The Ethiopian government’s announcement of the inauguration of electricity production from the Renaissance Dam, on February 20, was the beginning of a new phase in the story of the largest African dams for hydroelectric power generation, and it also increased the complications associated with the file in light of the suspension of negotiations between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia since April Past.

Although only two out of 13 turbines planned at the end of the project will start operating, this step is of great importance for both Ethiopia within the framework of its strategic vision of the Renaissance Dam with its developmental, economic and geopolitical dimensions, and for the person of the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, who is facing various internal and external difficulties.

In this context, this paper will shed light on the backgrounds associated with this Ethiopia declaration, the remaining options in the hands of Egypt and Sudan, and the potential role of the European Union to intervene more effectively in this file during the coming stages.

Dam and domination through energy

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks at the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, a huge hydroelectric power plant on the Nile River

According to the Ethiopian strategic vision, the importance of generating electricity from the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam does not stem from its meeting the local needs of electric energy only, as 60% of the country’s population of more than 112 million people does not enjoy it, but Addis Ababa depends on the dam as a source Possible future for hard currency and for geopolitical hegemony as well.

A study issued by the Center for the Conservation of Molecular Diversity International (MDPI), which specializes in energy affairs, states that “one of the [Ethiopian] government’s ambitions is to develop international trade and become an electricity exporter in the region,” and the 2021 study adds that the government can use the electricity export revenues in hard currency. To promote economic growth, support the development of its energy system, and finance renewable energy investments (1).

Given that Ethiopia does not suffer alone from the weak electric power networks in East Africa, Addis Ababa views the expected energy from the dam as a commodity that can be exported to many countries such as Kenya, Djibouti, Sudan and South Sudan (2).

Such exports in the fields of energy will guarantee Addis Ababa a geopolitical influence with the importing parties, given that electricity will not be a vital tool in the development process in these countries only, but will be linked mainly to the daily lives of people in these countries, especially building economic capacities related to social welfare in its various forms. , which we see a typical case of in Russia's use of its oil and gas exports to put pressure on the European Union (3).

Ethiopian Advertising Wallpapers

On the twentieth of last February, the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abi Ahmed, announced, in a festive atmosphere, the start of electric power generation from the Grand Renaissance Dam, stressing in his speech that his country wants to provide energy to 60% of its population, "who have never seen a light bulb" before To add in emotional language: "And also to our mothers who carry firewood for energy" (4).

Away from this protocol atmosphere, the Prime Minister himself appears to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of this step on more than one level, in the midst of the challenges he faces internally and externally.

It can all be detailed below:

  • 1- Consecrate the image of the leader

In the media, this announcement was employed to perpetuate an image of the Prime Minister as a strong national leader capable of facing external pressures that, according to Ethiopian statements (5), target the unity and future of Ethiopia by obstructing it from working on the Renaissance Dam, and within the framework of this employment, the symbolic capital of the dam was taken advantage of. As a comprehensive project for the Ethiopians at a stage where their country is fighting vertical and horizontal cracks that threaten its existence, especially after the devastating war in the Tigray region and its consequences.

Therefore, in the context of drawing this picture, some officials attributed to Ahmed Al-Fadl for reviving the project after “our country lost a lot due to the delay in work on the dam” (6) in the last stage, as it was clear the deliberate absence of the role of Meles Zenawi, the former prime minister and spiritual father. who launched the dam project (7), which cannot be separated from the course of the conflict between Ahmed and the Tigray People's Liberation Front, of which Zenawi was the most prominent historical leader.

  • 2- Reviving economic hopes

 The Ethiopian announcement reflects the government’s desire to revive the hopes of the Ethiopians about the approaching shift that the dam brings to their country’s economy, which is suffering as a result of war, sanctions and drought, especially when looking at the results of the direct Ethiopian step. Two days after Addis Ababa announced the start of electricity production from the dam, its ambassador in Kenya announced the start of Nairobi talks. With Addis Ababa to buy electricity from it within the framework of the trade agreement between the two neighboring countries (8).

Economists at the Information Processing Service (IHS Markit) expected Ethiopia's economic growth to approach 2% in 2021, the lowest in a decade, with transportation and harvest disruption due to local conflict in addition to weak investment and industrial production growth.

Moody's Investors Service also cut Ethiopia's sovereign credit rating twice in 2021, due to escalating external liquidity risks while annual average headline inflation remained high at 33% in November 2021, down from 34.2% in October ( The highest rate since April 2012)(9).

  • 3- Unifying the home front behind the prime minister

The great celebrations that accompanied the announcement were employed to try to create an internal alignment behind the Ethiopian Prime Minister at a critical moment in which a new political environment is taking shape in the context of Ethiopian reconciliation and possible reconciliation with the Tigray People's Liberation Front.

The Ethiopian Parliament approved the formation of the National Dialogue Commission, in late January 2021, which aims to find common ground on contentious issues, “paving the way for national consensus and preserving the country’s unity” (10).

This Ethiopian reconciliation, despite its necessity in a country torn by internal conflicts, poses many challenges to the Ethiopian Prime Minister regarding the formation of its commission and its working mechanisms (11);

As the opposition elites raise questions about the feasibility of a dialogue in which major parties in the internal Ethiopian conflict are absent, such as the Oromo Liberation Army and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (12), in addition to the apprehension that reconciliation will turn into a political tool in the hands of the ruling Welfare Party (13).

While the possible reconciliation with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front raises the possibility of the disintegration of Ahmed’s alliance with his closest allies from the Amhara and the rearrangement of the Ethiopian internal house, and thus the possibilities of bringing them back to the back and pushing the Oromo nationalism, to which the Ethiopian Prime Minister himself belongs, to the fore, with all the internal confusion that this would cause. He poured more fire into the atmosphere of polarization that has dominated the country for years.

  • 4- Letters to my downstream country

Although the Ethiopian Prime Minister affirmed in his speech on the occasion of generating electricity from the dam his country’s intention not to harm the downstream countries, the actual message to both Cairo and Khartoum is that Addis Ababa continues its method based on imposing facts on the ground, and that Ahmed has won his internal conflict;

The Ethiopian government has long accused Egypt and Sudan of supporting the Tigray People's Liberation Front and other armed groups in the country (14).

  • 5- Take advantage of timing

The choice of the timing of the announcement appears to be related to the developments in the situation in Eastern Europe, and the major powers concerned with the region’s focus on the escalating Russian-Ukrainian tension at the time, which spared Addis Ababa from external pressures regarding its unilateral step, according to the description of the downstream countries (Egypt and Sudan).

On the other hand, the coincidence of the start of electricity generation from the dam, with the United States and its allies fully preoccupied with the Russian-Ukrainian file, seems appropriate for the Prime Minister to pressure the American envoy to the Horn of Africa, David Satterfield, who is working to mediate the conflict between Addis Ababa and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front from On the one hand, with the aim of reaching a satisfactory solution for all parties to the Renaissance Dam crisis, on the other (15), whose task will become more difficult after this announcement.

Egypt and the option of diplomacy

Although the Ethiopian Prime Minister considered the start of electricity generation from the Renaissance Dam “happy news” for the downstream countries (16), the two countries expressed their rejection of this step;

The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced in an official statement that the Ethiopian side is "violating its obligations under the 2015 Declaration of Principles Agreement signed by the Ethiopian Prime Minister" (17).

On the other hand, Cairo does not have many cards to bet on, and the call of the African Union to re-launch negotiations appears to be the most important Egyptian option (18).

Perhaps Cairo hopes that the new leadership of the federation, represented by Senegalese President Macky Sall(19), will be more effective and understanding of the Egyptian position, given that the Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, has met with the Senegalese president 3 times during the past ten months;

The file of the Renaissance Dam was raised in their meetings (20), in addition to the fact that Senegal itself has a successful experience in overcoming differences with the countries bordering the Senegal River, and turning it into an arena for cooperation and mutual investment between them.

Given the suffering of the Ethiopian economy as a result of war, drought and sanctions, Cairo is likely to try to persuade countries and international financial institutions to pressure Ethiopia to take more flexible positions in the dam negotiations in exchange for the financial support it needs to rise from the rubble of war.

While the climate summit, scheduled to be held in Cairo in November of this year(21), provides an appropriate international platform to present the Egyptian perception of the risks of the Renaissance Dam on its water security.

Internally, Cairo will continue to take measures related to confronting potential water poverty, by “providing alternative and non-conventional water sources, such as reusing sewage water, desalinating sea water in the northern coasts and on the Red Sea using clean energy, while improving the efficiency of the water management system.” (22).

In the long run, it seems the best Egyptian options are to continue the strategy of opening up to the African continent, especially the Nile Basin countries neighboring Ethiopia and close to it, within a network of multi-dimensional agreements.

In this context, the last period witnessed Cairo signing military and security agreements with Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda (23).

The Egyptian activity also included signing agreements to support the alternative energy sector in the Nile Basin and Lakes countries;

Where Egyptian institutions have contributed to the construction of renewable energy plants in Djibouti, Somalia, Uganda, Eritrea, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in addition to the electrical connection between the two grids, the Egyptian and Sudanese, and the construction of the Julius Nyerere Dam in Tanzania (24).

This strategy, in its security aspect, goes beyond Cairo’s penetration of sensitive countries for Ethiopia to an attempt to create a security and political environment that understands, and may later support, concerns about the Renaissance Dam’s threat to its water security.

In its energy aspect, it aims to reduce the dependence of the concerned countries on the Ethiopian energy expected from the Renaissance Dam, which will necessarily mean reducing the profits of the dam, and most importantly reducing the expected Ethiopian geopolitical influence by controlling the energy tap flowing from the turbines of the Renaissance Dam.

Despite the constant talk about it, the military option seems the most distant so far, while Cairo’s support for the Benishangul rebels, the region on whose land the Renaissance Dam is being built, remains a possibility that its potential and feasibility are fraught with risks related to the developments in the situation in Ethiopia and the position of Sudan, Cairo’s only crossing to the liberation movement The people of Benishangul opposition to Addis Ababa.

Sudan: internal and external challenges

Khartoum's initial reaction did not differ from Cairo's.

Where the Sudanese negotiating delegation on the Renaissance Dam issued a statement describing the Ethiopian move as a “fundamental breach of Ethiopia’s international legal obligations,” and a violation of “the Declaration of Principles between the three countries, signed in Khartoum in March 2015” (25).

Despite this sharp statement, Sudan's position seems weak at the moment as a result of the many challenges it faces internally and externally.

Khartoum is mired in a turbulent internal situation, with an unprecedented and dangerous economic decline that affects its ability to take serious and strong positions regarding the Renaissance Dam file and others (26), in light of the failure of the leaders of the October 25 coup to reach an agreement with the political opposition parties and with committees The resistance that leads the ongoing demonstrations in the street.

In the same context, the Ethiopian move came at a moment when the Sudanese leadership is facing great challenges abroad.

The US government is pressuring it to reach a political settlement, and calls are rising for individual sanctions against Sudanese military leaders (28).

While Russia, one of the most important allies of the Sudanese authority at the international level, it also entered into a major crisis after its forces invaded Ukraine.

In this context, the visit of the Vice-President of the Sudanese Sovereignty Council, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemedti), to Addis Ababa (29), last January 22, and the friendly atmosphere that characterized it as a benefit to both parties;

Where Abi Ahmed aims to send a message to the international community about his country’s pursuit of reconciliation and peace after the internal and external conflicts in which it has been involved in the past period, while Khartoum aimed to ensure that Ethiopia, whose situation has begun to stabilize, does not take any steps that further deteriorate the fragile situation in the country. Sudan.

If we put in addition to this the division of positions in Khartoum over the position on the dam, it seems that resorting to a request to launch negotiations again with Addis Ababa (30) is the only option before Sudan, in which Egypt does not lose and does not anger Ethiopia, with which it is entangled in the file of the border dispute over the territory The flat too.

a summary

The Ethiopian announcement was not surprising given Addis Ababa's behavior throughout the years of negotiation based on imposing facts on the ground, while the options for the two downstream countries narrowed with the Ethiopian steps towards peace and internal reconciliation.

In this context, Cairo and Khartoum may work to advance European efforts to reach a satisfactory solution for all parties, according to Anita Weber, the European Union's envoy to the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea.

Weber reiterated in Cairo what she had previously stated of the union's interest in an integrated solution that includes "the dam and the integration of trade and transport infrastructure, and we would like to put more money more in infrastructure, in terms of ports, land and support for water management"(31);

This provides the union with an opportunity to "convince" Addis Ababa, which is willing to reconcile with the West and is thirsty for investments and foreign aid to rebuild what was destroyed by the war.

It was remarkable that Weber announced that the European Union was increasingly interested in "diversifying energy sources" in light of the Russian war in Ukraine, a statement days after the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abi Ahmed, revealed his country's desire to "export energy to Europe to reduce gas emissions that affect the environment." (32), which requires an infrastructure that includes an energy transmission network that crosses Sudan and Egypt to the old continent, which cannot be worked on without the three countries reaching an agreement on the dam.

In view of all this, negotiation with European support seems the available option now, and although the suspension of Sudan’s membership by the African Union following the October 25 coup represents an obstacle to the resumption of negotiations, pushing Egypt and Sudan to separate the membership file from the negotiation file will allow Cairo to work to salvage what it can Saving him, while it may open the door for Khartoum to go further with the African Union.


This article is taken from Al Jazeera Center for Studies.