Renaissance Dam: the dialogue of the last chance?

In the battle over the Nile between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, this may be the last chance for diplomacy and conciliation. The Congolese presidency announced on March 30 that Felix Tshisekedi will soon host a round of negotiations between Cairo, Khartoum and Addis Ababa over the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

To this end, a ministerial-level meeting has been scheduled for April 3 to 5 in Kinshasa. It is reportedly to be attended by Felix Tshisekedi, who has been chairing the African Union (AU) since February, and the chair of the AU Commission, Chad’s Moussa Faki Mahamat. The three foreign ministers involved, Ethiopia’s Demeke Mekonnen, Sudan’s Mariam al-Mahdi and Egypt’s Sameh Choukri, are also expected to attend, accompanied by their counterparts in water and irrigation.

Indeed, the stakes are high, as the tension between the three countries is palpable. Earlier this week, after Ethiopia announced that it will conduct its first power generation tests on the Renaissance Dam this year, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi warned that there would be « serious regional consequences if Egypt’s water supply is affected. Egypt, along with its southern neighbor Sudan, has been seeking a legally binding agreement with Ethiopia on the operation of the Renaissance Dam for years. This hydroelectric infrastructure is crucial to Addis Ababa’s economic development. With a population of more than 100 million, the giant of the Horn of Africa has experienced strong growth for more than a decade, driven by major investments in infrastructure (trains, roads, industrial parks) but burdened by a recurrent lack of foreign currency, due primarily to exports that have not taken off. In this context, electricity could prove to be a key element in boosting energy supply as well as in generating additional foreign exchange earnings. A study by the East Nile Technical Office (Entro) of the Nile Basin Initiative estimates that Ethiopia could eventually export up to 2,000 MWh to Egypt and 1,200 MWh to Sudan. A line should also soon connect Kenya and Ethiopia, which also expects one day to be able to sell its power to South Sudan and Tanzania.

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The Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which was launched in February 2011 and is expected to be commissioned by the end of 2022, will be the largest hydroelectric complex in Africa. Built on the Blue Nile, it will have a production capacity of 6,000 megawatts, for an estimated investment of nearly 5 billion dollars.