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GERD’s delay could be an opportunity

Bassem Abo Alabass
An argument for why the GERD does not have to be a symbol of discord among Nile Basin countries.
22.03.2019  |  Cairo, Egypt
Construction work on the GERD in 2014. (photo: Jacey Fortin)
Construction work on the GERD in 2014. (photo: Jacey Fortin)

The construction of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which stands as the door to the cave of Ali Baba for millions of Ethiopians seeking to push the country forward, was announced to be delayed for four years. It may take even longer.

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said that electromechanical work contracted to the Metals and Engineering Corporation (MetEC) – which is run by the Ethiopian military – has been delaying the project, raising suspicions of business going under the table among some former high-ranking military berets.

Ethiopians are “frustrated”, one of my friends there told me, which is expected. GERD was the national mega project that is foreseen to take the country to another level, millions of people are currently living in the dark in the second most populous country in Africa.

Sooner or later, Addis Ababa will finish up the GERD.

But they are putting too much hope on the shoulders of their young Prime Minister and it does not seem that the bold leader, who came to power in April 2018, and re-opened the borders with Eritrea in September, ending a 20-year war between the two neighbours, will give up on people’s dreams to see the GERD.

Sooner or later, Addis Ababa will finish up the GERD, it just depends on how Prime Minister Ahmed will arrange his priorities.

This could be great news for Egypt, especially when you see the news running wild in the Egyptian media, even since Prime Minister Ahmed said in August last year that the GERD “may never see the light of day”.

For the Egyptian government, the GERD was a headache. People in Egypt are worried about their Nile water quota, which represents around 97 percent of the country’s water resources, will be affected by the dam. The opposition groups are using the file to press on the regime, as long as negotiations fail and the construction completion approaches.

Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan will take the GERD pause as a chance to take a breath after eight years of tripartite negotiations since 2011, with nothing tangible in their hands but the Declaration of Principles that was signed in March 2015 by the three leaders.

But, in fact, the triangle of Cairo, Addis Ababa and Khartoum is not the exclusive container of the Nile, as the three countries are a part of one Nile Basin sharing the river along with eight other states.

So, it makes sense to not be able to draw a triangle with only two diagonals, you must have three, so what is the solution then?

The answer is: Do not draw a triangle. Just draw a circle that would have 11 diagonals inside, and it will not be any risk for one of them to be dropped.

It isn’t a matter of showing power, or which country will win the race, it’s a matter of public unity, a matter to which millions of lives are attached.

It reminds me of a short conversation between myself and an Egyptian friend of mine, a mechanical engineer. When I asked him what Ethiopia meant to him before and after GERD.

I was pushed to learn more about the rest of Nile Basin countries.

He said: “Before GERD I only knew about Ethiopia and Sudan as our neighbouring African countries. After GERD, I was pushed to learn more about the rest of Nile Basin countries.”

The Egyptian government itself went on making some cooperative plans with Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, South Sudan, and others, to make sure that it has allies backing it in any future political scuffle.

With Egypt chairing the African Union in 2019, it is a perfect chance for it to seek a rapprochement over the structure of a body that could have a binding word in any conflict or disagreement related to the Nile.

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