.

The construction of the dam started two years ago and is about 20 percent done. When completed in 2017, it will transform Ethiopia into Africa’s biggest producer of electricity.