ADDIS ABABA (AA) – Ethiopian Minister of Water, Energy and Irrigation Alemayehu Tegenu said that his country will never ask for the consent of any other state for building a multi-billion-dollar hydroelectric dam project on the Nile.In an exclusive interview with The Anadolu Agency, Tegenu said that the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) will not harm lower riparian countries Egypt and Sudan. He reiterated that the dam, which Egypt fears will reduce its Nile water share, aims to fight poverty in the Horn of Africa country. The Ethiopian minister went on to dismiss claims that the dam project is being funded by Israel, the United States, Turkey and Qatar, insisting that the dam project is entirely funded and constructed by Ethiopians.
Anadolu Agency: Some say that Ethiopia and Egypt have agreed to sign a new political document providing for no-harm in the utilization of the Nile River. Is that true? Minister Tegenu: With regard to this issue, different discussions were held by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to prepare the document. As far as I know this is an issue, which is still in process. There is no document signed so far. The issue of preparing the document is in process.
AA: This political agreement is said to prohibit Ethiopia from building any dam on the Nile without prior notice and consent of Egypt and Sudan? What would you say to this?
Minister Tegenu: Ethiopia will never ask the consent of any country to undertake development projects. Ethiopia is an independent country and will never request the consent of any country. Ethiopia will undertake its development projects in a way that does not cause any significant harm to any country. Moreover, Ethiopia undertakes its development projects based on principles. It takes into consideration the benefits of the countries from the development projects as well as friendship and healthy relations with the countries.
AA: Egypt has been calling for a guarantee from Ethiopia that construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) would not reduce the flow of the Nile waters reaching into the borders of Egypt. Would Ethiopia provide that?
Minister Tegenu: As I mentioned earlier Ethiopia carries out construction of its dams based on the principle not to cause any significant impact on lower riparian countries. Ethiopia cannot give any guarantee to any country in this regard and also it is not appropriate to give guarantee other than this. We say this because our principle is a guarantee by itself. Water comes from rainfall – when there is sufficient rainfall the amount of water increases. But there are difficult times when the amount of water is reduced due to shortage of rainfall. So, no country can talk about the history on the amount of water available. No country can ask guarantee saying it has a ‘’historical share’’ as per an agreement it had signed. We do not give recognition to this [agreement]. The main point is that we follow the principle of fair and equitable utilization of the water.
AA: Egypt accuses Ethiopia of deliberately delaying the tripartite dialogue on the Nile and it alleges that Ethiopia as such was buying time to complete construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project. What do you comment?
Minister Tegenu: We have great interest for the national technical committee to complete its task. So far we took time to reach understanding on the issues raised by the Egyptian side. But we have no intention to deliberately delay the task of the committee. We do not gain from the delay. We do not delay or stop the construction of the dam even for a second. The construction work will continue. We have never thought of delaying the task of the committee to buy time for construction of the dam. This is not just ordinary gossip but fabricated with the intention to tarnish Ethiopia’s positive thinking.
AA: Egypt wants the studies recommended by the International Panel of Experts to be conducted within six months after the time contract is awarded – and it seems it would be awarded to one international consultant soon. Ethiopia says it may take longer.
Minister Tegenu: The study has its own time to be completed. Earlier an international team proposed that the study takes 12 months. This study takes its own appropriate time. The Egyptian side proposed completing the e study within 5 or 6 months. We cannot be sure that this will be done within this limited time though we want it to be done only within this time limit. Quantity and quality are the factors that limit the time. Based on this it may be difficult to complete the task. We have been advancing our opinion to leave this matter to the consultants, who will conduct the study so that they can comment on the issue. However, the major disagreement was related to Egypt’s stance on giving a big score to a company, which proposed to finalize the work within a short period. This is unnecessary and it does not meet international standards or experience. Therefore, we believe that we should give appropriate marks but should not pile the score on a company because it says it will finalize the study within a short period. This is not only Ethiopia’s stance but it is also Sudan’s position. At last we managed to reach at a point, which is accepted by all sides.
The other thing is that the study conducted by the consultants is to be presented to concerned bodies. It is not a decision by itself. As it is not a decision it will not be possible to take the study as binding. On our part the study will be presented to the countries just as a study but not as a decision. It cannot be binding. However, the countries can discuss the study.
AA: Soon the Tripartite National Committee would select an international consulting firm. Would the result of the two recommended studies be final and binding?
Minister Tegenu: Currently, the document is being evaluated. I cannot speak about it now. I can speak about it after the evaluation process is completed.
AA: There has been a perception on the part of Egypt that construction of the GERD received the backing of the U.S. and Israel. As of late, Egyptians go on to say that Qatar and Turkey now joined forces to provide support. Would you comment on this?
Minister Tegenu: The dam is being constructed by the Ethiopian people alone. The Ethiopian people are mobilized to construct GERD. They are mobilized to alleviate the constraints that had been hampering our development activities and finalize construction of the dam. The GERD is the means to defeat poverty and the main aim of construction of the dam is to fight against poverty. The construction of the dam is underway by an international civil contractor and a domestic institution METALS AND ENGINEERING CORPORATION (METEC). The Ethiopian Electric Power administers the contract of the GERD. Ethiopians constitute over 95 per cent of the workforce in the dam construction. They are working day and night. The contractor employed Ethiopians and a few foreigners for the same purpose. In general the dam is being constructed by the Ethiopian government and people.
The stated countries, the U.S. Israel, Qatar or Turkey are not involved in the construction of the dam. The countries support our development. Turkish investors are engaged in various development activities in our country and this has created a number of job opportunities and generated foreign currency for the country. In line with this, we appreciate the Turkish government. However, the Turkish government is not involved in the construction of the dam, power plants or transmission lines. Similarly, we work in collaboration with U.S. initiative Power Africa and other development sectors and we appreciate this. However, the U.S government does not finance the construction of the GERD. Qatar is not supporting the construction of the GERD. However, we work in collaboration with the government of Qatar in other development areas. I want to emphasize that the GERD is being constructed by the Ethiopian people and government alone.
AA: A huge amount of capital is required for construction of the GERD. On the other hand Ethiopia is undertaking various mega projects. Some say that Ethiopia will face shortage of finance to complete construction of the GERD. What do you comment?
Minister Tegenu: There are some parties wishing this to happen. But this will remain being only their interest. So far there is no financial shortage for construction of the GERD. And there will never be shortage of finance in the future. They say that the construction of the dam will affect other development projects, however, this is their estimation.
Our other development projects will continue as per the timetable set for them. They are being carried out in accordance with our five-year growth and transformation plan. As you see for example, we are constructing a railway and this is part of our development activities. It has never been delayed even for a day. It is being undertaken as per the schedule. Asphalt roads, water facilities, irrigation schemes… all these are being undertaken with a significant amount of money and they have never been delayed even for a day. All are being carried out as per the schedule.
AA: In what ways would electricity from this dam be shared with other countries in the region, with Djibouti, Sudan and Egypt?
Minister Tegenu: We undertake all development activities taking into consideration the benefits of our neighbors. Roads, telecom, electric power and water facilities are designed to benefit neighboring countries too. This is significant to create economic integration and strengthen brotherly and sisterly relations. Ethiopia is keen towards maintaining peace and stability in the surrounding and it has incorporated this in its plan. It will continue this in the future.
Currently, we are supplying electric power to Sudan, Djibouti, Kenya’s Moyale town and other areas. We do supply electric power to these countries but we do not harm our economy and our people. Our focus is to give the highest benefit to our country and people. Upon completion of the GERD, we will be able to supply a significant amount of electric power to Egypt, Sudan and other African countries. As the power is renewable it will be useful to Egypt and Sudan. This is very important and we will strengthen this work. We are undertaking our development activities based on this principle. In this regard we are working to connect Sudan as we did earlier. We are also undertaking additional work to connect Djibouti like we did before. The Ethio-Kenya electric transmission line is being constructed and we are planning to realize power connection to South Sudan and Somalia. We have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Yemen to connect it via Djibouti. In general, development activities being undertaken in Ethiopia are planned to benefit not only us but also our neighbors.
AA: Why Ethiopia is being attacked for building a dam contrary to Sudan, which is constructing two dams in Atbara for which the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has provided $90 million for its construction?
Minister Tegenu: We work based on principles and we do not harm them. We strongly advocate that we should apply fair and equitable utilization of the water. With regard to the commotion they create because of dam construction in Ethiopia, 86 percent of the water originates from here. First the resource is in Ethiopia. Secondly I think they have incorrect perception about Ethiopia. The Egyptians need to understand Ethiopia’s positive thinking. Ethiopia has no intention to harm Egypt even for a day. It does not want to harm Egyptian farmers, whose lives are based on irrigation. They are our brothers and sisters. Therefore, Ethiopia has no intention to harm them.
We do not undertake development projects in Ethiopia aiming to harm Egyptians. We carry out our development activities to defeat poverty and bring about economic growth. The commotion implicates their interest to see Ethiopia remains in poverty forever. Our development efforts are aimed at extricating ourselves from poverty. Our development efforts are also aimed at growing our economy and making our peoples greater beneficiaries. So what detractors are practically saying is that this country called Ethiopia should remain in poverty; these people called Ethiopians should continue suffering from poverty. This would be the thinking behind any resistance against our development endeavors. Otherwise, they should have looked in a positive way at what Ethiopia is doing in a principled way. It is, however, a matter of time before all understand this – Ethiopia’s honest principle towards a win-win. This is what we expect – for people to understand our honest motives. It would become clear, we expect, as countries in the region continue their engagement and through people-to-people relations. So all the noise is due to these reasons.
AA: For too long now, Egypt and Sudan seem to stick to the 1929 and 1959 agreements when it comes to the utilization of the Nile waters? Ethiopia wants to change this forever. Has there been any change of stance lately by Egypt and Sudan?
Minister Tegenu: In this regard riparian countries have signed one cooperative agreement known as Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA). Of the six countries that have signed the CFA, two of them have ratified it – Ethiopia and Rwanda. The other countries like Tanzania, Kenya, Burundi, and Uganda have referred the CFA to their respective parliaments and are in the process of getting it ratified. This CFA is beneficial to all countries across the board. While this is the case, two Nile basin countries have not signed the CFA – Sudan and Egypt. In spite of the fact that the CFA is beneficial to all countries, these two countries did not sign up to it. But there is still a chance. Both Sudan and Egypt may come on board. Sudan previously had halted its participation in the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), but then at some point it rejoined and now the NBI’s Nile Council of Ministers is chaired by the Sudanese Minister of Water and he is contributing a great deal. Egypt did not officially return to the NBI. But the Egyptian minister of water and irrigation had come to Ethiopia and attended the Nile Day celebrations. We can take this as a positive step towards rejoining. The countries that did not sign up to the CFA may have their own reasons for not having signed.
Egypt has always taken prominence in defying it. Egypt is for maintaining the status quo of the 1959 agreement that gives 55.5 billion cubic meters to Egypt, 18.5 billion cubic meters to Sudan in terms of annual shares from the Nile waters. The situation is one whereby these two countries share the Nile waters between them. This excludes the other ripariancountries. The CFA, therefore, cannot accept that. This is because the principles of the CFA are based on equitability, reason, win-win approach and insignificant harm. These principles have been laid out very clearly. Therefore it is no longer acceptable to stick to a traditional water sharing agreement. It would not be right to uphold traditional cases as pretext for not signing the CFA. The right attitudes are thinking in terms of mutual development, reason and equitable resource utilization as well as looking at cooperation as compulsory not an option among the Nile family. Things outside this would not be acceptable. We, therefore, keep calling on Egypt and invite it to return to the Nile cooperation.
AA: But Egyptians demand guarantees. What guarantees would you give them?
Minister Tegenu: I told you before. We follow principles when we launch construction of the GERD. Let us for example take the principle of insignificant harm; and we make sure that no significant harm is entailed both during the filling stage and the operationalization. The second is the principle that utilization of the Nile waters should be based on the principles of reason and equitability. There should not be any loser; all should win. The idea that there should not be monopoly [over the resource] should be upheld. People should understand this. So Ethiopia’s principled stance in this regard addresses the concern of all. Apart from this set of principles, it would not be proper for any country to demand guarantees from another country.
AA: How strategic are Ethiopia’s relations with Sudan?
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