• Egypt’s President Abul Fattah al-Sisi signed a preliminary agreement with Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Halemariam Desalegn and Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir in Khartoum on 23 March
  • Al-Sisi says Cairo is still concerned about the impact of the dam on Egypt’s water supply
  • Egyptian president will begin official tour of Ethiopia on 24 March

Egypt’s President Abul Fattah al-Sisi has signed a preliminary agreement with the leaders of Ethiopia and Sudan over the controversial Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

Al-Sisi signed the pact with Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Halemariam Desalegn and Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum on 23 March.

The Renaissance Dam, which will be the largest hydroelectric dam in Africa, has strained relations between Egypt and Ethiopia since construction work on the dam was started in May 2013, with Cairo concerned that the dam will significantly reduce the flow of water into Egypt and Sudan.

Ongoing studies

Al-Sisi has been keen to defuse the row between the two countries since he took office in 2014.

The preliminary agreement provides an initial mechanism for operating the dam and resevoir storage levels, according to reported remarks from the Egyptian Irrigation Minister Hussam Moghazi following the signing of the agreement.

According to the media reports, Moghazi said the agreement would not become binding until after a ‘foreign consultancy firm’, chosen by the three countries, has conducted technical studies on the dam.

Al-Sisi has said that Cairo remains concerned about the dam project, with Egypt depending on the Nile for 95 per cent of its water supply. About 60 per cent of this is used for agriculture.

“The Renaissance Dam project represents a source of development for the millions of Ethiopia’s citizens through producing green and sustainable energy, but for their brothers living on the banks of that very Nile in Egypt, and who approximately equal them in numbers, it represents a source of concern and worry,” Al-Sisi was quoted in international media reports.

“This is because the Nile is their only source of water, in fact their source of life.”

Cooperation

Ethiopia’s prime minister sought to downplay Cairo’s concerns at the gathering for the signing of the agreement.

“I reaffirm that Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam will not cause any harm to downstream countries,” said Desalegn at the signing event.

Ethiopia’s government says the $4.7bn dam will provide 6,000MW of power when completed.

Addis Ababa also wants to replace the 1929 Nile Waters sharing agreement, a treaty written by the UK, which awarded Egypt power to veto any project involving the Nile by upstream countries.

Egypt’s President Al-Sisi is due to begin an official visit to Ethiopia on 24 March as part of efforts to improve relations between the two countries.

Nile free trade zone

The Ethiopian Prime Minister and Sudan’s President both were invited by Al-Sisi to speak at the recent Egypt Economic Development Conference (EEDC), held in Sharm el-Sheikh between 13 and 15 March, and both said in their speeches that reaching agreement on the Nile issue was of paramount importance to their countries.

Both leaders also spoke of boosting economic relations with Egypt at the EEDC, with Sudan’s Bashir revealing plans for developing an economic free zone between the two Nile basin countries with the aim of improving cooperation and tackling growing food security concerns in the African state.

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