AP Interview: Ethiopia to fill disputed dam, deal or no deal

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) - It is a conflict over water consumption, which Egypt describes as an existential threat and Ethiopia as a lifeline for millions from poverty. There are only a few weeks left before the most powerful hydropower plant in Africa can be filled, and the tense talks between the countries about its operation have yet to be completed.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Ethiopian Foreign Minister Gedu Andargachew said Friday his country would fill the $ 4.6 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam without an agreement next month. "We do not have to reach an agreement before we start filling the dam, so we will start filling in the coming rainy season," he said.
“We are working hard to reach an agreement, but we will still stick to our schedule regardless of the outcome. If we have to wait for the blessings of others, the dam can remain inactive for years, which we will not allow, "he said." We want to make it clear that Ethiopia will not beg Egypt and Sudan to use its own water resource for its development, ”Ethiopia points out that the construction of the dam itself is paid for.
He spoke about the dam after the last round of talks with Egypt and Sudan, which for the first time since the collapse of the discussions in February did not lead to an agreement.
No date was set for the talks to resume, and the Foreign Minister said Ethiopia didn't think it was time to get her to a head of state.
The year-long dispute puts Ethiopia's desire to become a major energy exporter and development engine against Egypt's concern that the dam will severely limit its water supply if it is filled too quickly. Sudan has long been caught between competing interests.
The arrival of the rainy season brings more water to the Blue Nile, the main branch of the Nile, and Ethiopia sees an ideal time to start filling the dam reservoir next month.
Both Egypt and Ethiopia have indicated military action to protect their interests, and experts fear that a collapse of the talks could lead to conflict.
The Ethiopian Foreign Minister would not say whether his country would take military measures to defend the dam and its operations.
"This dam should have been a reason for cooperation and regional integration, not a reason for controversy and warmongering," he said. “The Egyptians exaggerate their propaganda on the dam issue and play a political game of chance. Some of them seem to yearn for war. "
Gedu added: “We read that the Egyptian side also wants to dictate and control future developments on our river. We will not ask for permission to carry out development projects on our own water resources. This is both legally and morally unacceptable. "
He said Ethiopia offered to fill the dam in four to seven years, taking into account possible low rainfall.
The key issues in the talks were how much water Ethiopia will release during a multi-year drought downstream of the dam and how Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan will resolve future disputes.
The United States tried to negotiate a deal earlier this year, but Ethiopia did not attend the signing meeting and accused the Trump administration of campaigning for Egypt. This week, some Ethiopians felt reassured when the US National Security Council tweeted: "257 million people in East Africa rely on Ethiopia to show strong leadership, which means doing business fairly."
In response, the Ethiopian Foreign Minister said: “Statements from governments and other institutions on the dam should be carefully drafted so as not to take sides and interfere with fragile talks, especially at this delicate time. You should make fair statements or just make no statements at all. "
He also rejected the idea of ​​bringing the issue to the United Nations Security Council as requested by Egypt. The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement Friday that Egypt has asked the Security Council to intervene to help the parties find a "fair and balanced solution" and to prevent Ethiopia from "taking unilateral measures".
Officials from the United States, the European Union and South Africa, the current leader of the African Union, attended the recent talks as observers.
Sudanese irrigation minister Yasser Abbas told reporters after the talks ended on Wednesday that the irrigation managers of the three districts had agreed on "90% or 95%" of the technical questions, but the dispute over the "legal issues" of the agreement was still resolved.
The Sudanese minister said his country and Egypt rejected Ethiopia's attempts to include articles on water sharing and old Nile treaties in the dam contract. Egypt has received the lion's share of the Nile waters under decades of British colonial agreements. 85 percent of the waters of the Nile come from Ethiopia from the Blue Nile.
"The Egyptians want us to offer a lot, but they are not ready to offer us anything," Gedu said on Friday. "You want to control everything. We are not discussing any water sharing agreement. "
Countries shouldn't get stuck in a debate on historical water rights, William Davison, senior analyst for Ethiopia at the International Crisis Group, told reporters this week. "During a filling phase, the water is reduced downstream. But that's a temporary time," he said.
The first generation of electricity from the dam can be seen late this year or early 2021, he said.
The Ethiopian Foreign Minister expressed disappointment with Egypt's efforts to find support for its side.
"Our African brotherly countries should have supported us, but instead they are spoiling the name of our country all over the world, and especially in the Arab world," he said. "Egypt's monopolistic approach to the dam problem will not be acceptable to us forever."
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Cara Anna in Johannesburg contributed to this.

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