Limelight on the Declaration of Principles on the Renaissance Dam

By: Aisha Braima

KHARTOUM, Mar 25 (SUDANOW)—At last and after four years of heated disputes, statements and meetings, Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan reached a declaration of principles agreement on the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. The document was signed by the Heads of State and Government on Monday, 23 March 2015 in the Sudanese capital Khartoum.
The deal consists of a preamble and 10 principles, six of which are related to the International Water Law, while the four others are connected with the Renaissance Dam, its safety, filling its reservoir and the hydro-electric power it will generate.

In this article we are going to discuss those 10 principles in brief.

The basic issue that was underlined by the Declaration of Principles Agreement was that the Renaissance Dam has become a reality accepted by Egypt and Sudan frankly and without equivocation. The agreement lowered the curtain for good on a threat of resorting to a military action to stop construction of the Dam as alluded to in numerous statements coming out of Cairo. Such a threat was made after a joint meeting of the Egyptian government and opposition during the reign of former President Mohamed Morsy in June 2013. The participants, who were unaware that the meeting was televised and broadcast live, spoke in favor of a military operation of striking the site of the Dam.
The agreement also lowered the curtain on a sternly repeated demand by Egypt for halting construction of the Renaissance Dam pending completion of the studies which were recommended by an international committee of experts on the Dam. Egypt presented this demand after the committee of experts report was issued in May 2013 and it raised it once again at the first tripartite ministerial meeting in November 2013, then at the second and third meetings in December 2013 and in January 2014.
The tripartite ministerial meetings were stopped due to Egypt's insistence on stopping the construction of the Dam until completion of the studies and to Ethiopia's objection to this demand. Egypt clung to this demand until the convening of the fourth ministerial meeting in Khartoum in August 2014.
Before signing the agreement, the three leaders viewed a documentary film on the construction of the Dam. The Egyptian Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources, accompanied by his Sudanese counterpart, paid a visit to the site of the Dam after the fifth ministerial meeting in Addis Ababa on 22-23 September 2014. Several observers interpreted this visit as a beginning of Egypt's acceptance of construction of the Dam, despite denial by the Egyptian Minister of this conclusion. But this acceptance was made clear in the Declaration of Principles agreement.
The agreement emphasized, in the First Paragraph, the basic principle on which the international water resources management is based. It is the principle of cooperation with which most of the common international water basins are run nowadays but was often absent from the Nile Basin up until the moment of signing the agreement. This cooperation, according to the agreement, is based on common understanding and benefits of the three countries in addition to the good-will and understanding of the water needs of the upstream and downstream countries.
The second Paragraph dealt with what it called "the principle of development, regional integration and sustainability". This is the term used by the agreement as a prelude to acceptance by Egypt and Sudan of the Renaissance Dam, as this Paragraph indicated that the purpose of the Renaissance Dam is to generate hydro-electric power in contribution to the economic and social development and to the promotion of cross-border cooperation and regional integration through generation of reliable, clean and sustainable energy.
The agreement then spoke, in Paragraph Three, about the principles of the International Water Law, underscoring commitment by each one of the three countries to refraining from doing any consequential damage to another country through using the water of the Blue Nile or the River Nile. But this paragraph retracted a little bit from the inevitability of the text by obligating the country the programmes of which may cause the consequential damage to take measures for warding off or mitigating this damage and to negotiate a compensation to the affected country, if possible.
The three countries endorsed, in Paragraph Four, the principle of fair and proper utilization of the Nile water by the member states of the Basin. This Paragraph alluded to the following strategic guiding elements as guidelines for defining the fair and proper benefits:
a-The geographic, hydro-geographic, water, climatic, environmental and other natural elements
b-The social and economic needs of the concerned member states of the Basin.
c-The residents who depend on the water resources in each member state of the Basin
d-The impacts of utilization of the water resources by a member state on the other states
e-The current and potential uses of the water resources
f-The factors of preservation, protection, development and economics of utilization of the water resources and the cost of the measures taken in this connection
g-The availability of relatively valuable alternatives for a planned or limited use
h-The contribution by each member state to River Nile system
i-The extension and acreage of the Basin in each member state
These elements are firmly founded on the elements of Entebbe Agreement.
A thorough reading of these two principles shows that the agreement has granted priority to the principle of fair and proper use and to commitment to refraining from causing a consequential damage, as the agreement has obligated the parties to ward off or mitigate the damage and added the principle of compensation if this is not possible.
Paragraph Five once again underlined the principle of cooperation, referring to it in connection with filling the reservoir and administration of the Dam, explaining that this will be made in accordance with the final recommendations of the report to be submitted to the expertise firm which will carry out the remaining three studies on the Dam. It also contained a provision on notification of the two downstream countries on any unforeseen or emergency circumstances that necessitate adjustment of operation of the Dam. It further provided for formation of a mechanism of coordination between the three countries. A committee composed of 12 experts from the three member states began procedures for selecting an expertise firm for conducting the studies and for supervising the work of this firm.
Paragraph Six of the agreement dealt with the confidence-building principle between the three parties and indicated that Ethiopia would grant the Sudan and Egypt a priority in the purchase of the energy to be generated by the Dam which, as we have earlier stated, will yield 6,000 megawatts on completion of all of its phases in 2017. It is certain that Egypt and Sudan are eager to have the Dam electricity to fill in the critical shortage the two countries are suffering.
Paragraph Seven placed emphasis on the importance of the exchange of the information and data required for conducting joint studies, in good-faith and cooperation, whenever the need arises.
Paragraph Eight was devoted to the safety of the Dam, with Egypt and Sudan praising the effort Ethiopia has played and is playing at present to guarantee that safety and commending agreement by Ethiopia to observe the recommendations contained in the studies which were conducted by the international committee on the safety of the Renaissance Dam.
Paragraph Nine raised once more the issue of cooperation, stating that the three parties agreed, under this Para, on equal sovereignty, common benefits and good-will for achieving optimal utilization and suitable protection of the River.
Paragraph 10, the concluding one, provided that the three parties have endorsed the principle of resolving, in a peaceful manner, disputes which may arise between them. It stated that the three parties have pledged commitment to settlement of disputes over interpretation or implementation of this agreement, in concord, through consultation or negotiation, in pursuit of the good-will principle. If the parties fail to find a settlement through consultation or negotiation, they can ask, together, for conciliation or mediation or submit the issue to the Heads of State and Government.
Ethiopia has thus won the battle over the Renaissance Dam with its Prime Minister returning home from Khartoum on Monday, March 23, 2015, carrying a document showing support by Egypt and Sudan for construction of the Renaissance Dam. This document has put an end to threats of resorting to force for stopping the building of the Dam. It also ended demands by Egypt of halting the construction pending completion of the studies. Moreover, the document has opened a new huge market for the Renaissance Dam electricity in two countries which have tremendous deficits in energy.
It must also be added that the agreement has dispelled Sudan's fears on the safety of the Dam as demonstrated in the commendation to the efforts made by Ethiopia and the latter's consent to implementing recommendations by the international committee on the safety of the Dam. The agreement likewise allayed fears of both Egypt and Sudan about the duration of filling the Dam's reservoir the capacity of which is 74 billion cubic meters. The agreement, in this regard, indicated that the filling of the reservoir and the operation of the Dam will also be made according to the recommendations of the international committee. As we have previously mentioned, the shorter the duration of filling the reservoir, the less the quantity of water that reaches the Sudan and Egypt. We would also like to indicate that Ethiopia will grant Egypt and Sudan the priority of selling the energy that will be generated by the Renaissance Dam, something which is regarded as a gesture pointing to a tremendous leap in, and activation of cooperation and starting a new stage of abandoning monopoly of the Nile water to benefiting and sharing by the Basin's member states.
The reader must have wondered about the fate of the agreements of 1902, 1929 and 1959 and the impact of this new agreement on them. The same question was raised in Cairo four days ahead of the signing of the Declaration of Principles agreement here in Khartoum. The news agencies reported an announcement by Egypt on Thursday, March 19, that the draft Declaration of Principles "has not responded to the Egyptian concerns" and that those concerns would be addressed away from the media before the Presidential visit to Ethiopia and Sudan.
The news agencies then reported that President Sisi met with Foreign Minister Samih Shukry and Irrigation and Water Resources Minister Husam Maghazy, International Cooperation Minister Najla'a al-Ahwany, General Intelligence Chief Khalid Fawzy and a representative of the Ministry of Defense and directed that the Nile Water High Committee and its affiliate technical committee continue revision of the draft Declaration of Principles and conduct a thorough study of all aspects of the Declaration in addition to consideration of pertinent legal measures.
The reports said there were Egyptian demands to be negotiated for inclusion in the draft Declaration of Principles before it was signed by the three leaders to be binding for the three countries. While intensive negotiations and contacts were running for signing the document, other reports indicated that President Sisi would travel to Addis Ababa to negotiate those concerns which included commitment to the 1902, 1929 and 1959 agreements. But the Declaration of Principles, as we have discussed earlier, is void of any reference to those agreements, let alone commitment with them.
It must be recorded in history that March 23, 2015 has opened up a new chapter in the history of the Nile Basin which greatly differs from past eras and from the 1902, 1929 and 1959 agreements. Egypt and Sudan agreed to negotiate with Ethiopia, something which strongly opposed in the past. They also agreed to sign with it an agreement that stresses equality among the three parties. But what is more important than all of this was that the agreement was based on the principle of cooperation and laid down the required foundations for this cooperation for the Nile Basin to catch up with the other basins where cooperation and common benefits replaced hegemony and unilateral projects.
The agreement has, moreover, underlined the principles of fair and proper benefits and commitment to abstention from causing a consequential damage. In this way, the agreement has come in concert with the International Water Law as contained in the United Nations Convention on International Water-courses which came into effect in August 2014 after it was approved by 35 countries, including nine African and nine Arab states.
If Egypt and Sudan have agreed on cooperation as a basic principle for administration, protection and benefiting from the common water and have equally accepted the principles of fair and proper benefits and commitment to abstention from causing a consequential damage and have also accepted the principle of exchanging information and resolving the disputes in a peaceful manner, the next step for them is to join Nile Basin Entebbe Agreement which is based on the six principles included in Khartoum's Declaration of Principles. And as Entebbe Agreement was itself based on the UN International Water-courses Convention, it is meaningless that the Sudan and Egypt stay away from the UN Convention, after they have recognized those principles.
A number of friends and readers have sent me on my email and telephone some important questions on related to this Declaration of Principles. These questions are: How and why has Ethiopia succeeded in its Renaissance Dam strategy? How could it manage to take the Renaissance to the shore of safety and confirm its establishment through the Declaration of Principles which the Egyptian and Sudanese leaders signed by themselves along with the Ethiopian Prime Minister? Moreover, how could Ethiopia have made this success to the extent of selling the electricity that will be generated by the Dam to the two countries which were aggressively opposed to the very construction of the Dam and one of them even threatened to strike it?
I will try to answer these important questions in an upcoming article.


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