September 21, 2023

Ethiopia refuses mediation in Nile River dam conflict with Sudan and Egypt

Børge Brende President; Member of the Managing Board
Børge Brende President; Member of the Managing Board

On Tuesday, March 16 the Ethiopian government announced it refuses international mediation over its ongoing dispute with Sudan and Egypt over current hydroelectric dam projects. Various actors from the globe have offered to participate in mediation, including the United States, African Union, European Union, and Pope Francis. Sudan, as reported by the Sudan Times on Monday, has requested for the mediation to be led by the United States, European Union, and African Union.

Ethiopia’s Spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dina Mufti told reporters, “ Ethiopia is generally opposed to mediation by outside parties even though the African Union is welcome to help. The tripartite talks between Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam should be concluded between the three countries themselves, not through mediators.” Mufti went to proclaim Ethiopia’s respect for the African Union saying Ethiopia “believes in resolving African problems by Africans”

Ethiopia is currently building Africa’s largest hydroelectric dam. The project should be fully operational in 2023 and comes with a near $4.6 billion dollar cost. The East African nations posits the dam will provide economic opportunity to millions of its citizens. However, the project is not without controversy. The Nile River, as a natural resource, flows through other countries. Namely, Egypt and Sudan have expressed concerns about the downstream effects the dam may cause.

The three parties have routinely met to discuss the issue, but despite years of talks no deals have been made. Last Week, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi met with Sudan’s prime minister Abdalla Hamdok in Cairo. The two reiterated their commitment to cooperating on the matter. Furthermore, they identified their concern about how much water Ethiopia may release into the dam and called for legally binding agreements on the issue. Nearly 85% of the Nile River flows out of Ethiopia and the two nations are worried the dam could affect already worsening drought conditions.

Cairo and Khartoum have grown closer over the years. President el-Sissi made his first visit to the country since military forces seized power in 2019 last week. The two nations have even engaged in joint military exercises and are in talks to establish a formal military cooperation agreement.

Back in September, the Trump Administration reduced the amount of aid Ethiopia receives annually, citing a “lack of progress” made on the dam issue. Over $130 million in aid was withheld, angering Ethiopians who see the project as a mechanism to reduce poverty for millions.

Currently, the conflict sees no clear solutions. Ethiopia and its neighbors fundamentally disagree over how to regulate the project. Egypt has gone as far to say the project represents an “existential threat.” Ultimately, whether through mediation or not, a solution on how to share the Nile will have long lasting effects on the region’s stability and economic progress.

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