Washington, AU step up mediation efforts to resolve Nile dispute

US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman is beginning an African tour that will take him to Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan from May 4 to May 13.
Tuesday 04/05/2021
A 2017 file picture of US Special Envoy to Horn of Africa  Jeffrey Feltman. (AFP)
A 2017 file picture of US Special Envoy to Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman. (AFP)

CAIRO--US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman is beginning an African tour that will take him to Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan from May 4 to May 13, the US Department of State announced on Monday.

Feltman is one of the international brokers of negotiations between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). The talks are mediated by the African Union, the United Nations and the US.

“The Special Envoy’s travel underscores the administration’s commitment to lead a sustained diplomatic effort to address the interlinked political, security and humanitarian crises in the Horn of Africa, and he will coordinate US policy across the region to advance that goal,” the US Department of State said.

Feltman will hold meetings with officials from the respective governments as well as the United Nations and the African Union.  He will also meet a range of political stakeholders and humanitarian organisations.

On Tuesday, Eritrea’s president arrived in Khartoum for talks with Sudanese officials amid tensions over the Nile dam and a longtime border dispute between Sudan and Ethiopia.

The two-day visit comes after Sudan in February accused a third party of siding with Ethiopia in its dispute with Sudan. It was likely referring to Eritrea, which has deployed troops to the Tigray region to fight alongside Ethiopian federal forces in the conflict there.

Following Sudan’s accusation, Eritrea dispatched its foreign minister to Sudan who assured Khartoum that Eritrea was not part of the dispute between Sudan and Ethiopia.

The Eritrean delegation included Foreign Minister Osman Saleh and presidential adviser Yemane Ghebreab, said Eritrea’s Information Minister Yemane Ghebremeskel.

New mediation efforts come days after Ethiopia announced the near completion of the construction work of the Renaissance Dam and the start of the second phase of filling the dam, a move Sudan and Egypt rejected before a binding legal agreement was reached.

Earlier on Monday, Sudanese Foreign Minister Mariam Al-Sadiq Al-Mahdi said that the second filling of the Renaissance Dam would impact the lives of millions of people in Sudan.

In a meeting with Congolese president and current Chairman of the African Union Felix Tshisekedi, Mahdi stressed the importance of reaching a legally-binding agreement between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over the filling and operation of the GERD before the start of the second filling in June.

She said, “The President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo expressed his full understanding of Sudan’s position and the need for a speedy and legally-binding agreement to be reached before the process of the second filling of the dam begins.”

“President Felix informed me that he will soon tour Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia to discuss the Renaissance Dam. He also said that he has been coordinating with the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman in order to reach a solution to the dam dispute.”

It is expected that Feltman will talk with the Sudanese and Egyptian officials on the latest development of the dam, especially amid the diplomatic escalation taken by both Egypt and Sudan recently to put pressure ont Ethiopiar to reach a legally-binding agreement on the mechanism for operating the dam and filling its reservoir.

Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said in a press statement at the United Nations headquarters in New York that Guterres remains ” in contact with all parties concerned with the Renaissance Dam issue, including the African Union, in an attempt to support dialogue and reduce tension.”

Dujarric did not disclose the nature of those contacts, but reiterated the Secretary-General’s support for the efforts of the African Union which he considers extremely important to reach a solution.

Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia have been locked in inconclusive talks for nearly a decade over the filling and operation of the dam for which the ground was broken in 2011.

Cairo has regarded the dam as an existential threat to its water supplies, while Khartoum fears its own dams would be harmed if Ethiopia fills the reservoir without a deal.

Ethiopia announced last April that it had filled part of the barrage with a second stage due to take place this coming July, even if no agreement has been reached with Cairo and Khartoum.

If Ethiopia goes ahead with the filling, Sudan “would file lawsuits against the Italian company constructing the dam and the Ethiopian government,” Sudan’s Water Minister Yasser Abbas warned.

The tensions over the dam come as Sudan’s relations with Egypt warm while its relations with Ethiopia have been hit by a dispute over the use of the Fashaga farmland near their common border.

In March, Sudan said it had accepted an offer by the United Arab Emirates to mediate with Ethiopia over GERD and the contested border region.

Abbas said the UAE’s initiative included investment opportunities in the Fashaga region as well as “unofficial bid to bridge the gap in views with regard to GERD.”