By Mohammed Taha Tawakel.
ADDIS ABABA (AA) – Sudan’s Water Minister Moatez Moussa said that a mega-dam project being built by Ethiopia on the Nile River will benefit the downstream countries Egypt and Sudan.
In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency, Moussa said that Ethiopia has the right to development.
The Sudanese minister denied that his country was siding with Ethiopia against Egypt, reiterating that Sudan’s position has always been that the Ethiopian dam is useful to the two downstream countries.
Anadolu Agency: Mr. Minister, would you first tell me about the status of relations and cooperation between Ethiopia and Sudan?
Moussa: The bilateral relation between Ethiopia and Sudan is deeply rooted in history. It goes back centuries… It is always green, especially over the past two decades. The relation has recorded high levels of openness, friendship and good neighborliness as reflected on many aspects.
The element of water has engaged the relation in the recent ten years, whereby, actually, we are always getting improved understanding of our shared resources in terms of the River Nile.
As you know, 85 percent of our water resources are sourced from Ethiopia. This applies both to Egypt and Sudan. So it deserves high attention on different high levels of both countries, as water is becoming an element of livelihood. So it needs attention.
With regard to the GERD [Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam], it is a significant development in the river course. It needs attention. The view of Sudan is very simple and straightforward: that Ethiopia has the right to development.
And as it so does, it must plan the project in a regional framework. This is really what Ethiopia is doing now. We are here in the process of ensuring that, though it lies in the national borders of Ethiopia, as it will have great positive implications for the two downstream countries, this would mean we have to join efforts, come together to ensure the regional dimension of the project.
So far, we are doing well on this. It is now becoming one of the major inputs of the relation between the two countries and also trilaterally – Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan. So we are focusing on this. And we are doing well on that.
AA: On September 22, the water ministers of the three countries approved the Terms of Reference prepared by the three countries’ Tripartite National Committee. Will this create a fresh sense of closeness between the three riparian states?
Moussa: It is indeed a new stage. Literally, it is a new stage as we transform from theory of cooperation to actual deeds. So we have been talking about the necessity of cooperation among our three countries. We have been dwelling on the importance of cooperation.
Whether it is an option that we can do or it is not an option, we have to cooperate. But by signing [the] document, which is rooted back on our discussion over the past two years, we have actually held four successive meetings that have laid the foundation for [the] agreement.
The agreement is indeed a foundation for cooperation on the ground. And it was very good that we agreed to conduct the two studies recommended by the international panel of experts in a period of six months.
AA: What is your impression following your recent visit to the dam’s construction site?
Moussa: We consider our visit to the site of the GERD as very important, and as topical too. The fact that we visited it together with the water minister of Egypt and his entourage gave it more meaning.
Sudan had had the opportunity already to visit the site, but for the Egyptians it was the first time. This visit gave us the opportunity to listen to people, especially opinions and explanations given by engineers working on the dam.
We have raised our issues, our concerns and our questions and received explanations. In this regard, our visit to the site was useful to contribute to the building of trust. The coming together of the three ministers was also a positive development.
We are happy concerning our visit to the site of the dam. What is more, we have put in place a roadmap, which would lead us to a meeting scheduled to take place in Cairo.
Our technical teams, which together are called a Tripartite Technical Committee, will get an international consultancy firm hired to conduct the two studies recommended by the International panel of experts. The three countries have now come closer together more than at any other time.
AA: Sudan is sometimes seen as jeopardizing the interests of Nile Basin countries for the sake of Egypt, with whom it signed a binding 1959 water sharing agreement. What do you say to this?
Moussa: This is actually… unfair. Sudan has always been in the process and has fully engaged the Nile Basin countries. And agreements remain always binding on the signing parties. This agreement of 1959 is binding on Egypt and Sudan.
And we are in full engagement without limitation with our fellow Nile Basin countries. And we are going to cooperate. The sky is the limit. We see no actual or material issue that impedes cooperation.
The experience of the past year has shown that we can come together almost on every detail, without any problem. We see no conflict so far on actual life on the ground and on tangible life between the Nile riparian countries that has any implication on the existing agreement.
We have seen no evidence that the 1959 or any other agreement causes any trouble to cooperation. Cooperation will remain. It is possible. It is feasible. And we can sustain it without causing any unnecessary tension to any bilateral relation or any existing agreement.
AA: There are many who believe the Entebbe agreement has still not been implemented after a decade of foot-dragging. Do you still support the Comprehensive Framework Agreement (CFA)?
Moussa: Actually, we admit that the process on the CFA has witnessed some misunderstandings. It has faced some challenges. But it remains a process that we have to go through.
Sudan is prepared always to discuss the remaining issues. And we still call upon the signatories of the current version of the CFA to open the forum again for Sudan and Egypt to dwell on the pending three issues. Sudan is still open.
It is true for some time there were some misunderstandings between the two countries, Sudan and Egypt. We believe Sudan and Egypt have no problem to come back to the procedure, to the process. And we are prepared to discuss the three pending issues.
It has not been a valueless discussion over the past ten years. I disagree with this, because we achieved agreement on almost 90 percent of the CFA. There is only remaining three points. So the negotiation over the past ten years was fruitful.
The current version [of the agreement] is actually agreeable among all of us – including Egypt and Sudan – except the three pending issues. So it is a process we are about to finish. The focus now is we have to come back again to find agreement and a way forward on the three pending issues.
AA: There seems to be some concern about the GERD’s massive scale. Is this concern justified?
Moussa: We believe this dam is no exceptional dam. It is a very normal structure. In terms of actual size, it is within precedence. Even on the river Nile. It lies second to the Aswan high dam in terms of volume. So there is nothing special about the dam.
It is true it is a big development on the river course. It needs to be understood. In general, we believe the dam is very useful for the three countries. There can remain some concerns in certain areas that people need to tackle technically, professionally in a knowledge-based process to find out the potential impact that the dam might entail.
But also there are quite abundant ways and means of trying to mitigate whatever potential risk the dam might bring. So that is why the international panel of experts has identified the major four areas for the three countries to go through – it based on professional, internationally renowned firms to conduct studies.
At that moment, only the three countries are going to be sure about the [dam’s] real impact… But again, the study will provide us with solutions, ways forward and mitigation measures that might be followed to eliminate any sort of result the dam might bring about.
These areas are the socioeconomic part, the environmental considerations and the hydrological aspects, and the dam’s safety. Should we follow these recommendations? Shall we outsource it to internationally renowned firms? Shall we respect the outcome of this?
We do not see any extra, unnecessary worry that it will follow. We just respect the outcome and solutions that will be available, and we will follow it.
AA: Some observers allege that Sudan has changed sides; that it is now siding with Ethiopia in order to pressure Egypt, with whom it fell out in recent decades. Comments?
Moussa: The position of Sudan is founded back in history. The position of Sudan has never changed. There is no evidence that Sudan has changed positions.
From the day this dam came to reality, it has actually been announced by Egypt and Ethiopia. Sudan was totally not part of it. And it is Egypt and Ethiopia that called for this international panel of experts. They have included Sudan in the process.
Sudan appreciated it, though it was done without prior consultation with Sudan. But Sudan in good faith agreed and joined the process… Even before this process, the position of Sudan was always that any dam in Ethiopia is by default useful to the two downstream countries.
So any development in this part of the region in terms of dam construction is useful for us all. Still, we need of course to understand the details to find out the potential impact. As I said a while ago, we need to understand the consequences, mitigate them, harness the benefits of the dam, and it will work.
So, in brief, Sudan has never changed position; the position of Sudan is always positive in terms of the dams in Ethiopia. This would mean that this will not be the end of the story. We need of course to operate and manage the dams in Ethiopia in a proper way that will consider the demands and needs and water requirements.
There are prerequisites that need to be observed by Ethiopia. So far, we see no sign that Ethiopia is neglecting this or abandoning the concerns of Egypt and Sudan.
So we have to build on this, try to put through our concerns, our prerequisites, our water demands, our seasonality, our general requirements, and the boundary condition in Egypt and Sudan that should be observed by the operators of the dams in Ethiopia.
So Sudan has never changed position. Sudan remain always the way it is now and, day by day, we sense and feel that people are getting a better understanding of our position. So it is not politics. It is nothing; it is water.
The water issue in Sudan is a technical water issue. It has nothing to do with politics. And even our relations with Egypt have always been consistent. Though we have changed government in Sudan over the past five decades, no one touched the water.
Water policy remains stable, steady, consistent with Egypt, has also always remained steady with Ethiopia and it will remain in the future steady with both countries.
Sudan is taking a well-informed position. We know how to look at the water and we know… that dams in Ethiopia are potentially useful. We need to harness them in a better way that will benefit us all.
AA: Some media outlets have reported that Sudan has been pushing countries – including Turkey, Ethiopia and Iran – to pressure Egypt on the issue. How do you respond to this?
Moussa: We are open countries. We are sovereign countries. We always defend positions based on knowledge and information… People should discuss position rather than perception.
You can always perceive anyone the way you want. But we prefer that positions are exposed, discussed and analyzed. People should assess positions based on knowledge and information.
I think as time goes on, Egypt is now understanding better that Sudan is an honest neighbor. Sudan has generously granted 150km… of land, equivalent to the size of some countries that has been granted for free.
And old civilization has been evacuated [from the area]. This is only for the sake of the prosperity of the people of Egypt and to allow the extension of the Aswan High Dam reservoir inside Sudan.
So Sudan has never been – and will never be – an enemy to Egypt. But Sudan is wise enough, has sufficient capacity to understand its national interest, reserve its national interest without at all detracting or negatively affecting any obligation at present with Egypt. This is in the terms of the 1959 agreement.
But Sudan is also a free and sovereign country; free to tackle and handle its relations with its African neighbors. It should in no way be interpreted that when Sudan has normal ties with Nile riparian countries that is to be interpreted as a “conspiracy theory” as a party.
This is unfair and totally unfounded.
AA: You seem to always downplay the dam’s impact while Egypt blows things out of proportion.
Moussa: I will tell you one thing. I don’t want to talk like a philosopher. Water, river course is created by the Almighty. It can never be used by anyone to influence the sovereignty or destabilize safety of any other party.
So this is not a man-made thing. This is not a car, this is not a train. It is a river that has been flowing since the creation of life. And it is our responsibility to harness it in a proper way.
We have seen Europe, for example, who were in a worldwide war just 50 or 60 years ago. And now we travel from one country to the other unnoticed. I mean, the train brings you from Germany to Italy without you noticing that you have shifted from one country to another.
This is an example that has to be implemented here. We have to get rid of this mentality of “I use the dam against you; you use my water against this; I use that against this” – this is totally sick. This is sick-minded thinking.
We never believe in this. Anyone should build a dam… We have three dams and we never thought about harming any country, namely Egypt. We will never use it against Egypt. Because this is unwise; this is inhumane.
Dams are for the benefit of the country, but also for the benefit of any other riparian country. We strongly believe that we have sufficient resources in the basin; we have sufficient rainfall; we have sufficient river courses; river systems that we should come together wisely to harness and organize.
It will be for the benefit of us all. But should we continue with the same mentality that “you use this against me; this will make you more powerful; this will give you an edge over me; this will make me less than you” – this is a mentality that will kill the region.
We know that any country has its merits, its edges over the others, but it is really in an even way it is distributed. Ethiopia has sufficient potential for power generation. But, it has almost nil to very little capacity to consume water for irrigation.
Sudan has good land to use for water… to share with Egypt. So Ethiopia can be source of energy, Sudan can be source of food and Egypt can be a friendly market for energy and food.
Should we all come together, we can harness our resources. So we should take this base of sick mentality, old-fashioned thinking of one against the other and using resources unwisely against each other – this… we have to get rid of.
We utilize our resources for our people. We are almost 200 to 250 million people living in the region, both in Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. We have to come together to serve our people.
When it comes to water, forget about borders – we respect it [borders] politically, but for water, we have to think regionally. Should we follow this approach? It will be a really big mercy for us all.
Sudan has resolved once and for all that water is for better life. Water is for poverty eradication. Water is for us all – utilize it wisely, equally for us all. Up to now, we see no reason for us to do otherwise.
AA: How would you say the new hydro-electric dam will benefit the region as a whole?
Moussa: For today’s economy, for tomorrow, for the future, electricity is essential, crucial. Otherwise, there will be no economy at all. It will be just life for no value.
There is up to now fossil fuel power generation. It is indeed the case now in Egypt. They have a big problem now because of the fossil-fuel type of power generation – it is now the problem they have. And they have to do it all again.
Actually, I don’t see any other, better, more feasible solution than hydroelectric generation. Just dams of water – let it run, generate power, almost for negligible costs, and it almost runs forever.
So Sudan looks at the GERD as a positive, feasible solution for the lack of power supply in Sudan. We are looking eagerly to the future, to see the dam operated wisely, professionally, in a regional approach to allow for the water demands for downstream countries.
At the same time, it will double the generated power in Sudan without adding any single investment. I mean, the Merewi Dam will give double its capacity today; Roseries Dam will give double of the capacity. Any future dam that will be built in Sudan is going to be double because of the GERD.
So these are all good reasons for Sudan to take a positive position on this – because of power generation. And it is indeed an issue today.
But we need to improve our production capacity. Up to now, we have almost half our installed capacity. It is using very expensive, environmentally unfriendly types of fuel.
We are looking forward – wisely, eagerly – to see a better solution that will give us better, cheaper, environmentally friendly solutions, while the GERD will give us a better power supply. And I am sure Egypt will benefit also.
We should later on make use of this installed 6,000 megawatts to extend them by high voltage transmission line to Sudan, to Egypt and from there to North Africa, across to Saudi Arabia or to Europe.
It is useful. We have to think about it. And any wise, challenge-appreciating nation will think this way – that this power can also be shared on an economical basis, thus helping us all meet our demands.
www.aa.com.tr/en – Addis Ababa
By Mohammed Taha Tawakel.