Security Council

Peace and security in Africa - Security Council…

8 July 2021


Peace and security in Africa - Security Council, 8816th meeting

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08 Jul 2021

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Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan should negotiate mutually beneficial agreement over management of Nile waters, top official tells Security Council.

Cairo, Addis Ababa, Khartoum Ministers Make Their Respective Cases to Members

While Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan all have legitimate claims to, and concerns about, use of the Nile River Basin’s waters, the three neighbours should negotiate in good faith towards a mutually beneficial agreement on the historic waterway’s sustainable management, the senior United Nations official for the Horn of Africa told the Security Council today.

Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, emphasized: “Each of the countries sharing the Nile waters has both rights and responsibilities, and the use and management of this natural resource requires the continued engagement of all nations involved, in good faith, with a view to reaching common ground.” He added: “There is room to move forward” in the spirit of cooperation, compromise and good neighbourliness.

Recounting the history of negotiations over the river’s use, which have been ongoing for a decade, he noted that tensions have escalated in recent years as the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam — whose construction began in 2011 — nears completion. With little forward movement emerging, he said, President Félix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has stepped up his engagement on the issue in his capacity as Chair of the African Union.

He recalled that the League of Arab States issued a communiqué on the dispute in June, which called upon Ethiopia to refrain from filling the dam’s reservoir without first reaching an agreement, and asked the Security Council to discuss the matter. Ethiopia objected to that request, describing it as an attempt to politicize and internationalize the dispute, he said. To assist the African Union’s leadership of the negotiations, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has been asked to provide technical advice with a view to helping the three countries reach a mutual understanding, he added.

Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP, noted that the Nile has delivered freshwater, fed agriculture and supported livelihoods in Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan for thousands of years. Whereas a number of dams exist on the river in all three countries, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will be a major source of hydropower and greatly enhance Ethiopia’s energy supply, she said, adding that surplus power can be exported across the region, helping to accelerate industrialization. “Well-planned hydraulic infrastructure on a shared river course can be a source of enhanced collaboration, and need not be a zero-sum game,” she emphasized.

Noting that the three States have undertaken sustained efforts to enhance cooperation on transboundary water resources, she recalled that, in 2015, they signed the Agreement on Declaration of Principles, in which they committed to “cooperation, equitable and reasonable” water-resource use. They also agreed to settle any disputes peacefully and pledged to work under the auspices of the African Union on outstanding issues of the negotiations, she said. However, agreement on a dispute-resolution mechanism and arrangements for the dam during times of protracted drought, among other issues, remains outstanding today.

As all three Governments have recognized, demand on water resources, both for agriculture and energy, is rising, she said. Cooperative water management is becoming even more important in the context of climate change, as models indicate that the Nile’s flow will exhibit increasing variability in the coming years. “It is, therefore, imperative that the parties work together to manage these interconnected challenges,” she stressed.

Briefing on behalf of the African Union Chairperson was the representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who said tensions around the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam have been rising for years. Despite several diplomatic initiatives, negotiations have ultimately reverted to the African Union under the principle of “African solutions to African problems”, he added. Under the bloc’s auspices, a draft agreement now exists, and 90 per cent of technical problems have been resolved, he asserted, while cautioning that, pending a final accord on all elements, the African Union has requested that all sides abstain from taking positions that could further complicate the negotiations.

As Council members took the floor, some delegates noted that, despite the dam’s significant potential to benefit the region, its construction has become a source of both misunderstanding and tension. Several speakers underlined the importance of constructive engagement and compromise, citing their own experiences of managing tensions with other States over transboundary water sources. Many also underscored the importance of holding negotiations over an African project that affects three African neighbours under the auspices of the African Union.

Niger’s representative echoed others in calling upon Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan to demonstrate the continued political will to engage in negotiations, while urging the three States to exercise restraint and refrain from any actions that could put a final agreement at risk. “Peaceful coexistence is priceless,” he emphasized, noting his own country’s membership of a successful nine-State water management framework — the Niger Basin Authority. Welcoming the African Union Assembly’s pledges to push forward with negotiations, he spotlighted the important principle of subsidiarity, saying it should lead the three relevant countries to resolve their own challenges.

Kenya’s representative emphasized that the goal of all the peoples of the Horn of Africa is to throw off the shackles of poverty and the ills of war. Describing the concerns of Egypt and Sudan as legitimate — and Ethiopia’s use of the Nile’s waters as equally so — he declared: “Kenya stands with the three States, recognizing their equality and that all their people equally deserve development and prosperity.” Against that backdrop, the three Governments are to be commended for placing their faith and confidence in the African Union’s mediation mechanism while agreeing that the principle of subsidiarity remains critical, he said.

India’s representative shared his own country’s experience as a riparian State — one situated on a riverbank – that has engaged in difficult negotiations on transboundary water issues. India’s experience further underscores the importance of bilateral or plurilateral mechanisms agreed by the primary stakeholders, taking into account technical details, historical usage and socioeconomic aspects, he said. Going forward, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan should pursue bilateral engagements and cooperate fully with the African Union to reach a long-term solution that will serve the development needs of all communities, he advised.

Mexico’s delegate also shared his country’s experience, noting that it has a long history of sharing water resources, both on its northern border with the United States and its southern border with Belize and Guatemala. Suggesting that the International Boundary Water Commission — established between the United States and Mexico in 1989 — could serve as a good template for similar arrangements between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan, he called upon them to reach agreement on filling the dam and urged them to abstain from actions that could undermine the goodwill needed to reach such a compromise.

Sudan’s Minister for Foreign Affairs reaffirmed the need for the process to continue under African Union auspices and urged the Council to play a positive role in resolving the dispute. She said her country has supported the dam’s construction from the outset, understanding that its advantages would not be restricted to Ethiopia, and that it would operate according to a legally binding agreement that considers the equitable, reasonable use of cross-border resources without inflicting harm on downstream States. However, she warned that the 74 billion cubic metre dam, located near Sudan’s border, could present a threat to half of the country and to all of Egypt in the absence of coordination with downstream communities. “It is crucial for us to be kept abreast on the filling and functioning methods of the Renaissance Dam,” she emphasized, pointing out that Ethiopia has rejected all recent proposals.

Egypt’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, echoing some of those points, stressed that more than 100 million Egyptians face an existential threat from a dam of mammoth proportions being built along the artery that gives them life. Noting that Ethiopia has unilaterally begun filling the dam — essentially declaring ownership of the Nile — he said Egypt’s response has been one of restraint in the interest of all sides. He went on to denounce Ethiopia’s actions as a violation of international law and an attempt to transform a boundary river into an instrument of political control. The failure of negotiations and the absence of a viable settlement compelled Cairo to request that the Council intervene in a situation that could endanger the maintenance of international peace and security, he said, urging members to call for the adoption of Tunisia’s draft resolution seeking an equitable agreement within a defined timeline.

Ethiopia’s Minister for Water, Irrigation and Energy said it is unfitting of the Council’s time and resources to hold discussions on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. The project is not the first of its kind in Africa nor in the world, he said, adding: “Perhaps what puts [the dam] in distinction from other projects is the extent of hope and aspiration it generates for 65 million Ethiopians that have no access to electricity.” Ethiopia has the best wishes for its neighbours, Egypt and Sudan, and believes in their ability to cooperate for their mutual benefit, he said. Pointing out that both countries have dams and canals, large and small, that they constructed without regard for the rights of other riparian countries, he pledged that Ethiopia will continue to negotiate in good faith, while emphasizing: “None of us ought to stand thirsty while watching the others drink.”

The Russian Federation’s representative suggested that negotiations among all countries of the Nile Basin would be the best outcome. He cautioned that statements about the possible use of force should be avoided, emphasizing: “We are concerned about escalation of confrontational rhetoric.”

[The Nile Basin comprises Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania.]

Also speaking were representatives of Tunisia, United Kingdom, Norway, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, United States, Estonia, Ireland, Viet Nam, China and France.

The meeting began at 3:03 p.m. and ended at 5:51 p.m.

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