On 8 July, the UN Security Council convened a request from Egypt and Sudan to discuss the situation in the Horn of Africa and the Nile basin regarding the differences between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia regarding the absence of a binding filling agreement and the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).
This is the second time that Egypt has put the matter of anger before the world. It was the first time last year, long before the second filling of the dam, which began earlier this month without prior consultation with the two countries of Egypt and Sudan.
In both cases, Egypt referred the matter to the Council under Chapter VI of the UN Charter, entitled “Pacific Dispute Resolution”. This time the referral was made in accordance with Article 35 of the Charter, which stipulates that “any member of the United Nations may bring any dispute or situation referred to in Article 34 to the attention of the Security Council or the General Assembly.”
The minutes of Chapter 34 state that “The Security Council may investigate any conflict or situation that may give rise to international friction or conflict to determine whether the continuation of the conflict or situation is likely to jeopardize the maintenance of international peace and security. ”
From the perspective of Article 34, it appears that the Security Council failed to fulfill its duty last Thursday as prescribed in Article 34. The undoubted continuation of the serious remaining differences between the three countries of the Nile represents or causes a conflict or a “situation” “which could jeopardize the maintenance of international peace and security.” The July 8 meeting was entitled “Peace and Security in Africa”.
The Egyptian, Sudanese and Ethiopian delegations, the first two headed by their foreign ministers and the latter led by the irrigation minister, explained the positions of their countries. The Egyptian foreign minister warned that Cairo would protect its part of the Nile water by any necessary means, but stressed that the Egyptian government still hopes to resolve the differences with Ethiopia through negotiations. The Sudanese foreign minister proved militant when she said Ethiopia wanted to “arm” the Nile water and exercise “hegemony” over Blue Nile resources.
As far as Ethiopians are concerned, the comments of their Minister of Irrigation were a repetition of their well-known position, often repeated over the last ten years, which contradicts the facts on the ground. However, the comments were mostly addressed to Ethiopian public opinion, rather than discussing the remarkable differences with the lower-level countries objectively and in a spirit of compromise.
Members of the Security Council insisted that negotiations were the best possible way to close the differences between the three countries, and expressed the wish that the African Union would continue to work for a final agreement on the filling and operation of the dam.
The Russian and French delegations spoke of their readiness to help the three countries reach a satisfactory solution to the differences, and the Russian Permanent Representative spoke of relations between Egypt and Sudan and other countries in the Nile basin. This is an interesting point that can be discussed between Egypt and Sudan in reviewing and reassessing the road so far and in comparing their deliberations at the Security Council meeting last Thursday.
Many Egyptian commentators regretted the lack of support for the Egyptian position among the members of the Security Council. I believe no one should be surprised at how Thursday’s session on the Ethiopian dam went. The meeting was both important and significant, as it showed how the international community stands on the issues at stake.
On July 10, a U.S. State Department spokesman announced the U.S. position on the differences over the dam. This was a new American position that deserves attention. A spokesman said the U.S. did not understand what he called a “military option” as an alternative to resolving the “crisis” over the dam. He added that the best place to overcome the differences between the three sides is the African Union, adding that Africa no longer needs wars. While the U.S. government is willing to provide “political and technical assistance,” he said, it depends on the “consent” of the parties concerned. Whether Ethiopia will agree to this remains an open question. I doubt it will be if I set things up diplomatically.
I assume that the other four permanent members of the Security Council have similar views to those expressed by a spokesman for the US State Department. We are now drawing the right conclusions from the remarks made at the Security Council on 8 July, and we are planning further steps accordingly.
* The writer is a former Assistant Foreign Minister.
* A version of this article was published in print in Al-Ahram Weekly, July 8, 2021