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Ethiopia asks US to reconsider aid suspension over dam

Sep 3rd 2020 · 2 min read
Ethiopia asks US to reconsider aid suspension over dam

Ethiopia has asked the US to reconsider the suspension of some aid over Addis Ababa’s decision to start filling its Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam without an agreement with Egypt and Sudan, its two downstream neighbours on the river Nile.

The suspension adds to pressure on Ethiopia to reach an agreement over the filling and operation of what will become the biggest dam in Africa. “We’ve asked them to reconsider and we’re waiting. We hope 117 years of diplomatic relations [ US and Ethiopia] will not be damaged because of an issue not related to the two countries,” Fitsum Arega, Ethiopia’s ambassador to the US, told the Financial Times.

The US state department told Ethiopia of the aid reduction on Monday and it is unclear how much money is at stake. Mr Fitsum dismissed media reports that the cut would total $130m as exaggerated.  “The decision to temporarily pause certain assistance for Ethiopia reflects our concern about Ethiopia’s unilateral decision to begin to fill the dam before an agreement and all necessary dam safety measures were in place,” a US State department official said.

Egypt, which relies for its water on the river, was alarmed by Ethiopia’s decision to start filling the reservoir of the dam in July without an agreement to cover eventualities such as droughts and disputes. Ethiopia does not want a legally binding agreement that could tie its hands over future developments on the Nile.The US Treasury had held months of talks with Ethiopian, Egyptian and Sudanese officials about the dam after Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi turned to US president Donald Trump for help, according to two US officials briefed on the matter. The involvement of the US Treasury is unusual, as the US has given no money of its own for the dam.

The US Treasury did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but the State Department official said Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, had taken the decision after receiving guidance from Mr Trump.Ethiopia walked away from a US-drafted agreement in Washington in February, saying that it was biased towards Egypt. Cairo has accused Addis Ababa of lacking the political will to reach a deal. 

The self-financed $4.8bn project, which will produce 6 gigawatts of power, is a symbol of national pride for Ethiopia and a pillar of its development plans. Ethiopian officials say that it will provide electricity to 60m Ethiopians, giving a boost to one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies.Both governments argue that the issue is “existential” to the future of their people. Egypt has already complained to the UN Security Council, which urged further negotiations. These have continued under the aegis of the African Union, but a compromise remains elusive.

Seleshi Bekele, Ethiopia's water minister, said last week that the most recent round of negotiations “made some progress”. All parties are due to reconvene in mid-September.Ethiopia, the source of the Blue Nile, says it has the right to use the river for its own development and argues that the dam will cause no significant damage to its downstream neighbours, even stressing that it could benefit neighbouring Sudan. But Egypt fears it will suffer from water shortages, especially during drought years.

Cairo is also anxious about Ethiopian plans to build more hydropower dams upstream of the dam. Another concern for Egypt is that other countries with which it shares the White Nile, a main tributary of the river, might start building dams and other projects without agreement. Ethiopian diplomats are wary of any external involvement on the issue. “We want African solutions to an African problem,” said a senior official at Ethiopia's foreign ministry.

last updated: 2020-09-03@06:09