New AU chair Tshisekedi seeks end to Ethiopia dam dispute

DR Congo President Felix Tshisekedi vowed Sunday to pursue a resolution to a long-running dispute over Ethiopia’s Blue Nile River mega-dam during his tenure as chair of the African Union.

Tshisekedi started his one-year term as AU chair, replacing South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, at a virtual summit of African heads of state and government over the weekend.

In remarks concluding the two-day summit, Tshisekedi said there was “a will to implement innovative solutions leading to the peaceful settlement of differences between countries, notably to provide solutions to problems currently dividing Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over the construction of the Renaissance Dam on the Nile River.”

The dam has been a source of tension in the Horn of Africa ever since Ethiopia broke ground on it a decade ago, spurring multiple rounds of inconclusive talks.

Ethiopia says the hydroelectric power produced by the dam will be vital to meet the energy needs of its 110 million people.

Egypt, which depends on the Nile for about 97 percent of its irrigation and drinking water, sees the dam as an existential threat.

Sudan hopes the project will regulate annual flooding, but fears its own dams, including the Roseires and Merowe, would be harmed if no agreement were reached on its operations.

Last year Ethiopia announced it had hit its first-year target for filling the dam’s reservoir. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government has also recently signalled it would continue filling during the coming rainy season regardless of whether a deal is struck.

On Saturday Sudan’s water minister Yasser Abbas warned Ethiopia against going ahead with the second phase of filling, saying in an interview with AFP that this would pose a “direct threat to Sudanese national security”.

Tshisekedi did not specify how the AU might engage on the dam issue under his leadership, but the AU has been involved in multiple rounds of talks in the past, including one held last month that failed to make headway.

On Friday Ethiopia’s water minister Seleshi Bekele accused Sudan and Egypt of collaborating to block progress on negotiations.

“We expect (Tshisekedi) as an AU member to undertake his role in Renaissance Dam talks appropriately, without impinging on anybody’s right,” he told reporters in Addis Ababa.

The Nile, the world’s longest river, is a lifeline supplying both water and electricity to the 10 countries it traverses.

Its main tributaries, the White Nile and Blue Nile, converge in Khartoum before flowing north through Egypt to drain into the Mediterranean Sea.

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