Nile Basin states must choose between cooperation or conflict, says Salah
23 - 29 February 2011
Issue No. 1086
There is a 60-day grace period to sign the new Nile Basin agreement -- but
not to negotiate any differences though the deal deepens disputes and
further polarises Nile riparian states. The extraordinary meeting of the
ministerial council of Nile Basin countries in Nairobi on 27 January has
raised a series of queries.
To start with, ministers of Nile source countries were scheduled to meet in
the Kenyan capital Nairobi, but suddenly Egypt and Sudan announced that
their ministers of water resources will not attend the gathering. It was an
attempt by Egypt and Sudan to convince riparian states to adopt their
position; namely, that in order for everyone to benefit from the agreement
it must include all basin states to make it successful, beneficial and serve
the people of these countries. Ethiopia, however, linked any discussions
with Egypt to current political conditions in Egypt and until the election
of a president in Egypt.
While Cairo and Khartoum seek to create an umbrella for dialogue to reach a
middle ground to support the proposal of the two downstream countries,
upstream states are exerting political pressure and manoeuvring in order to
ratify the agreement without Egypt and Sudan. Other Nile riparian states
asked for a delay to allow Egypt and Sudan an opportunity to revise pending
articles within the institutional and legal framework of the new agreement.
Reluctantly, this time Egypt and Sudan did not ask that the meeting be
postponed but decided not to attend altogether. Ministers from source states
forged ahead with the meeting on schedule without Egypt and Sudan. They
decided to sign a new agreement since Ethiopia joined the Great Lakes
grouping that includes Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and the
Democratic Republic of Congo.
Kenya's minister of water resources, in her capacity as the current chairman
of the Council of Water Resource Ministers of Riparian States, explained
that a 60-day grace period was granted to Egypt, Sudan and Congo to resolve
issues of dispute and sign the agreement. Politically, this means putting
pressure on Egypt and Sudan to make concessions for the benefit of these
countries, and allows for more time to influence international donors and
the World Bank to change their position on the need for consensus before
funding projects in upstream countries.
The ministerial meetings of riparian states decided on two resolutions.
First, those gathered agreed to ratify the Nile Basin Cooperation Framework
Agreement (CFA) in order for it to be implemented, and accordingly create
the Nile Basin Commission. They also agreed to exchange information on
progress in the ratification process. This decision basically means that
these states have decided to cancel the previous decision to postpone
ratifying the agreement to give Egypt more time after the 25 January
In fact, the decision to postpone was taken after a visit by a people's
delegation from Egypt to Ethiopia in April 2011. This was followed the next
month by a visit by then Egyptian prime minister Essam Sharaf to Ethiopia.
This said, it is clear that if the six countries ratify the agreement, it
will become effective without Egypt and Sudan which will create a
complicated legal situation for the Nile Basin Initiative and its programmes
in the absence of Egypt and Sudan. It will also deepen disputes and further
polarise Nile Basin states.
Egypt and Sudan reject the CFA because it does not include a clear reference
to current uses and rights, and does not include texts about early
notification of planned projects along the Nile. At the same time, the
agreement can be amended with a simple majority whether it includes Egypt
and Sudan or not. These are the three contentious points which Egypt and
Sudan raised and wanted to be addressed before they sign and ratify the
Second, for their part the ministers decided to continue talks with the
three countries that have not yet signed, namely Egypt, Sudan and the
Democratic Republic of Congo, with the aim of convincing them to sign the
agreement. These talks should end in the next 60 days. This decision gives
these states a last chance to join the treaty before it goes into effect
once the six signatories ratify it. But what is evident is that the
resolution calls for talks with these countries to join the agreement, not
negotiate points of contention.
The balance of power among Nile Basin states has greatly shifted. Over the
past three years, source countries have risen as a strong bloc in
confronting the Egyptian-Sudanese alliance that was created by the 1959 Nile
Water Treaty. Some source countries decided to move forward with their
projects along the Nile, such as Ethiopia, which began building the
centennial dam without Egypt's or Sudan's knowledge. Other causes of this
shift are the Egyptian revolution, the ouster of Mubarak's regime, and
recent elections in Egypt that created a new political situation that
undoubtedly influenced developments in the Nile Basin. This change also
explains Burundi signing the CFA in February 2011, and Ethiopia's decision
to begin constructing the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in March 2011.
Egypt and Sudan's alliance on Nile issues and their coordinated position
since 1959 regarding demands by other Nile riparian states and the CFA,
their refusal to participate in the recent Nairobi meeting, and Nairobi
declaration issued by source countries after the meeting poses the question
whether Nile Basin states can resolve their differences on the political,
naturally not the technical, level about the CFA in the next 60 days as
proposed by the Nairobi declaration, and turn over a new leaf of genuine
cooperation and goodwill. Or is it too late and will these disputes be
further compounded by complications, escalation and crisis?
Only the next few weeks will tell, as Nile riparian states continue to
It is noteworthy that finding a framework for collective cooperation on
water among Nile Basin states had always been a goal of riparian states
through a series of initiatives, ideas and international intervention.
Meanwhile, the outlook, strategy and mechanisms remain captive to diverging
visions and domestic motives of basin states on the one hand, and regional
environmental restrictions on the other. They were also influenced by
regional and international variables.
But will Egypt join the agreement as it is now and can it pursue the legal
procedures against what it views as unjust articles within the pact? Or will
Egypt reject the pact all together and hence bargaining with riparian
countries later on from a weak stance?
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Received on Mon Feb 27 2012 - 18:38:56 EST