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Dam solidarity in North Africa

The UN Security Council is likely to reject an effort by Tunisia to persuade it to intervene in the increasingly bitter regional dispute over Ethiopia's mega-dam 

In a rare outbreak of north African solidarity, Tunisia has called on the United Nations Security Council to finalise a binding agreement between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt on the operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) within six months. Tunisia had prepared a draft resolution.

Diplomatic sources suggested that Tunisia's resolution had been at the request of Egypt and Sudan, who have been at loggerheads with Ethiopia over the dam for several years.

It urges the 'three countries to refrain from making any statements, or taking any action that may jeopardise the negotiation process, and urges Ethiopia to refrain from continuing to unilaterally fill the GERD reservoir.'

The move comes after Ethiopia said earlier this week that it had started the next phase of filling the dam, keeping a promise that it would proceed to the second stage of filling in July, with or without a deal. Last July, Addis Ababa announced that it had hit its target of 4.9 billion cubic metres – enough to test the dam's first two turbines, marking an important milestone towards energy production.

Few are expecting much from the Security Council, even if a vote is forced on the dam. Security Council members led by the United States argued that the African Union should take the lead on negotiations over the dam. Russia, trying to tread a middle course between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt suggested their senior representatives should meet in New York outside the Security Council.

Most of the Council's permanent members are chary of it getting involved in water-usage or boundary disputes because of their complexity and the danger of further politicisation.

Talks under the auspices at varying stages of the US and the AU aimed at mediating a solution have moved slowly. But now the ball is firmly in the AU's court.

Under growing pressure at home and abroad over the latest losses in the fighting in Tigray, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed appears to prefer to play the nationalist card over the future of the dam, and sideline mediation attempts (Vol 61 No 14, The pride of lions).

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