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Statement by Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Horn of Africa Mr. Parfait Onanga-Anyanga on GERD 8 July 2021

Merci beaucoup Monsieur le Président pour l’occasion que vous nous offrez de nous adresser au Conseil de sécurité sur l’épineuse question du Grand barrage de la Renaissance éthiopienne, plus connue sous son acronyme Anglais GERD. Permettez-moi avant de poursuivre mon propos de vous féliciter pour votre conduite avisée des affaires du Conseil dont la France assume la présidence pendant le mois en cours.

Mr. President,

The GERD encapsulates the conflicting narratives, hopes and fears, challenges and opportunities related to water usage, security and energy in Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan and the wider Horn of Africa.

This is the second time we brief the Security Council on this issue. The last time was in June 2020.

Since then, despite various attempts at negotiations, the parties have been unable to agree on a framework of engagement to settle the remaining contentious issues.

While member states have also acknowledged that most aspects related to the GERD have been addressed, we understand the parties still have to agree on some core issues, including a dispute resolution mechanism and on drought mitigation, particularly the filling and operation of the dam under drought years. My colleague Inger Andersen, UNEP Executive Director, will provide you with more details on the relevant technical issues surrounding the negotiations.

At the virtual meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Ministers of Irrigation of the three countries held on 27 October 2020 and chaired by South Africa, and the virtual tripartite meeting held on 10 January 2021, the parties could not agree on the exact role of the experts and observers supporting the African Union-led negotiations process.

On 6 February, Sudan put forward a new proposal contemplating a quadripartite joint mediation of the African Union, the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU) and the United States of America (US). On 15 March, Sudan, with the support of Egypt, formally requested the AU, the UN, the US and the EU to mediate between the parties regarding the GERD. Ethiopia, however, preferred fewer changes to the ongoing AU-led process.

During the talks which took place in Kinshasa from 5 to 7 April this year and chaired by President Felix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in his capacity as Chairperson of the AU, the parties were, once again, unable to agree on a mediation framework.

On 13 April Sudanese Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok offered to activate the dispute resolution mechanism at the level of Heads of State and Governments contemplated in the 2015 Declaration of Principles on the GERD. On 21 April in response to Prime Minister Hamdok’s invitation, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed stated that a meeting of the AU Assembly’s Bureau should rather be the way forward.

Owing to the lack of progress of the talks, President Tshisekedi stepped up his engagement on the GERD, and between 8 and 11 May, started a regional tour with a visit to Khartoum, Cairo and Addis Ababa. President Tshisekedi engaged with the parties on the basis of a two-step approach addressing first the most pressing issue of the filling of the GERD during the rainy season, and second, guarantees for a more comprehensive agreement on subsequent filling and operation of the dam.

On 24 June, President Tshisekedi convened virtually the Bureau of the African Union Heads of State for an “exchange of information” on the GERD. Unfortunately, no significant progress was registered in the presence of Ethiopia and Egypt, while Sudan decided not to attend.

Also, on June 15th, the League of Arab States met in Doha and passed a resolution on the GERD dispute which, inter alia, called on Ethiopia to refrain from filling the GERD reservoir without reaching an agreement and on the Security Council to hold consultations on this matter. In response, Ethiopia objected to the LAS communiqué which it saw as an attempt to politicize and internationalize the dispute and stressed its commitment to AU mediation while reiterating its plan to move forward with the second filling of the dam in July.

Meanwhile, we are aware of bilateral interactions between Ethiopia and Sudan on the issue of the GERD as well as of Sudan’s recent statement expressing readiness to accept an interim agreement on the filling of the dam on the condition that a deal is signed regarding all other points which have been agreed to date and ensuring the continuity of negotiations within a set time limit.

While there is no formal agreement reached yet on this development and we have yet to see the results of this effort, it is in line with the efforts of a phased approach proposed by President Tshisekedi.

In the meantime, on 5 July the Government of Ethiopia wrote a letter to the Governments of Egypt and Sudan, to inform on the commencement of the second-year filling of the GERD. Both Egypt and Sudan have objected to this notification, reiterating their position that any further filling should take place in the context of an agreed upon framework.

Mr. President,

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 a common ground.

Indeed, the Secretary-General has always encouraged member states to pursue negotiations in this manner.

To assist in this process, he has entrusted UNEP to provide technical advice based on the best available scientific data and knowledge, with a view to helping countries reach a mutual understanding on how to handle this delicate matter.

Clearly, more needs to be done given that recent negotiations have yielded little progress and it is undeniable that this is a matter of critical importance. We call on all parties to deal with the matter in a constructive manner and to avoid any pronouncements that would increase tensions in a region that is already subject to a series of challenges, including the impact of COVID-19 and violent conflicts.

Mr. President,

I would like to take this opportunity to also commend the work done by the African Union rotating Presidents, H.E. Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa and the current chair of the African Union, H.E. President Felix-Antoine Tshisekedi to facilitate a mutually beneficial and peaceful outcome.

We believe that together, along with other interested partners, there is room to move forward with a view to addressing the matter of the GERD in a peaceful, constructive and comprehensive manner, in line with the spirit of cooperation highlighted in the 2015 Declaration of Principles.

The United Nations remains available to promote a win-win solution in supporting member states in navigating this complex issue, where genuine political will, compromise and good neighborliness are essential.

In closing, I believe that this important issue, if properly addressed, could offer significant opportunities for all the parties and countries in the region and beyond. I would like to once more stress that cooperation is not a zero-sum game and a collective effort could help deliver on the development potential of the region as a whole.

Thank you, Mr. President.