Egypt and Ethiopia vowed on Sunday to tackle their differences over a dam Addis Ababa is building on the Nile River that Cairo fears threatens its water supplies.
Ethiopia is preparing to fill the reservoir behind its new $4 billion Grand Renaissance Dam possibly as soon as this year, which could have devastating consequences for neighbouring Egypt that has depended on the Nile for millennia to irrigate strategic crops for the country’s 96 million people.
Talks between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan on the building of the dam have stalled in recent months, after years of unsuccessful negotiations. But at a press conferee in Cairo, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi signalled they had made a breakthrough.
“We have come a long way in building confidence and strengthening bilateral cooperation,” Al-Sisi said.
“We will take care of the Nile and we will preserve your share and we will work to increase this quota and President Sisi and I will work on this,” Ahmed said, addressing Egyptians.
Towards the end of their news conference, Al-Sisi asked Ahmed to swear to God before the Egyptian people that he will not hurt Egypt’s share of the Nile.
“I swear to God, we will never harm you,” Ahmed repeated.
Ethiopia aims to use the dam to become Africa’s biggest power generator and exporter, linking tens of millions to electricity for the first time. Egypt has sought assurance that the dam will not affect the river’s flow, estimated at about 84 billion cubic metres on average per year.
Addis Ababa says that its dam won’t affect the Nile’s flow once its 79 billion cubic metre reservoir is filled, but concerns remain over how fast that will occur. Ethiopia wants to do it in as little as three years, whilst Egypt has been aiming for seven to ten.
Al-Sisi further added that he and Ahmed discussed plans to increase economic cooperation and said the two countries will facilitate and boost investments in the other, including through the establishment of an Egyptian economic zone in Ethiopia.
Egypt also released 32 jailed Ethiopians over the weekend as a goodwill gesture, a move well received by Prime Minister Ahmed. Al-Sisi added that Egypt had also promised to help locate the bodies of 38 Ethiopians killed by Daesh in Libya in 2015.