CAIRO — Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi received a letter Sept. 19 from the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Felix Tshisekedi, that included “the DRC’s expression of support for the Egyptian terms of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) issue and aspirations to develop bilateral ties with Egypt and tap into its experience in infrastructure and large development projects,” according to an Egyptian presidency statement.
Sisi expressed his appreciation for the DRC’s stance in support of Egypt regarding the Nile dam issue. He added, “Egypt’s hand is extended to the DRC and to all countries of the continent for cooperation, construction, development and peace to benefit from the massive capacities and rich resources of the DRC and other friendly African states, to develop them and capitalize on them economically in the best way possible for the current and future African generations.”
In this context, Hatem Bashat, member of the parliamentary African Affairs Commission, told Al-Monitor over the phone, “The DRC’s support for the Egyptian stance in the GERD file is the fruit of Sisi’s political [moves] to cement ties with African countries after years of disregard, since he took office in 2014.”
Bashat noted, “This stance is not new for the DRC, which has had special ties with Egypt for years, compared to its African counterparts. We hope the impact will be positive to mobilize African public opinion and convince people with Egypt’s vision for the GERD negotiations. We are expecting more from the remaining African countries, which know Egypt’s real intentions toward this issue.”
He added, “Egypt worked on several courses of action to explain its stance vis-a-vis the GERD crisis, amid the continuing Ethiopian obstinacy throughout the years of negotiations. These courses of action included visits of Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry to several African, Arab and European countries to get a feel of the Arab stance. I believe one of the outcomes was the DRC’s support for our stance in the crisis.”
In March, Shoukry went on a regional tour to gather support for Cairo in the negotiations, during which he informed several African state leaders, including Tshisekedi and Rwanda President Paul Kagame, of the developments of the GERD negotiations.
The dispute between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan over the filling and operation of the GERD continues although the filling process started in July.
The latest round of tripartite negotiations began under the African Union auspices Aug. 28, but it failed to combine the suggestions of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan regarding a binding agreement for the GERD.
The Sudanese Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources mentioned in a statement Aug. 28 that the round of negotiations ended without determining a new date for their resumption. The statement noted that “the ongoing negotiations in their current format will not result in practical outcomes.”
Sisi reiterated in his video speech during the 75th session of the UN General Assembly Sept. 22 that “the Nile River is not for one party only. Its water is essential for Egypt to sustain itself without jeopardizing the rights of our fellows [in Ethiopia and Sudan]. The negotiations should not go on forever in an attempt to impose a de facto situation because our people want stability, development, and a new and promising phase of cooperation.”
Abbas Sharaky, chief of the Natural Resources Department at the Institute for African Research and Studies, told Al-Monitor, “Egypt’s interest in the DRC and the Nile Basin countries in particular contributes to increasing Egypt’s standing when discussing any issues related to the river and the historical water shares of [the concerned] countries.”
Sharaky argued that “Egypt had a special interest in explaining the GERD issue to the Nile Basin countries to establish a general supportive stance during the course of the tripartite negotiations with Ethiopia and Sudan. Currently the tense relations with African countries are being mended to achieve common gain between Egypt and the rest of the continent.”
He said, “The DRC is a large state in the Nile Basin and ties with it are strong. Besides, it is one of the countries that have not yet signed the Entebbe Agreement. This is positive for the DRC, as it is also among the countries that have huge natural resources and needs Egyptian cooperation in all fields, especially the water sector.”
The Entebbe Agreement is a framework agreement that the upstream countries in the Nile Basin — Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania — signed in 2010 in order to request an additional Nile water share. Egypt and Sudan (downstream countries) objected to the agreement because it affected their historical share of the Nile water estimated at 55.5 billion cubic meters for Egypt and 18.5 billion cubic meters for Sudan.
The DRC also refused to sign the agreement since there was no consensus due to the refusal of Egypt and Sudan to sign the Entebbe Agreement.
Sharaky added, “Egypt is expected to cooperate with the DRC on the Grand Inga Dam project, in addition to the economic cooperation in the issues of water, agriculture and animal wealth. Egypt will not wait for the water to come to it, but will take preemptive steps to ensure its food and water security.”
On Sept. 21, Egyptian Minister of Electricity Mohamed Shaker met with a high-level delegation from the DRC, where the special investment adviser to the DRC president, Jean-Claude Kabongo, expressed his desire to make use of the Egyptian experience to develop the power sector in his country and discuss ways to facilitate Egyptian partnership in the Inga dams through Egyptian private sector companies and support from the Egyptian government.
Atiya Issawi, expert on African affairs at Al-Ahram Center for Studies, downplayed the importance of the DRC’s support for Egypt in the GERD crisis. He told Al-Monitor, “The DRC’s stance is not that influential on the developments of the GERD file. But what is important in the relations between the two countries is that the DRC constitutes support for the Egpyptian stance, when it comes to the issue of water quota since the DRC did not sign the Entebbe Agreement.”
He added, “The Entebbe Agreement threatens Egypt’s historical rights that it acquired in the Nile waters, as the agreement states that the water shares must be redistributed among the countries. The DRC benefits from Egypt’s help in the civilian field or military aid and Egypt’s participation in the peacekeeping forces. Therefore, the DRC believed maintaining good ties with Egypt was in its interest.”
Sharaky concluded, “If we had strong ties with African countries, we wouldn’t have reached this faltering phase of negotiations over the GERD. We hope the Egyptian rapprochement with the Nile Basin will end the crisis and open new cooperation horizons.”