Ethiopia may be one step closer to realizing its dream of finishing construction on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. On Dec. 29, Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan signed the "Khartoum document," an agreement on the terms of moving forward with the problematic venture. While the agreement is by no means a final resolution, Ethiopia has shown more willingness to compromise by signing it, thereby agreeing to technical negotiations that could lead to a consensus with countries further downstream on the Nile River. By cooperating in negotiations and holding back on diverting Nile River water into a planned reservoir, Ethiopia will also have an easier time finding foreign investment to complete the dam.
The newly signed document mostly covers the implementation and formalization of guidelines that were set out in a previous agreement, signed in March 2015. Though it does not settle the most contentious issues stalling the project, the agreement does implement a strict timeline to decide on these issues. The document also mandates technical assessments on the throughput of the dam as well as studies on the environmental impact on Sudan and Egypt. Ethiopia has agreed not to divert any water from the Nile River into the reservoir until the studies are complete. The document also called for a consensus on managing dam operations, something Egypt has long desired.
Despite Ethiopia's willingness to give negotiations a chance, there is no indication that Cairo and Addis Ababa are any closer to achieving unanimity. Egypt has a critical interest in securing its historical water rights and is insistent that Ethiopia sign a legally binding deal with enforcement guarantees, something Ethiopia has so far been unwilling to do.
As long as the region remains divided on the dam, disruptions to actual construction will continue. Even though the dam is reported to be about 50 percent complete, Addis Ababa has been unable to fully secure foreign investment for the project. Unless Ethiopia manages to obtain the required funding, completion of the dam project could be delayed for years to come.