Professor Yacob Arsano currently serves as an Associate Professor at Addis Ababa University’s School of Political Science and International Relations (AAU- PSIR). Dr. Yacob’s research focus on hydropolitics, coupled with his adamant advocacy for equitable water use in the Nile Basin, makes him a leading authority on  inter-state relations in the Eastern Nile Basin.

His expertise, particularly on the construction  of the GERD project and the consequent  negotiations with riparian states, has allowed  for a scientific framing of recently emerging  water disputes in the region.

Question: What is the general guideline for utilizing a shared resource? Particularly as it relates to lower riparian countries?

Answer: According to the UN Convention on Nonnavigational Uses of International Water Courses, which was adopted in 1997, as well as the Cooperative Framework Agreement -CFA, which is an agreement that the Nile Basin countries signed in 2010, the use of shared waters should be reasonable  and equitable between the riparian countries. It is accepted that if one country uses the shared waters,  that country is required to be cautious not to inflict significant harm to other riparian countries. The  three-round fillings of GERD in 2020, 2021, and 2022 have not caused any damage to Egypt and Sudan. There is no evidence for any presumed claims of harmful effects of the three GERD fillings.

This Declaration of Principles which was signed by the Presidents of Egypt and Sudan and the Prime Minister of Ethiopia in March 2015 is an excellent example of transboundary river development cooperation. In this agreement, many provisions indicate beneficial interests to all three parties. The understanding is that Ethiopia owns and manages the GERED and, upon completion “priority will be given to downstream countries to purchase power generated from GERD”., As you know, the filling process goes in tandem with the progress of the construction, in accordance with the Declaration of Principles. Thus far, I am yet to see anything that Ethiopia has done to undermine the agreement. So far, there is no evidence that the water going to Sudan and Egypt has been significantly reduced, blocked, or put in jeopardy.
It is open fact that Sudan suffers from cyclical annual Nile flooding in the months of summer., However, as a result of the commencement of the staged GERD filling destruction to life and property has been relatively minimal in downstream Sudan.

On the occasion of the completion of the third filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) Horn Review discussed with Professor Yacob Arsano the technical, cooperative, and policy issues surrounding the dam. 

Question: The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign affairs has reported that Ethiopia wrote a letter to Egypt on August 2nd stating that it would be filling the dam in the months of August and September. However, Ethiopia completed filing the dam 15 days earlier, on July 18. What is your opinion on this matter?

Answer: As the owner of the dam, it is Ethiopia’s commitment to notify the lower Nile riparian states of its plans to fill the dam before doing so. Egypt’s accusation that “Ethiopia’s dam should not be filled” or complaints of receiving the letter after the dam has already been filled is simply a weak argument. The very purpose of building a dam is to fill it with water Ethiopia has the right to build the dam and fill it with water, without causing significant harm to downstream countries. So, Ethiopia is filling the dam parallel to the construction as agreed in the Declaration of Principles of March 2015. when the dam is fully completed, it will help avoid annual floods in the rainy season in downstream countries. Ethiopia should be thanked for this and many other benefits the GERD brings to Egypt and Sudan. I do not think Ethiopia should be accused by Egypt since this is the third filing, not the first. In my view, accusations from the Egyptian side are simply baseless.

Question: Professor, according to Asharq al-awsat news, this third filling, more than the previous ones, is expected to create more tension. Do you think there is some truth to that statement?

Answer: I do not think so. More than 80 percent of the construction of the dam has been completed since 2011, and the dam is now in its third round of filling. This is neither abrupt nor unexpected. Ethiopia didn’t flippantly start filling the dam., The dam was built for the sole purpose of filling it and producing electricity. When the first and second phases of filling took place, the countries on the lower river basin were made aware of the annual filling schedule. The third filling was executed in a similar manner.

Since the filling of the dam will not cause water depletion in Egypt or Sudan, they will not be affected by the filling of the third round. So, since there will be no water reduction expected, I don’t think this 3rd filling poses a problem; disagreement or controversy is unnecessary.

Question: Just to follow up on this question, to the best of your understanding, what are the  significance and implications of Egypt’s claim of “historical rights?” Is there a precedent of historical rights over trans-boundary resources?

Answer: Because the agreements signed by Egypt with the British in 1929 and with the Sudanese in 1959, are not related to Ethiopia and other Nile riparian, Egypt and Sudan should not claim to be the sole proprietors of the Nile waters. The Nile is a shared resource by all riparian nations and is meant
to be utilized by all parties equitably and reasonably. It should, instead, be advocated for joint use of this precious resource amongst all parties.


Since it is the resource of the watershed countries, all parties involved are entitled to fair and equitable
usage. Therefore, it is unjustified for one or two parties to monopolize the shared resource. Ethiopia
and other upstream countries cannot be bound by the unilateral agreements of Egypt and Sudan  between themselves or with an external actor in the Nile basin.

The international experience is that countries in respective river basins agree to utilize their shared resources jointly and collaboratively. They establish common principles and institutional mechanisms. For instance, the Mekong river basin riparian nations have established the Mekong River Basin Commission. Similarly, the riparian nations of the Senegal river basin have established Senegal River Basin Commission. Elsewhere in Europe, the Rhine and Danube riparian nations have respective river basin commissions for each of the shared rivers. Nowhere in the world, a single riparian country claims a monopoly of shared river waters. It is only in the Nile Valley, that the Egyptian party insists that the other riparian countries be governed by Egypt’s rules and interests.

Question: Until this third filing, downstream states were involved in tripartite negotiations. However, due to civil unrest in Sudan, the African Union also blocked the country from further participating. So, how will the negotiations continue in this situation? If there is any negotiation to happen, what kind of  step will be taken next? Is it only with the two of them or how can this work for Egypt says that Sudan must enter?

Answer: Until April 2021, now, the Coalition Government of Sudan was attending the negotiation platform facilitated by the African Union together with Ethiopia and Egypt. But Egypt and Sudan are not willing to be on the negotiation stage putting up preconditions, and further stalling the negotiation process.

It is not the case that Egypt is not attending the negotiations because Sudan has been banned from the process due to the recent military takeover in Sudan. The actual fact is that together, Egypt and Sudan are making elaborate excuses for their refusal to proceed with the talks under the auspices of the Africa Union. Ethiopia has clearly explained that it does not accept the binding agreement which was initially proposed by Egypt after the failed Washington talks in January 2020. The so-called binding agreement which is very strongly put forward by Egypt and Sudan would be suicidal to Ethiopia’s sovereign rights over its national resources.

Question: Around 10% of the water reserve in Aswan High Dam is said to be reserved for Gulf states. Do you think this might be a complicating factor in potentially internationalizing the dispute?

Answer: I am not sure of the 10% figure. However, the water stored in the Aswan High Dam should, logically, be used by Egypt within the natural Nile basin. Egypt’s poor water management is self-evident, and this goes against the principles of protecting and conserving of the shared waters by each of the riparian countries. Egypt has unilaterally crossed a portion of the Nile waters to the Sinai Peninsula which is located outside the Nile watershed. Ethiopia has long protested this action. Second, it is known that Egypt created a new valley in the west direction of the High Aswan Dam to create a new valley. It is an open secret that Egypt has a new plan to divert the Nile waters to the New mega city on the western reach of the Suez Canal Ethiopia, along with other basin states continue to protest against the unilateral and wasteful utilization of the shared Nile water resources.

Question: While we are on the subject of informal objections or complaints, Egypt often runs to the UN security council with every possible objection. Entertaining this as a neutral objection, a neutral subject, and what is the merit and downfall of international level litigation?

Answer: So, if one country complains about another country’s actions as it relates to shared trans-boundary waters, that country is expected to follow the procedure of the International Court of Justice when the case is subject to international litigation. Similarly, bringing the case to UN Security Council should qualify the merit of security threats. However, barring other countries from using the trans-boundary water resources within respective territorial jurisdictions is a different ball game. Countries cannot go to ICJ or UNSC to protect their unlawful monopoly control of the otherwise shared waters. We are yet to see Egypt lodging a formal complaint to the concerned international tribunal because that course of action would not be in the best interest of either Egypt or Sudan. The previous two appeals of Egypt and Sudan to the UNSC did not induce the Council to consider the case as a matter
of security. The Council, however, advised the parties to take the case to the AU forum as an “African problem” and a development issue.

Question: We know that the dam is being built by internationally acclaimed construction companies. However, Egypt and Sudan claim to worry about the safety and structural integrity Dam. Is there any merit to this concern? 

Answer: Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan jointly created an International Panel of Experts, IPoE, in 2012 and 2013 which included expert members from each respective country, in addition to intellectually recruited technical experts based on international competence. The International Panel of Experts then did evaluate the dam project and made a report in 2013. The IPoE report that the dam is up to international standard, that it is of high quality; and that the safety of the dam should not be an issue of
worry. The Egyptian experts duly signed the report alongside the rest of the IPoE members. Therefore, the Egyptian government has no credible reason or evidence to claim that the dam-building process is weak.

The IPoE didn’t come to this conclusion on its own, they first analyzed all 153 documents Ethiopia has
been using throughout the design and construction process. Additionally, IPoE members made an  onsite visit to the dam site and inspected the setup in person, confirming that the dam meets international standards. I find the safety-related objections to the dam prejudicial, be it misguided.

On the occasion of the completion of the third filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) Horn Review discussed with Professor Yacob Arsano the technical, cooperative, and policy issues  surrounding the dam.