Meeting on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and Regional Relations
Tomorrow (8 July) afternoon, the Security Council will convene for an in-person briefing on an ongoing disagreement involving Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan regarding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), under the agenda item “Peace and security in Africa”. The expected briefers are the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Horn of Africa, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga; the Executive Director of the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), Inger Andersen; and a representative of the Permanent Mission of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to the UN, as the chairperson of the AU. Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan are expected to participate in the meeting and will be represented at ministerial level by Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Hassan Shoukry; Ethiopian Minister for Water, Irrigation and Energy Eng Seleshi Bekele; and Sudanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Mariam al-Sadiq al-Mahdi.
The dispute over the dam dates back to 2011, when its construction commenced. The hydroelectric structure is said to be the largest in Africa and, once filled, will reportedly double Ethiopia’s power supply. Egypt and Sudan, as countries located downriver from Ethiopia, have repeatedly voiced concern that the dam is threatening their own water supply. On 23 March 2015, the three countries signed a Declaration of Principles on the GERD in Khartoum. The agreement was built around ten principles, which included prioritising cooperation, agreeing not to cause significant harm, peaceful settlement of disputes, and equitable and reasonable utilisation, among other things. The agreement also called for Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan to agree on guidelines and rules on the first filling of the GERD. While that was seen as a positive step, it did not translate into technical agreements that would have a practical impact.
In June 2020, an AU-led tripartite process was put in place aimed at finding an agreement between the three countries. The latest meeting took place in Kinshasa between 3 and 6 April but concluded without any concrete outcomes. In recent weeks, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan have been bringing developments surrounding the GERD to the Security Council’s attention, as Ethiopia has signalled that it expects to start the second filling of the dam during this year’s rainy season. According to media reports, Ethiopia conveyed to Egypt on 5 July that it had started the second filling of the dam.
Tomorrow’s meeting will be the second time the Security Council meets to discuss the GERD, having last convened on 29 June 2020. At that time, non-Council member Egypt had requested the meeting by invoking article 35 of the UN Charter, allowing any UN member state to “bring any dispute, or any situation referred to in article 34 [that is, one that may lead to international friction or give rise to a dispute] to the attention of the Security Council or of the General Assembly”. Council member Tunisia requested tomorrow’s meeting and circulated a draft resolution on the issue on 2 July. The draft text apparently calls for the three parties concerned to pursue a negotiated solution and to reach a binding agreement within six months; rejects unilateral actions, including the filling of the dam; and suggests that third parties which are currently observers to an ongoing AU-led tripartite negotiation process (such as the EU and the US) play a more active role. It seems that the draft text further states that the Council remains seized of the matter. If a draft resolution including this sentence is adopted, it will officially place the dispute on the Council’s agenda. The first round of negotiations on the draft text was held on 6 July, and a second round is planned for tomorrow (8 July).
At tomorrow’s meeting, Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia are likely to echo views they have conveyed in recent weeks in numerous letters they have sent to the Security Council. In its letters, Egypt has said that previous negotiation efforts involving Ethiopia had been “fruitless”; stated that Addis Ababa had not consulted with downstream countries; and highlighted Egypt’s dependency on the Nile River for the “livelihood and for the survival of its 105 million citizens”. Egypt called for a Council meeting in a letter dated 25 June.
Echoing similar views, Sudan in its letters informed the Council of the possible adverse effects of the dam’s filling; denounced Ethiopia for proceeding without having reached an agreement with the downstream riparian countries or having devised “cross-border environmental and social management and plans to mitigate harms”; and assessed that such action presents a risk to regional security and stability. It also highlighted that the curtailing of water streams through the dam has had negative effects on its own dams and water supply. In a letter dated 21 June, Sudan called on the Council to seize itself of the matter under Chapter VI of the UN Charter, which addresses the peaceful settlement of disputes. Egypt and Sudan both stated in their correspondence that Ethiopia is disrupting an AU-led tripartite negotiation process.
In response, Ethiopia has written several letters to the Council, saying that Egypt and Sudan are unwilling to continue the AU-facilitated process. Addis Ababa further claimed that it was under no obligation to seek consent of the lower riparian countries to fill the dam and that the GERD would “augment regional socio-economic integration and support peace and stability in the entire region”. In its 23 June letter, Ethiopia criticised the request for a Council meeting, expressing hope that the Council will defer the matter to the AU for continued tripartite talks. It also suggested the appointment of focal points in the respective countries for enhanced data-sharing on matters relating to the GERD.
The League of Arab States (LAS)—which includes Egypt, Sudan and Tunisia among its members—has also been active on the matter. Following a 15 June meeting on the GERD in Doha, the organisation adopted a resolution calling for Security Council action.
During tomorrow’s meeting, the representative of the DRC may brief Council members about the status of the AU-facilitated talks and call for a return to negotiations under AU auspices. Since Egypt, Sudan and Tunisia are members of both the AU and the LAS, finding common ground between the positions of both regional organisations may prove difficult. This dynamic might be reflected in efforts to find a common “A3 plus one” (Kenya, Niger, Tunisia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) approach to the matter.
As was the case during the Council’s last meeting on the GERD in 2020, several members may express their preference for the AU to address the matter. Several Council members, including the European members, are likely to call on the three disputing parties to pursue a negotiated solution to the issue. In a 1 July press conference, Ambassador Nicolas de Rivière (France) noted that the Council’s role was that of a convener and said that its members should encourage a return to the negotiation table. The US is likely to echo this position. In a 6 July press encounter, a spokesperson for the US State Department said that the US supported collaborative efforts by the three parties and expressed support for the AU-led process.