DRC President Felix Tshisekedi begins Nile dam mediation

Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

In this file photo taken on December 26, 2019, a general view of the Blue Nile river as it passes through the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia.

Photo credit: Eduardo Soteras | AFP

What you need to know:

  • Ethiopia intends to finalise the project and begin operations while Egypt and Sudan are still in opposition, arguing their countries could be deprived of water for consumption and irrigation.


DR Congo President Félix Tshisekedi, who is the current president of the African Union, has started an "African tour" around the issue of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) over which there is still a stalemate.

Ethiopia intends to finalise the project and begin operations while Egypt and Sudan are still in opposition, arguing their countries could be deprived of water for consumption and irrigation.

President Tshisekedi landed in Sudan late on Saturday. The one-day visit came as Sudan and Egypt pushed Ethiopia for a binding deal over the filling and operation of the dam.

Ethiopia says the electricity the structure will generate is important to its development, but downstream Egypt and Sudan fear for their own dams and vital water supplies.

Direct dialogue

In Sudan, the AU president was welcomed by authorities including Abdel Fattah Abdelrahmane al-Burhan, who is president of the transitional council and Prime Minister Abdalla Adam Hamdok.

Immediately after the military honours, President Tshisekedi was invited to the Presidential Palace where a series of summit meetings around the issue took place, according to a communique from the presidency.

Mr Tshiesekedi held talks with General Al-Burhan, PM Hamdok as well as foreign minister Mariam al-Mahdi, according to SUNA news agency.

"Talks mainly focused on differences between upstream and downstream countries over the renaissance dam," the agency reported.

During the talks, Al-Mahdi voiced "strong rejection of unilateral steps" by Ethiopia, which began filling the dam's reservoir last year.

Addis Ababa has said it will proceed with further filling this year regardless of whether a deal is reached.

Cairo views the dam as an existential threat, while Khartoum fears its own dams could be harmed without a deal.

A statement from the DRC presidency noted: "While waiting for a final solution to the question of the GERD, the interlocutors of President Tshisekedi agree on recognising that direct dialogue remains the only way to reach a suitable solution around the question of the dam."

It added, "Since the Kinshasa tripartite, President Tshisekedi has never ceased to remind people that the barrier of rebirth as a great integrative project should not be a source of misfortune but should serve as a model within the framework of the African continental free trade zone desired by African leaders."

Second stage

From Sudan, the DR Congo leader proceeded to Egypt where he had a discussion with President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, before widening the circle of discussions with foreign and sectoral ministers concerned with water and environment management.

This first trip represents the second stage of a mission that the Congolese president has offered to lead. He will also have to visit Ethiopia.

Thus far, neither Khartoum nor Cairo have issued statements following the meetings.

Presented as the largest hydroelectric dam in Africa, the GERD is the subject of controversy among Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, its designer.

The Kinshasa tripartite organised early in April under President Tshisekedi’s leadership did not allow the three countries to finally agree on the project, with each taking a firm stand.

But since then, the DR Congo President has hoped to continue the mediation, welcoming Egyptian and Sudanese emissaries to address the issue.

Ethiopia's stand

Also on Saturday, US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman held talks with top Sudanese officials over the GERD as well as Sudan-Ethiopia border tensions.

Feltman underscored "the importance of leading the negotiations under the umbrella of the African Union with the involvement of the international community," Sudan's foreign ministry said in a statement.

Relations between the two countries have soured in recent month over Al-Fashaqa, a fertile border region where Ethiopian farmers have long cultivated land claimed by Sudan.

The two sides have traded accusations of violence and territorial violations in the area.

President Tshisekedi took up the rotating presidency of the AU in February after a one-year stint by South Africa's Cyril Ramaphosa.


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