After years of unsuccessful discussions, Ethiopia and Egypt said Thursday that they want to finalise a deal on the management of Africa’s largest dam within four months, an apparent breakthrough in a conflict that Cairo has regarded as an existential danger.
Ethiopia’s government released a joint statement on “accelerated negotiations” after Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, addressed the project with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi on the margins of a regional summit concerning the war in neighbouring Sudan.
Sudan is a third party in negotiations for the $4.6 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on Ethiopia’s Blue Nile length, which is within 10 kilometres (6 miles) from the Sudanese border.
Egypt relies on the Nile River for fresh water to feed its burgeoning population of 100 million, while Ethiopia claims the dam helps lift millions of its 110 million residents out of poverty. Tensions escalated when the dam’s reservoir began to be filled on a yearly basis in recent years.
The revised statement does not refer to the anticipated agreement as legally binding, as Egypt and Sudan had requested. It also does not specify whether the negotiations would take place under the auspices of the African Union, as Ethiopia has requested. In the past, the United States has served as one of several mediators.
In a separate statement, African Union Commission President Moussa Faki Mahamat praised Ethiopian and Egyptian leaders for their “joint decision” to restart dam discussions.
The key issues in the discussions have been how the nations would address any future conflicts around the dam, as well as how much water Ethiopia will release downstream if a multi-year drought happens.