Mediation on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam: From Hope to Hopelessness?

Abebe Yirga Ayenalem
April 15, 2021

In this piece, we do not focus on the way-out from the deadlock, instead we unveil how inviting mediators to the tripartite negotiation will further deteriorate the hope for reaching an agreement on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

Rural Ethiopian mother cooking the food while carrying her baby

Trilateral negotiation conducted from April 4th – 5th on the GERD between Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt with an AU-led framework under the chairmanship of Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi ended up with a deadlock. The GERD is a non-water consumptive hydropower dam financed solely by the Ethiopian government and its people. It is currently 79% complete. Its second-year impoundment to be undertaken this summer. Ethiopians and neighboring African brothers and sisters are dreaming of getting electricity. Once completed, it is expected to alleviate extreme poverty and electrify approximately 70 million Ethiopians from the darkness.

Trilateral negotiation focused on the process of the negotiation. Due to this co-riparian states failed to move on and negotiate on the contents of the negotiation. The main reason for this to happen was the extreme positions of states in the process. Both Egypt and Sudan are demanding quadripartite mediation on one side.  Whereas Ethiopia is keeping its commitment to the AU-led framework. We argue that inviting mediators to the case of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is a perilous game due to the following main reasons;

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  1. The first reason is that mediators do not fully understand the issue. Even if they could, they may be knowingly biased or easily exploited by the parties that will again lead to an impasse. For instance, the treasury department of the US, knowingly or unknowingly, was misled by the government of Egypt. Donald Trump was injected with a piece of false and wrong information. Because of this, Donald Trump was misled and had no clueabout the purpose of the GERD. The strange thing was he even didn’t know to which direction water was streaming. He considered it as if Ethiopia is diverting the flow of the Nile river out of the basin. Trump had no idea that more than 70 million Ethiopians are leading their life without electrification.

An Ethiopian woman carrying firewood on her back

  1. The second reason is that it contradicts with vision of African Union in general and with “Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want” in particular;

“The Vision of the African Union is to become an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena.”

Considering inviting external actors (mediators) over the issue of GERD contradicts with the above Pan African visionOne of the central compelling maxims of the African Union (AU) is ‘African solutions to African problems. Africans have long been proved and seen that external or foreign solutions were not viable in Africa, since they were either ‘imported’ or ‘dictated’ to Africans. The solutions imported by external actors in the continent have been cosmetic and do not achieve lasting solutions in many cases in Africa. It is very important to note that the reason which is associated with the genesis of the ‘African solutions to African problem’ maxim is the idea that Africans have stated that they prefer to solve their own problems and reduce the influence of external actors in continental affairs. Moreover, it should be underscored that the resort of African states to the ‘African Solutions’ maxim and their preference to solve their own problems derives from the belief that African states know how to deal with an African issue in an African context better than countries (mediators) external to the continent. We strongly believe that inviting external parties (mediators) will not achieve the desired result mainly because Africans will not own those solutions.

  1. The third reason is that mediators have their cynical interests to gain from the negotiation. It is wise to question whose interests to attained once mediators are involved? Co-riparian states or mediators? Mediation will bring new/additional interests which will perhaps disregard the existing interest interests in the room. A good example here is at the beginning of 2020, Treasury Department was aggressively working to trade-off Ethiopians long-waited dam that is the matter of existence to the then president of the USA, Donald Trump’s deal of the century. The USA was acting as a ‘self-claimed mediator. Then the Treasury Department imposed the draft agreement that was in favor of Egypt. The US started to dictate Ethiopia and Sudan to sign the draft. Also pressured the sovereign state Ethiopia to sign the document which was against the national interest. The GERD, therefore, was considered as a sacrificial lambto this deal. This situation has further complicated the negotiation.
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  1. The fourth reason is that inviting mediators without even experiencing the performance and caliber of President Felix Tshisekedi and his team is a disrespect to the Democratic Republic of Congo and its people. It is too early to decide. This implies that Egypt and Sudan have hidden agenda behind their unholy demand.


Therefore, we argue that the intransigence by Egypt and Sudan on the position of inviting mediators to the room will not lead to an amicable and sustainable solution to the disagreement. Rather, it will exacerbate the situation and lead to undesirable consequences.


Notes on the contributors:

Abebe Yirga Ayenalem, MSc, MA, Nile Water Governance Expert, a researcher at the Blue Nile Water Institute and a lecturer at the Department of Political Science and International Studies, Bahir Dar University, Ethiopia.

Bewuketu Dires Gardachew (Ph.D) researcher and instructor at the Department of Political Science and International Studies, Bahir Dar University, Ethiopia.

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1 Comment

  1. Submarine propelled torpedo ballistic missiles are threats to GERD. Ethiopia needs to not underestimate Sudan’s economic and military power.Ethiopia needs to also not underestimate Egypt and the other historically enemies of Ethiopia. Ethiopia should know Sudan and Egypt can easily afford to procure submarines especially designed for a mission on GERD. Maybe the Ethiopian enemies already have such especially designed missiles to carry out their missions to take down GERD. Ethiopia need to start preparing for the worst case scenario before the worst case scenario really occurs. Ethiopia need to cover all her bases now rather than talking and talking as it had been done for so long while the Ethiopian military is not up to the challenge at hand. Talk is cheap. Action speaks louder than words!

    Ethiopia spent three years babysitting TPLF , the babysitters on the ground in Tigray- The Northernn Command Base got raped by TPLF, the ‘Junta’ who Ethiopia considered was a harmless baby but Ethiopia was proven wrong when TPLF attacked the Ethiopian babysitters on the ground in Tigray. TPLF went on ravaging creating such a mess affecting not only Ethiopia but the horn and beyond. All this could have been avoided if Ethiopia-Abiy treated TPLF as a grown adult instead of a baby all along, Ethiopia needed to not be in the predators den undressing infront of grown adults as if the adults were infants or as if the adults were harmless close family members. Ethiopia is also considering Sudan as close family members and letting Sudan in Ethiopia’s bed which is totally unacceptable.

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