AFRICANGLOBE – Sudan has broken ranks with Egypt in their joint opposition to a new agreement with Nile Basin countries for sharing of the Nile waters.
Tanzania has also changed its mind about the new Nile Treaty and is now calling for further dialogue among all riparian countries to accommodate the concerns raised by Egypt.
At the 22nd Nile Basin Council of Ministers meeting in Khartoum last week, Sudan officially ended its two-year boycott of co-operation under the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), paying off its arrears to the organisation and calling on Egypt to follow suit.
“I would like to place an appeal to our sister nation. Egypt, your seat is still empty. Your resumption of activities will further consolidate our gains and integrity in the region,” Sudanese Minister for Water Resources and Electricity Mutaz Musa Abdalla said in his opening remarks on June 19.
But Egypt remains defiant, with its observer to the meeting reading a statement on behalf of Egyptian Minister for Water Resources and Irrigation Dr Hossam Moghazi saying Egypt was not in a position “to consider that the signed draft Co-operative Framework Agreement(CFA) is an NBI outcome.”
But Ethiopia, which championed the CFA, says while the future of NBI member countries was tied to the sustainable use of common resources, that will depend on “the presence of genuine co-operation, agreed upon legal frameworks and operational institutional arrangements that can regulate the equitable and reasonable utilisation of the resource.”
Both Sudan and Egypt froze their participation in the NBI to protest the 2010 CFA, which upstream countries drafted to replace a 1959 colonial era agreement that gave Egypt and Sudan absolute control over use of the Nile’s waters.
But Sudan now says though consensus is yet to be reached on “some political track issues, there is room to finalise the remaining differences in the near future.”
Khartoum’s defection now leaves the DR Congo as Egypt’s only ally, since South Sudan is expected to accede to the CFA in the near future.
Tanzania’s move has surprised the Nile Basin countries given that together with Kenya and Ethiopia, it was the pioneer in pushing for other riparian states to increase their shares of Nile water and were the first to sign the new treaty in 2010.
Tanzanian Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation Bernard Membe — who first put forward the suggestion — maintained in a recent interview that the agreement should be reviewed as a way of avoiding the possible conflicts among states.
He gave the example of the ongoing dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia over the $4.2 billion Grand Renaissance Dam, in addition to the fact that out of the seven countries that are signatories to the treaty, only Ethiopia and Tanzania have ratified it.
“The question that must be asked is why hasn’t the Entebbe Agreement been ratified by all nine riparian countries and whether there is distinction between the words ‘equity’ and ‘equality’? The lack of clarity is a recipe for misunderstanding and that was why Tanzania was calling for review of the agreement,” he said.
Mr Membe had argued that the Entebbe Agreement, officially known as the Nile River Basin Co-operative Framework Agreement, ought to be reviewed in consideration of Egypt’s economic and social needs, given that the country has no other rivers, underground water or sufficient rainfall.
The agreement was signed by five Nile Basin countries, Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Kenya, in 2010. Burundi later signed the agreement in 2011.
The treaty will become operational once six countries out of the 11 Nile basin countries have ratified the treaty and forwarded their instruments to the African Union Commission.
Egypt and Sudan have refused to sign the treaty, arguing that it negates 1959 arrangements that gave Egypt and Sudan the right to use 85 per cent of the Nile waters.
The new treaty will now enable upstream countries to enjoy equitable sharing of the waters of the Nile and engage in irrigation and hydroelectric power projects, while depriving Egypt of the veto power it was given in the 1929 Anglo-Egyptian agreement.
Ahmed Ansary, charge de affairs at the Egyptian embassy in Kenya said that his country welcomes the statements from the Tanzanian foreign minister as an encouraging sign that foreign ministers from the Nile Basin countries can come to a consensus on what is good for all.
“Our only issue with the treaty is Article 14 (b) that touches on water security. Ninety nine per cent of the water for Egyptians comes from the Nile and unlike other riparian countries, we have other no rivers or any other source of water.
The issue of the Nile water should not be a confrontation but a uniting factor. The interests of others should not be at the expense of some riparian countries,” said Mr Ansary.
Mr Membe made the indication that Tanzania is in favour of a review of the CFA while reacting to a question in parliament recently.
Last month he was also quoted by Egypt’s Daily News as saying that he was planning to meet with foreign ministers of the Nile Basin countries in July in Arusha to discuss amendments to the Entebbe Agreement over the allocation of the Nile’s waters.
Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdel-Ati also praised Tanzania’s move as a significant step towards persuading Nile Basin countries to return to the negotiating table and constructive dialogue.
Even though Tanzania’s change of heart has surprised other signatories to the agreement, analysts say that it is in conformity with the country’s historical position on the 1929 agreement.
At Independence in 1961, Tanzania rejected the 1929 treaty, with the government of Julius Nyerere saying it would not be bound by it, while other riparian countries never objected.
Using this example, Egypt had put pressure on South Sudan to disown the Entebbe Agreement soon after Independence because the country stood to be bound by it after 12 months of Independence.
But other riparian countries led by Kenya were putting pressure on Juba to reject the Anglo-Egyptian treaty and embrace the new treaty to enable the young nation to use Nile waters for irrigation and power generation.
As a result, in the run-up to the South Sudan referendum in 2011, Egypt tried to lure Juba out of the secession with promises of grants and infrastructure projects, fearing that the Nile waters situation would become more complex with a new riparian state in the mix.
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