At the beginning of the week, the heads of state and government of Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia, under the mediation of South Africa as chairman of the African Union, met again for video-video negotiations to clarify how much water Ethiopia had to let through the dam throughout the year, especially in long periods of drought.
The damming should only begin after a binding agreement, the Egyptians said, and the Ethiopians still spoke of “significant progress” on the way there. But the Sudanese had already noticed in the past two weeks that less water was flowing down the Blue Nile, satellite images showed a growing lake behind the dam. Ethiopia has long denied that the locks have been closed.
On Wednesday, however, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed surprised with the solemn announcement that he had achieved “history”: within a few weeks, the planned filling volume for the whole year had been reached, 4.9 billion cubic meters. Testing of the first two turbines to generate electricity will soon begin. In a few years, the lake is expected to be filled with 74 billion cubic meters of water, which will then operate 16 turbines – Africa’s largest hydropower plant, which is not only to supply Ethiopia with electricity, but also to export it to the region. “We have successfully completed the first filling of the dam without harming others,” said Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
In Cairo, the statements caused great outrage. Foreign Minister Sameh Schukry had described the dam before the UN Security Council as an “existential threat” to Egypt. And representatives of the military-dominated regime up to President Abdelfattah al-Sisi have repeatedly threatened to attack more or less openly.
Egypt is faced with a fait accompli. Cairo wants to continue negotiations to save what can be saved – above all an agreement on the operation of the dam. At the same time, it must recognize that Ethiopia cannot be impressed by all the diplomatic pressure that Egypt is exerting. First Sisi had used France as a mediator, then he convinced US President Donald Trump to intervene in the conflict, both close allies of Egypt.
Ethiopia, however, remained tough on Egypt’s core demand: that its water quota of 55.5 billion cubic meters per year, bilaterally agreed with Sudan in 1959, should not be touched. The population, Sisi knows behind it. According to international criteria, Egypt has long been suffering from water shortages. 1,000 cubic meters per capita per year are considered sufficient – according to the government, the figure in Egypt is only 570 cubic meters, and the trend is falling.