Smell the Coffee, End the Fruitless GERD Negotiations

Sep 6 , 2020
By Dejen Yemane

Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan trekked a decade long journey while negotiating on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). They have as of yet not struck a deal. If they are ready to accept advice, now is the time to discontinue the negotiations in a consensual manner.

The disputing parties should have by now realised that the terms of negotiations tabled before the GERD are unacceptable to the interests of Ethiopia. If they come to understand each other and reserve genuine good faith, they can peacefully agree to close the GERD negotiation. Nine years of the GERD journey should enable them to understand where each party stands and which lines they are unwilling to cross.

They should be thankful for the GERD for bringing them around the same table to begin with.

The Sudanese, the Egyptians and the Ethiopians have travelled to Addis Abeba, Khartoum and Cairo for countless sojourns.  They have crossed oceans and knocked on the gates of the White House and the United Nations headquarters. Even in the time of a global Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, they have managed to make the GERD an issue.

These efforts should not be for naught even if they may not result in an understanding over the matter. They could take lessons, including that the Nile River is much more significant than any dam, be it the GERD or the Aswan High Dam. It is not even merely a source of energy but a river with historical, emotional and political aspects to it as far as the three countries are concerned. Its proper utilisation is incumbent upon the level of meaningful engagement, or the lack of it, that can be had between those that purport to “own” it.

As for Egypt and Sudan, they could now understand how Ethiopia is accommodating and generous to present one of its main “sources of light” for negotiation. In taking this route - by sitting for a discussion when it did not have to - the country has shown what a good neighbour is like. This gesture should be noted.

There is still room to negotiate on issues pertaining to the Nile River utilisation other than matters that have to do with the GERD. The Dam should be freed from its political hostage takers. The GERD cannot be used as a manipulative tool for achieving a bad end. Resolve in the face of overwhelming pressure should be proof enough that the Ethiopian government and the people that showed their support have a point. One does not make a matter an existential issue if there is no good argument for it.

Without agreeing to discontinue the negotiations on the GERD, it is impossible to correct the wrong approach taken to negotiating on the use of the Nile River. Any potential deal done through this complicated situation will not bring about a lasting resolution. An original sin has already been committed: a single unilateral project has been subjected to a trilateral negotiation. The sin can be abrogated through an agreement to discontinue the talks.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, current African Union chair, once receiving the separate letters of each party should be convinced to advise them to discontinue the GERD negotiations and let them come up with another platform through which to negotiate on the protection, conservation, utilisation and governance of the Nile River, either at a basin or a sub-basin level.

The right time to launch another set of negotiations could be after Ethiopia fully operates the GERD. Until then, the three would continue working on their negotiating terms. It is the only way of avoiding a vicious circle of back and forth threats and counter-threats.

Tracking COVID-19


Total cases Reported In Ethiopia


New cases Reported In Ethiopia


Active cases Reported In Ethiopia


New Deaths Reported In Ethiopia


Total Deaths Reported In Ethiopia


Total Recovered Reported In Ethiopia


Critical in Ethiopia

Source: Coronavirus monitor API

PUBLISHED ON Sep 06,2020 [ VOL 21 , NO 1062]

a PhD student at Addis Abeba University's College of Law & Governance Studies. He can be reached at

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