Renaissance Dam talks fail

Egypt and Sudan end talks in the face of Ethiopia's intransigence
Archival photograph of the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

REUTERS/TIRRSA NEGERI  -   Archival photograph of the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

"Our water is a red line". With these words, the President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, expressed the importance that the negotiations on the Renaissance Dam were going to have, which this day, after the announcement of the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, came to an end without reaching an agreement. However, Al-Sisi himself warned that "no one is untouchable for us". And despite the fact that Cairo has done its part to try to reach a meeting point in order to unblock the situation that is keeping several countries in the region on tenterhooks. 

Attempts have proved insufficient because the Ethiopian side has been "intransigent and refused to return to negotiations". For this reason, Egypt's foreign ministry has issued a statement saying, Ethiopia's stance "is an obstacle and will complicate the Renaissance Dam crisis and increase congestion in the region". However, Sudan's counterpart ministry has gone further in its charge against the Ethiopians, believing that "Ethiopia's unilateral steps regarding the dam are a clear violation of international law". Al-Sharaq media sources confirmed that Ethiopia had rejected every single proposal on the table and had no intention of reaching an agreement with Egypt and Sudan. 

Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Hafez explained: "Ethiopia rejected the proposal put forward by Sudan and supported by Egypt to form an international quartet led by the Democratic Republic of Congo in its capacity as chair of the current session of the African Union to mediate between the three countries, and during the meeting rejected all other proposals and alternatives put forward by Egypt and supported by Sudan.

Furthermore, it claims that Ethiopia's continued refusals were aimed at increasing its weight in the negotiations and giving it greater decision-making power for future negotiations, which, at least for the time being, do not seem likely to take place in the short term. 

El presidente egipcio Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (derecha) reuniéndose con el primer ministro de Sudán, Abdalla Hamdok (izquierda), en la capital, Jartum, el 6 de marzo de 2021
AFP/EGYPTIAN PRESIDENCY - Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) meeting with Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok (L) in the capital Khartoum on March 6, 2021.

Despite the fact that no progress has been made in the talks, Egypt has expressed its gratitude to the Congolese side, especially to the Congolese president, Felix Tshisekedi. In fact, they have offered him their support and the maintenance of communications in order to reach an understanding between the three countries (Egypt, DRC and Sudan). President Tshisekedi himself had been optimistic in the days leading up to the talks in the Congolese city of Kinshasa: "I invite everyone to start again, to open one, or many, windows of hope", he said just before the start of the failed talks. 

Dissatisfaction in the three countries affected by Ethiopia's continued refusals is at an all-time high. There was some hope that this would be the occasion when Ethiopia would finally give in and agree to give up some of its claims. Now, however, nothing could be further from the truth; the solution does not seem close and new alternatives to the blockade that is weighing down the region are already being sought. However, Egypt is clear that this new setback will have lasting consequences and that it is not "just another one": "This position reveals, once again, Ethiopia's lack of political will to negotiate in good faith, and its determination to delay and procrastinate, being satisfied with a formal and useless negotiating mechanism, which is an unfortunate approach that the Egyptian negotiator knows well and is not fooled", explained the Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman. 

For now, the only thing that is clear from Sudan, Congo and Egypt is that, if they want to find a way out of the impasse, the door to the Ethiopian option has been completely closed. And they claim that this move "will complicate the crisis and increase tension in the region", according to Ahmed Hafez.