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Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan Resume Nile Dam Talks

The construction of Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam has spooked its downstream neighbors, who worry that their access to the Blue Nile’s waters could soon dry up.

By Colm Quinn, the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Ethiopian citizens celebrate the successful filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) as the dam's first two turbines' electricity production is tested, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on August 2, 2020.
Ethiopian citizens celebrate the successful filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) as the dam's first two turbines' electricity production is tested, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on August 2, 2020.

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Ministers from Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan meet for talks on the Blue Nile dam project, a deal for a Microsoft purchase of Chinese-owned TikTok moves forward, and the world this week.

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Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan Meet Over Dam Dispute

Ministers from Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan resume talks today aimed at resolving a simmering dispute over Ethiopia’s $4.6 billion dollar Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

The GERD sits on the Blue Nile, the river that eventually becomes the River Nile in Sudan as it winds on toward Egypt. Both Egypt and Sudan, concerned that Ethiopia will use the dam to constrict the Blue Nile’s flow, want a binding agreement that will guarantee that a certain amount of water will still flow downstream.

Tensions have been rising since June when Ethiopian Foreign Minister Gedu Andargachew posted a tweet that included the phrase “the Nile is ours!” following record rains that began filling the dam’s reservoir. Andargachew’s comments were received angrily in Egypt, which accuses Ethiopia of deliberately holding back water to strengthen its negotiating position.

When fully completed, the GERD will be the largest hydroelectric dam in Africa and the Ethiopian government sees it as key to achieving economic stability and for raising citizens out of poverty.

#ItsMyDam. The dam has become a point of pride, too. On Sunday, citizens in the capital Addis Ababa took to the streets to celebrate the dam’s construction progress and hashtags such as #ItsMyDam, #EthiopiaNileRights, and #GERD have been trending on Ethiopian social media.

Dam diplomacy. The United States, a backer of today’s talks along with the African Union and the World Bank, is divided on how best to incentivize cooperation between the three countries. As Addisu Lashitew argued in Foreign Policy in March, the United States’ “success in mediating the dispute will depend on its ability to find a middle ground acceptable to both Ethiopia and Egypt,” rather than appearing to take Egypt’s side.

FP’s Robbie Gramer reported on July 22 that “there’s growing concern that the Trump administration is putting its thumb on the scales to favor Egypt at the expense of Ethiopia—even as new signs of progress emerge in negotiations.” U.S. officials suggest that if this week’s talks don’t progress, then U.S. aid to Ethiopia could soon dry up.

The World This Week

Tuesday August, 4 is the deadline for Argentina’s creditors to accept a proposal on restructuring the country’s approximately $65 billion debt. Minister for Economy Martín Guzmán has hinted that the deadline may be pushed to later in the month.

On Wednesday, August 5, Sri Lanka will host parliamentary elections. Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, a new party led by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa—the brother of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa—is expected to win the most seats.

On Friday, August 7, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics will release its monthly report on the U.S. employment situation, covering the month of July. It remains to be seen whether the jobless rate will follow the trend of June’s report, when unemployment fell to 11.1 percent.

On Sunday, August 9, Belarus holds its presidential election. President Alexander Lukashenko, who has held power since 1994, faces an unexpectedly close election against Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a 37-year-old English translator whose husband has been jailed under Lukashenko. If elected, Tikhanovskaya has promised to hold new elections with the participation of all opposition candidates.

What We’re Following Today

TikTok deal back on. Microsoft has said it will conduct a “complete security review” in its quest to purchase the Chinese-owned TikTok app in the United States and welcomed U.S. President Trump’s “personal involvement.” The company made the remark on Sunday in a statement following a discussion between Trump and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. The statement suggests the way is now clear for Microsoft to attempt its acquisition of the app, even after Trump threatened to ban it last Friday.

On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the Trump administration “will take action in the coming days with respect to a broad array of national security risks that are presented by software connected to the Chinese Communist Party.”

Brazil envoy denies helping Trump reelection. Reports in Brazilian media outlets claim U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Todd Chapman asked members of President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration to lower ethanol tariffs to help with President Trump’s reelection. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Eliot Engel has sent a letter to Chapman demanding an explanation of his behavior, saying it could be in violation of the Hatch Act—a law which prohibits federal employees from conducting political activities while in office.

“Allegations suggesting that Ambassador Chapman has asked Brazilians to support a specific U.S. candidate are false,” a State Department statement said. “The United States has long been focused on reducing tariff barriers and will continue to do so.”

Indian Interior Minister tests positive for COVID-19. Indian Interior Minister Amit Shah has been admitted to hospital after being diagnosed with the coronavirus—the most senior Indian official to contract the virus so far. Shah, known as a close aide of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, joins the more than 1.8 million Indians who have been diagnosed with the virus.

Keep an Eye On 

Israel protests. Protests against the leadership of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the largest the country has seen since 2011, continued over the weekend. Around 10,000 protesters gathered outside Netanyahu’s official residence on Saturday to voice their dissatisfaction with the country’s handling of its coronavirus epidemic and the prime minister remaining in office while facing trial on corruption charges.

Afghan prisoner releases The Afghan government released 317 Taliban prisoners during the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha. It now means there are only 83 more prisoners left to release before the government meets its obligation to release 5,000 Taliban detained fighters ahead of intra-Afghan peace talks. Taliban leaders claim they have released 1,000 detained government forces, fulfilling their end of the deal.

UAE goes nuclear. The United Arab Emirates opened its first nuclear power plant on Saturday, making it only the third country in the Middle East with a nuclear power program. The move is the first of many among nations in the region: Saudi Arabia is currently building a nuclear reactor, and Egypt has plans to build a power plant. In March, Qatar condemned the UAE plant in a letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency, calling it “a serious threat to the stability of the region and its environment.”

Odds and Ends

As the South African government struggles to maintain public trust amid a worsening coronavirus epidemic, the country’s environment minister was able to offer some good news. The number of South African rhinos killed by poachers in the first half of 2020 has dropped significantly compared to the previous year, a 53 percent decline overall. Environment Minister Barbara Creecy attributed the drop to both government policies and the web of travel restrictions imposed by countries that may have disrupted the trade in rhino horn. Creecy warned that poaching cases were gradually increasing as lockdowns began to be lifted.

That’s it for today.

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Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn