Pompeo says Ethiopia-Egypt dam dispute could take months to resolve

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a joint press conference with Ethiopian Foreign Minister Gedu Andargachew at the Sheraton Hotel, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Tuesday Feb. 18, 2020. (AP)
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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo walks with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed at the Prime Minister office after a meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia February 18, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 18 February 2020

Pompeo says Ethiopia-Egypt dam dispute could take months to resolve

  • The US Treasury Department stepped in last year to facilitate talks between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan
  • Pompeo said the process could take longer

ADDIS ABABA: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday that it could take “months” to resolve a dispute between Ethiopia and Egypt over a massive dam on the Nile River.
Tensions have been high in the Nile basin ever since Ethiopia broke ground on the project in 2011.
The US Treasury Department stepped in last year to facilitate talks between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan — another downstream country — after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi reached out to US President Donald Trump, a close ally.
The latest round of talks concluded in Washington last week, and officials have said they want to reach a deal by the end of February.
But at a press conference Tuesday in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, Pompeo said the process could take longer.
“A great deal of work remains, but I’m optimistic that over the coming months we can resolve this,” he said.
Ethiopia says the dam — which will be the largest hydropower plant in Africa — is crucial for its growing economy.
Egypt fears the project will disrupt the river that provides 90 percent of its drinking water.
Addisu Lashitew, an analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said he expected Pompeo “will be trying to make a final push” to reach a deal during his stay in Ethiopia.
“President Trump seeks to get the credit... as the dealmaker for resolving this issue,” Addisu said on a call with reporters last week.
Ethiopian Foreign Minister Gedu Andargachew said at the press conference Tuesday there were “outstanding issues that need negotiation.”
He did not elaborate, but major sticking points include the filling of the dam’s reservoir, which Egypt worries will dramatically curb water flow downstream.
Ethiopia is the last stop on Pompeo’s three-country Africa tour, the first by a US cabinet-level official to the continent in 19 months.
On Tuesday he met Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year in part for pursuing an ambitious reform agenda upon taking office in 2018 following several years of anti-government protests.
Pompeo said the two men discussed the reforms and preparations for landmark elections planned for August 29.
“A free and credible vote will show there is no false choice between democracy and security, and it will ensure that everyone has a voice,” Pompeo said.
“I think the most impressive thing about these reforms is that they’re owned by the Ethiopian people,” he added.
Pompeo also met Tuesday with Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zewde and Moussa Faki Mahamat, chair of the African Union Commission which is headquartered in Addis Ababa.
On Wednesday he is expected to deliver a policy speech at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa before flying to Saudi Arabia.
Pompeo is attempting to lay out a positive vision for US cooperation with Africa, though analysts point out that the Trump administration’s record complicates that message.
The US is currently discussing military cuts in Africa.
Pompeo’s visit also comes just weeks after the US announced tightened visa rules targeting Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria, as well as Tanzania, Sudan and Eritrea.


Mauritius declares emergency as stranded ship spills fuel

Updated 18 min 35 sec ago

Mauritius declares emergency as stranded ship spills fuel

  • Mauritius declares emergency as stranded ship spills fuel

JOHANNESBURG: The Indian Ocean island of Mauritius declared a “state of environmental emergency” late Friday after a Japanese-owned ship that ran aground offshore days ago began spilling tons of fuel.
Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth announced the development as satellite images showed a dark slick spreading in the turquoise waters near environmental areas that the government called “very sensitive.”
Mauritius has said the ship was carrying nearly 4,000 tons of fuel and cracks have appeared in its hull.
Jugnauth earlier in the day said his government was appealing to France for help, saying the spill “represents a danger” for the country of some 1.3 million people that relies heavily on tourism and has been been hit hard by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Our country doesn’t have the skills and expertise to refloat stranded ships, so I have appealed for help from France and President Emmanuel Macron,” he said. Bad weather has made it impossible to act, and “I worry what could happen Sunday when the weather deteriorates.”
Jugnauth shared a photo of the vessel, the MV Wakashio, tilted precariously. “Sea rough beyond the reefs with swells. Ventures in the open seas are not advised,” according to the Mauritius Meteorological Services.
Video posted online showed oily waters lapping at the shore as people murmured and peered at the ship in the distance. Online ship trackers showed the Panama-flagged bulk carrier had been en route from China to Brazil.
The French island of Reunion is the closest neighbor to Mauritius, and France’s Foreign Ministry says France is Mauritius’s “leading foreign investor” and one of its largest trading partners.
“We are in a situation of environmental crisis,” the environment minister of Mauritius, Kavy Ramano, said, calling the Blue Bay Marine Park and other areas near the leaking ship “very sensitive.”
After the cracks in the hull were detected, a salvage team that had been working on the ship was evacuated, Ramano told reporters Thursday. Some 400 sea booms have been deployed in an effort to contain the spill.
Government statements this week said the ship ran aground July 25 and the National Coast Guard received no distress call. The ship’s owners were listed as the Japanese companies Okiyo Maritime Corporation and Nagashiki Shipping Co. Ltd.
A police inquiry has been opened into issues such as possible negligence, a government statement said.
Tons of diesel and oil are now leaking into the water, environmental group Greenpeace Africa’s climate and energy manager Happy Khambule said in a statement.
“Thousands of species around the pristine lagoons of Blue Bay, Pointe d’Esny and Mahebourg are at risk of drowning in a sea of pollution, with dire consequences for Mauritius’ economy, food security and health,” Khambule said.
A government environmental outlook released nearly a decade ago said Mauritius had a National Oil Spill Contingency Plan but equipment on hand was “adequate to deal with oil spills of less than 10 metric tons.”
In case of major spills, it said, assistance could be obtained from other Indian Ocean countries or from international oil spill response organizations.