Samuel Gebre | September 2, 2020 | Bloomberg
The U.S. suspended aid to Ethiopia over its decision to fill a hydropower dam on a tributary of the Nile River before agreeing with Egypt and Sudan on how the reservoir will be managed.
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam has posed a challenge to the U.S. as it’s tried to balance the demands of two major African allies and takes steps toward restoring relations with a fledgling democratic Sudan. Withholding aid to Ethiopia signals U.S. backing for Egypt, also an important Middle East partner, in the dispute.
African Union-brokered talks have so far failed to resolve the impasse and the Trump administration is increasingly concerned about their lack of progress, said a State Department official who asked not to be identified because they aren’t authorized to speak publicly about the matter.
Egypt, which depends on the Nile River for most of its fresh-water needs, is opposed to any development it says will impact the flow downstream — a position echoed by Sudan. Ethiopia is developing a 6,000-megawatt power plant at the dam, and has asserted a right to use the resource for its development.
“Ethiopia will not be deterred from finishing GERD by U.S. aid cuts and nor will it change its negotiating stance,” said William Davison, the International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Ethiopia. “Any U.S. attempt to pressurize Ethiopia in this manner will stiffen the government’s resolve to not make any concessions that Ethiopia believes will reduce the benefits” of the dam, he said.
By cutting aid, the U.S. also risks weakening cooperation with Ethiopia in its fight against Islamist extremists in the Horn of Africa region, said Nima Khorrami, an analyst at the Washington, D.C.-based Arctic Institute.
“It is a huge strategic mistake,” said Khorrami. “Halting aid will not only prove that U.S. is not a neutral meditator, but it could very well push Addis Ababa closer to both China and Turkey.”
The cut in U.S. aid could amount to about $130 million and affect security, counter-terrorism and anti-human trafficking programs, Foreign Policy reported Aug. 28. The country received about $881 million of U.S. aid last year, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Fitsum Arega, the Ethiopian ambassador to the U.S., confirmed the suspension after asking the State Department for clarity.
“We understand that the issue is Temporary Pause,” he said in a Twitter post. “The dam is ours! We will finish it together! With our efforts, our Ethiopia will shine!”
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office declined to comment on Wednesday.
The U.S. brought the countries together in November to negotiate an agreement, after previous attempts failed. Ethiopia walked away from the talks and called for the African Union to moderate the dispute. Those discussions are still ongoing.
The three African nations failed to break the deadlock in negotiations last week, Sudanese Irrigation Minister Yasser Abas said. Talks are expected to resume on Sept. 14, according to a statement from the Ethiopian Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Energy.
Related reads: Why Egypt And Ethiopia Can’t Reach a Dam Deal