Ethiopia: New Nile pact, but old problems remain

The Blue Nile (Abay) River in Ethiopia
The Blue Nile (Abay) River contributes more than 85% of the total Nile water that passes through the Sudan and Egypt and into the Mediterranean Sea.

By Staff Reporter, Capital

Four of the upper Nile Basin riparian countries signed a new Nile water sharing treaty on Friday May 14, 2010 that could reverse the May 15, 1929 colonial era pact signed between Egypt and Britain. However, the two countries with most to lose from a new agreement, Egypt and Sudan, were not signatories.

Egypt’s State Minister for Legal Affairs Mufid Shehab said the new agreement was a mistake.

“We do not want to view it as a destructive act, but we view it as a mistaken action and we should stop it,” AFP quoted Shehab.

Water ministers of the seven upstream countries of Nile agreed to meet to sign the new treaty, although Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Kenya did not appear in Uganda on Friday where they agreed to meet.

But their absence did not prevent the four countries, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania, from signing. Additionally, Kenya issued a supporting statement, according to AFP.

“This agreement benefits all of us and harms none of us,” AFP quoted Asfaw Dingamo, Water Resources Minister of Ethiopia as saying. “I strongly believe all Nile Basin countries will sign the agreement.”

Though Kenya’s minister didn’t appear at Uganda, its position on the issue has not changed, according to the report that quoted Kenyan ambassador to Uganda, Geoffrey Okanga.

“The minister signaled to me her readiness to sign this agreement as soon as possible,” the ambassador said.

The 1929 pact between Egypt and Britain offers Egypt access to most of the Nile waters and a veto power over projects of the upstream countries. A further agreement signed in 1959 between Egypt and Sudan, allowed the two countries 55.5 and 18.5 billion cubic meters of water, respectively, every year. Though the upstream countries of the basin had been in a verbal war claiming equitable water sharing, the effect was not visible until the 1980s and peaceful negotiations through the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), an organisation established by the nine basin countries to create a fair use of available resources and properties of the basin.

The initiative also contains a Ministerial Council through which water ministers of the countries spent over one decade drafting the Nile Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA), seeking to establish a permanent Nile River Basin commission to create favourable conditions to fairly use the basin’s resources.

The ministers have agreed over 39 articles over the years; however they could not agree over one sub-article, 14b, that deals with the equitable sharing of the water.

Egypt and Sudan want to maintain its 55.5 billion cubic metres share of the river and also wants veto power over any new irrigation projects undertaken by the other states. Though the seven upstream countries have rejected the clause, they spent a couple of years trying to find a possible solution. Nonetheless, nothing was achieved until last month when the ministers met in Sinai resort of Sharm El Sheik, Egypt.

During this meeting, the seven countries decided to sign the pact on May 14, 2010, excluding Egypt and Sudan. Still, the upstream countries have allowed a one year period for Egypt and Sudan to sign the framework before establishment of Nile Basin Commission.

However, the seven countries seem fragmented with the absence of the three countries at the signing.