Jean-Jacques Cornish

Egypt quits the Blue Nile talk but South Africa’s mediation sees hope

Three-quarters completeded and already trapping rainwater falling into the Blue Nile catchment area, Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam has produced a hit record for one of the country’s most popular singers.

Egypt fumes downstream about Ethiopia starting to fill the dam before a comprehensive agreement by riparian countries and leaves the tripartite talks, Sudan is given pause about longer-term benefits but expresses misgivings about the  safety of the multi-billion dollar project.

South Africa, as current chair of the African Union, insists that talks are back on track and urges the parties to stay at the table.

Ethiopian Premier Abiy Ahmed says he will be content with a guiding agreement with Sudan and Egypt on how much water has to go through the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

He has solid domestic support for the project that will turn his country into Africa’s largest hydro-electrical generator and bring power to 60 000 Ethiopians currently subsisting without electricity.

Ethiopia’s most popular musician Teddy Afro has recorded a hit song entitled “How Can We Negotiate the Nile”.

The Ethiopian highlands provide more than 85% of the Nile water. That country was excluded from colonial era agreements giving Egypt and Sudan rights to that water. 

This historical wrong cannot prevent Ethiopia using its natural resources, Ahmed maintains.

Downstream where 90 percent of Egypt’s  100-million people rely on the Nile water for survival, President Abdel Fatah Al Sisi, has burned up the hotline to his South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa, AU chair, and to his other international contacts to insist on harder language in the form of a binding agreement.

There has been a warning from Washington that development aid from the U.S to Ethiopia could be reduced if such an agreement on the Nile water is not reached.

This accord, says El Sisi, has to specify what Egypt can expect in drought years. 

The water ministry says Ethiopia is not accepting its legal obligation, so Egypt has withdrawn from talks to have further consultations on regulations about the operation of the dam. 

Cairo also wants a concrete legal mechanism for settling disputes.

“Egypt and Sudan demanded meetings be suspended for internal consultations on the Ethiopian proposal, which contravenes what was agreed upon during the African Union summit,” says the Egyptian ministry.

Sudan’s interim authority comprising military and civilian elements has been circumspect.

Their immediate problem is flooding, not drought.

A year after losing more than 60 people to floods the country is again experiencing  an inundation caused by heavy rains that has destroyed thousands of homes and decimated crops around the capital Khartoum.

When fully operational the GERD will control that to some extent.

Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia resumed trilateral negotiations on Monday. This follows the second extraordinary meeting on July 21 chaired by Ramaphosa

Today’s statement from the Department of International Relations and Cooperation in Pretoria says South Africa commends the Parties to the GERD for their commitment to finding an inclusive and durable agreement through dialogue and negotiation. 

“An amicable outcome would be beneficial to all the countries of the Blue Nile River and would boost regional cooperation and integration,” it adds

 Speaking on behalf of President Cyril Ramaphosa, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Naledi Pandor says: “As the Parties engage in this critical phase of the negotiations, we would like to urge them to continue to be guided by the spirit of Pan-African solidarity and fraternity, which has characterised the AU-led negotiations process on the GERD. In this regard, it is important that the Parties should display magnanimity and understanding of each other’s interests so as to move the process forward.”

She said: “South Africa encourages the Parties to remain engaged, and wishes to reassure them of the unremitting support and cooperation of the AU Bureau, and the entire membership of the AU.” It is expected that a report of the ongoing negotiations on outstanding technical and legal issues will be presented to President Ramaphosa in the next two weeks.

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Jean-Jacques Cornish is a journalist and broadcaster who has been involved in the media all his adult life.

Starting as a reporter on his hometown newspaper, he moved briefly to then Rhodesia before returning to South Africa to become a parliamentary correspondent with the South African Press Association. He was sent to London as Sapa’s London editor and also served as special correspondent to the United Nations. He joined the then Argus group in London as political correspondent.

Returning to South Africa after 12 years abroad, he was assistant editor on the Pretoria News for a decade before becoming editor of the Star and SA Times for five years.

Since 1999 he’s been an independent journalist writing and broadcasting – mainly about Africa – for Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape
Talk, Radio France International, PressTV, Radio Live New Zealand, Business Day, Mail & Guardian, the BBC, Agence France Press,
Business in Africa, Leadership, India Today, the South African Institute for International Affairs and the Institute for Security Studies.

He has hosted current affairs talk shows on Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape Talk. He appears as an African affairs pundit on SABC Africa and CNBC Africa.
He lectured in contemporary studies to journalism students at the Tshwane University of Technology and the University of Pretoria.

He speaks on African affairs to corporate and other audiences.
He has been officially invited as a journalist to more than 30 countries. He was the winner of the 2007 SADC award for radio journalism.

He’s been a member of the EISA team observing elections in Somaliland, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Egypt and Tunsiai.

In October 2009 he headed a group of 39 African journalists to the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Peoples’ Republic of China.

In January 2010 he joined a rescue and paramedical team to earthquake struck Haiti.

He is immediate past president of the Alliance Francaise of Pretoria.

Jean-Jacques is a director of Giant Media. The company was given access to Nelson Mandela in his retirement years until 2009.
He is co-producer of the hour-long documentary Mandela at 90 that was broadcast on BBC in January 2009.