Coronavirus: Ethiopia’s latest reason for boycotting the Renaissance Dam negotiations

Egyptian sources expected that any negotiations on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia, will be postponed until after next summer due to the novel coronavirus. Egyptian sources said that Egypt and Ethiopia were not ready to start any new round after the failure of the recent negotiations mediated by the United States. The US Treasury Department informed the Egyptian embassy in Washington two days ago that Ethiopia had apologised for not responding to an invitation by US Secretary of State Stephen Mnuchin for a special meeting this week in Washington. That meeting was to discuss Ethiopian objections to the wording prepared by the US Treasury and the World Bank for the filling and operating agreement for the GERD, which was signed by Egypt. Ethiopian officials said that the reason to apologise for not attending the meeting was to ensure the safety of Ethiopian and American officials in light of the spread of coronavirus. Ethiopian officials have told the US side that the talks are likely to be postponed until next summer, hoping the world will beat the corona crisis in the summer months. But Egyptian officials are suspicious of Ethiopia’s refusal, because this delay means that Ethiopia will start filling the GERD reservoir next July without any agreement.

Addis Ababa has previously announced its intention to fill the reservoir without delay, especially after it has completed 70 per cent of the GERD’s construction work. Bloomberg previously reported that the Ethiopian general elections due in August could be postponed to another date, which will also delay the GERD negotiations. The Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is afraid of reaching an agreement that includes concessions before any upcoming Ethiopian elections for fear that these concessions would affect his popularity. Opponents of the Ethiopian Prime Minister attack his policies by saying that Abiy Ahmed works for the interests of Egypt and America over Ethiopian interests, and is hindering the completion of the GERD project. This comes despite the fact that, had it not been for the administrative and security revolution that Abiy Ahmed carried out upon coming to power, the GERD would not have reached these advanced levels of construction, after slowing for several years due to mismanagement and corruption. However, opponents attack his policies on that project. During his visit to Addis Ababa last month, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a confusing statement, before the negotiating round that Ethiopia boycotted, in which he said that the GERD agreement “needs more time to settle the differences.” This statement was contrary to the previous US trend announced by the White House and the Treasury, to finish the deal before March. In the wake of that statement, Addis Ababa boycotted the last round of negotiations that were intended for the initial signing of the agreement. Cairo fears that the GERD will affect its share of Nile water, which amounts to 55 billion m3. Although the Egyptian regime has indicated its willingness to cede a share of the Nile water, Ethiopia has never allowed a final agreement to be reached, and COVID-19 seems to be the most recent reason to postpone the negotiations.