Egypt moves Nile basin file to National Security Authority

Nile River Basin
Nile River Basin

Thursday, 20 May 2010 | Zawya

Cairo, Egypt: Responsibility for the Nile issue had been taken from the Irrigation and Foreign ministries and handed over to the National Security Authority headed by Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman when Egyptian diplomatic efforts against the new Nile basin treaty failed, news portal Masrawy reported Wednesday.

The reason for the handover is the inauguration of the Tana Beles hydropower station and dam in Ethiopia last Friday, the day a new treaty was signed by four Nile basin countries. Egypt insists that projects such as Tana Beles station need to be approved by it first.

An Italian company constructed the dam on Lake Tana and it is believed President Hosni Mubarak brought up the issue with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi during his visit to Rome Tuesday.

Egypt has decided to freeze all forms of bilateral cooperation with the Nile basin countries that signed the agreement regarding river rights, Al-Shorouk newspaper reported Wednesday.

The newspaper quoted an unnamed official who stated that Egypt stopped stop any grants or funding for development projects in the countries that signed the treaty.

The Nile Cooperation Agreement was signed last Friday between Rwanda, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Uganda with Kenya, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo due to sign the agreement at a later date. Egypt and Sudan were not part of the treaty.

Kenya became the fifth country to sign onto the Nile cooperation Agreement on Wednesday, Reuters reported. Kenyan Water Minister Charity Ngilu that it was now time for Egypt and Sudan to endorse the new treaty.

“That treaty (of 1929) is now obsolete,” she said. “Nothing stops us to use the water as we wish. It is now up to Egypt to come on board … Two states cannot stop us from implementing this cooperative agreement.”

Expert on Sudan and the Nile Basin countries at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies Hani Raslan told Daily News Egypt that even with the new treaty in effect, the original treaties of 1929 and 1959 are still legally binding.

The Nile Basin Initiative was started in 1999 in order to renegotiate the water rights of the Nile basin countries, but more than a decade on little headway had been made which meant the seven riparian countries with the minority shares broke away and signed their own treaty.

Egypt and Sudan have the greater share of the Nile water according to a treaty signed with the British during the era of colonialism in 1929 and later revised in 1959. The other seven countries have since gained independence and are calling for more equitable rights in the water-sharing agreement.

Under the treaty, Egypt and Sudan have the right of use of 87 percent of the Nile waters, which is around 74 billion cubic meters, 55.5 billion for Egypt and18.5 for Sudan.

Egypt and Sudan also retain the right to veto any irrigation projects along the river that may affect their share of the Nile’s water. It is this clause to which the other basin countries objected and which saw an impasse at recent talks for the Nile Basin Initiative held in Sharm El-Sheikh.

“Egypt and Sudan won’t recognize this [new] treaty and consider it contrary to the international agreements and the treaty is only binding to those who sign it. The treaties of 1929 and 1959 cannot be modified without the agreement of all the countries. For a new treaty to take effect, all the basin countries must sign,” Raslan said.

The Water Resources and Irrigation Minister Mohamed Nasreddin Allam said in the wake of the treaty’s signing that “any project that takes away from the river’s flow has to be approved by Egypt and Sudan in accordance with international treaties.”

Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies researcher Nabil Abdel-Fattah previously told Daily News Egypt that the Egyptian response to Nile issue had been “slow and lacking dynamism.”

“The Egyptian political and diplomatic structure still looks at Africa from a position of superiority, they still see it as the old Africa just after colonialism,” he added.

“Egypt must stop perceiving Africa in such a regressive way and our dealings with Africa should be revised on a more equitable and developmental level.”

“Many Egyptian researchers have long stated that the water sharing agreement should be revised or Egypt would face a problem. The Egyptian government dragged its heels and its interest in Africa waned,” Abdel-Fattah said.

For the time being, the potential threat with the construction of a dam in Ethiopia was dismissed. Raslan said the dam will have a negligible effect on Egypt’s water share due to the high altitude of Ethiopia’s Nile tributaries.

“The dam in Ethiopia is not a danger to Egypt’s share because it cannot store water due to the altitude, the dam is for producing electricity. It will not have an influence because only 16 percent of Egypt’s share comes from the tributaries in Ethiopia,” he said.