It's raining in again, and if the government in Addis Ababa comes, this Ethiopian rainy season 2020 will go down in history.
From an Ethiopian perspective, it is intended to correct an injustice that is almost 100 years old, namely the previous use of water from the Nile by the three countries bordering the river; In addition to Ethiopia, these also include Egypt and Sudan.
Ethiopia has given itself a building of the century for this: the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam ("Gerd") is up to 155 meters high and cuts through the Nile valley with its wall for kilometers. Its reservoir is said to be three times the size of Lake Constance. And the power of water should then supply the 109 million country and even the neighboring countries with green electricity.
Ethiopia's joy festival, Egypt's catastrophe?
"Gerd", as the dam in Ethiopia is called, is not yet finished. However, the dam is already high enough to create a deep, permanent lake in the first stage.
"At the lowest point, the dam has now reached a height of a good 60 meters," says the head engineer of the dam, Ephrem Woldekidan, in a telephone conversation with SPIEGEL. And Ephrem confirms his government's plan: in mid-July, with the swelling of the Nile in the rainy season, the reservoir also begins to fill.
What should be a joy festival for Ethiopia applies inas a national disaster.
The Nile is the lifeline for the country, whose roughly 100 million inhabitants crowd into the fertile Nile valley. There the Ethiopian dam stirs up fears. For example, that the country could be cut off from the water and literally die of thirst in the end, because Ethiopia acts stubbornly.
It didn't help that Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, now a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, personally swore "to God" in Cairo in 2018: "We won't harm you." Nor does it mean that filling the mega reservoir in Ethiopia does not mean that water will no longer flow downstream.
"Egypt's water supply is not threatened"
Sudan and Egypt also have their own reserves. The Egyptian Aswan Reservoir is legendary. It will lose a few percent of water during the filling period. "But with at least average rainfall during filling, Egypt's water supply is not threatened," said William Davison, Nile expert at the International Crisis Group think tank.
Egypt, however, insisted on old rights, agreements of 1929 and 1959, which guaranteed almost the entire Nile water to the then British-controlled colonies of Egypt and Sudan. Ethiopia, from which 85 percent of the water originally comes, did not matter at the time.
The Nile countries have been debating the issue of water for more than two decades. And the higher Ethiopia built the wall of its dam, the sharper the rhetoric – in the meantime there was even talk of bombing of the construction site by Egypt's fighter jets. However, this is a scenario that experts consider impossible.
One step forward, one step back
On Friday there seemed to be movement in the conflict, time is of the essence. South Africa, which currently holds the presidency of the African Union (AU), brokered. The heads of government of the three neighboring countries debated – and in the end there was only another scandal.
Egypt first claimed that the Ethiopians had promised not to fill the reservoir without a binding agreement. Ethiopian nationalists raged.
Then came a government statement from Addis Ababa hours later: They would not fill up in the next two to three weeks and would continue to negotiate. The schedule remains however. Substantial progress? Nothing.
"The intention to fill in mid-July is clear for Ethiopia, with or without an agreement," said expert Davison. Because with the rainy season, which has already started, the time window has now come to begin with the congestion.
An agreement from 2015 had already stipulated that the reservoir should be filled in parallel with the construction of the dam. And that all sides will take care not to harm the other parties.
In spite of the strong words from Addis Ababa and Cairo, the negotiations actually only exist, according to the International Crisis Group two substantive issues:
Egypt wants to ensure that a fixed amount of water must continue to be led down the Nile – a kind of continuation of the agreements from the colonial past. Ethiopia, on the other hand, does not want fixed flow rates, because then the country would have to let its reservoir run completely empty if there was a long-lasting drought.
Egypt and Sudan favor an external arbitration body that should decide on any disputes between the Nile rulers. Ethiopia does not want this, the country has a trilateral agreement on all disputes.
The fact that there is no progress in these two questions is also due to the poisoned climate between the parties. "There is a lack of mutual trust and Egypt and Ethiopia routinely accuse themselves of malice," said Davison.
After Egypt in March with the help of the US government and finally over theSecurity Council wanted to build diplomatic pressure on Ethiopia is the government of the Egyptian military ruler now back to the negotiating table.
"This is progress, because only talks like this now through the mediation of the African Union can solve the problem amicably," says Davison. Egypt has almost completely exhausted its diplomatic resources.
The fact that the African Union is now leading the talks could indicate that it can act as an intermediary in future disputes. However, the expert sees no room for a deal on the issue of fixed water volumes for Sudan and Egypt.
The most likely scenario is therefore an unforgiving one, Davison believes. Ethiopia creates facts with every meter of dam. The water rises – and Egypt foams.