The African Union is mediating the three-day talks in Kinshasa as the dispute between the three countries dragged on.
A new round of African Union-mediated talks between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan have begun to resolve a multi-year dispute over a massive dam built by Addis Ababa on the Blue Nile, a major tributary of the Nile.
The three-day talks that began on Saturday are taking place in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the current president of the AU.
The three countries’ foreign and irrigation ministers were attending the Ethiopian Renaissance Great Dam (GERD) talks, with AU experts, according to Ethiopian Irrigation Minister Seleshi Bekele.
A Sudanese diplomat reportedly told the Associated Press news agency that experts from the three countries and the AU met on Saturday, ahead of ministers who would meet on Sunday and Monday. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.
Egypt’s foreign ministry said in a statement that Cairo wanted the negotiations to lead to a legally binding agreement on the operation and filling of the giant reservoir of the dam.
Sudan has said it will participate in the Kinshasa round with the aim of agreeing on a “negotiating approach” to ensure the talks are constructive. This would include a Sudanese proposal backed by Egypt for the United States, the European Union and the United Nations to actively intervene in the dispute, alongside the AU.
Ethiopia rejected the proposal, saying it “believes in solving African problems by Africans”.
The dispute is over how quickly a planned reservoir is filled behind the dam, the method of its annual replenishment and how much water Ethiopia will discharge downstream in the event of a multi-year drought. Another point of divergence is how the three countries would settle any future disputes.
Downstream countries Egypt and Sudan want a legally binding agreement on the filling and operation of the dam, while Ethiopia is insisting on guidelines.
The three countries have been stuck for almost a decade in inconclusive discussions over GERD, which began in 2011.
The talks in Kinshasa come days after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi declared his country’s share of the Nile waters “untouchable” – a stern warning apparently to Ethiopia, which is bracing for another stage of filling the dam later this year.
El-Sisi warned Tuesday of “instability that no one can imagine” in the region if the dam reservoir is filled and operated without a legally binding agreement.
Bekele, the Ethiopian minister, said his country “as always is committed to wise, fair and reasonable use without causing significant damage,” according to the official Ethiopian news agency.
Egypt, the most populous country in the Arab world with over 100 million people, depends on the Nile for almost all of its water needs. He fears that rapid filling will drastically reduce the river’s flow, with potentially serious effects on his agriculture and other sectors.
Ethiopia says GERD is essential for its development, arguing that the vast majority of its population lacks electricity. The dam will generate more than 6,400 megawatts of electricity, a massive increase in the country’s current production of 4,000 megawatts.
Sudan wants Ethiopia to coordinate and share data on dam operation to prevent flooding and protect its own power generation dams on the Blue Nile.
The Blue Nile meets the White Nile in central Sudan. From there, the Nile winds north through Egypt and empties into the Mediterranean Sea.