Nile Basin – No Deal After Summit

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Discussions between Nile Basin countries fail to reach agreement as many leaders boycott talks.

The Nile Basin Summit from June 20-22nd was convened to provide an opportunity for the ten countries reliant on the River Nile to agree on the equitable use of the resource. Tensions around the vital water source have persisted for many decades.

Initial signs, however, were less promising as a number of leaders chose not to attend. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and his South Sudanese counterpart Salva Kirr notified the delegates that they would skip the event.

The summit brought together all countries along the River Nile and was attended by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, South Sudan Vice President Joseph Wani, Burundi’s 2nd Vice President Joseph Butore and Sudan’s Vice President Hasabo Mohammed Abdul Rahman.

The leaders of Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania also turned down invitations to attend at the last minute, although no clear reasons for the decision were given by the respective embassies.

It was clear during the meeting that an agreement on the equitable use of resources was proving difficult as stakeholders repeatedly walked out of meetings at the Speke Resort Munyonyo in Uganda.

Led by Sudan, water security experts walked out a meeting at 10pm on June 21st, while Ethiopia followed suit. In the large the summit was organised to nudge Egypt, the biggest beneficiary of the Nile basin, to join the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI).

However, Egyptian Minister for Irrigation and Water Resources Mohammed Abdel-Atti said that his country would only rejoin if some provisions in the draft Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) were changed.

Al-Sisi reportedly said that his country was suffering from a water deficit of 21.5 billion cubic metres per year. However, although Egypt hasn’t yet rejoined NBI, it will engage in development projects in the region.

Speaking to journalists, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said he and his colleagues discussed development issues. Despite only three heads of state being present, Museveni said they decided to meet as leaders to discuss the ‘strategic issues of the Nile.’ reported the Observer. 

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Nile Basin – Source: Africa Water.

According to Museveni, prosperity for the Nile Basin countries is the best way to protect the river and other vital water systems in Africa. He pointed out a number of key threats to water systems.

These threats included the growing population, lack of electricity supply, lack of industrialisation, over-reliance on primitive agriculture and the destruction of the environment on which the Nile depends.

He said that industrialising the Nile Basin would resolve the problems of the bulk of the population engaging in primitive agriculture, pushing many into the industry and service sectors. He added that this would reduce the strain on the environment through the invasion of wetlands and destruction of forests for agriculture, reported the Uganda Media Centre.

Of course this sort of solution is denounced by others who note how industrialisation will lead to further environmental degradation and pollution, and raise levels of inequality as groups are incorporated, often on adverse terms, as labourers in the service or manufacturing economy.

Further, a deal between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan signed in December 2015 whereby the three countries agreed to end tensions over River Nile water, is also facing an unclear future due to ongoing tensions between Egypt and Sudan.

The two downstream countries at the end of April agreed to de-escalate tensions and end counter-accusations as well as import bans and deportations had brought relations between the two countries to tipping point.

Meanwhile Ethiopia continued its quest to bring Nile Basin countries on its side as its Grand Renaissance Dam nearing completion.

With electricity as a bargaining chip observers say Ethiopia will have an edge over Egypt which claims the majority share of Nile waters, given to it by a colonial agreement put in place by the British, reported the East African.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin today:

Grand Renaissance Dam Project
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol. 52, Issue. 3, Pp. 20795A–20795B

POWER: Egypt – Ethiopia – Sudan
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol. 51, Issue. 8, Pp. 20543C–20545C

EGYPT – ETHIOPIA: Nile Dam Problems
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol. 50, Issue. 10, Pp. 20154B–20155B

Subscribe to the Africa Research Bulletin today.

Nile Basin – Water Politics

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Shifting regional politics as the approval of Ethiopian dam and co-operative agreement may signal new directions in dispute over Nile-basin water resources

On March 23rd, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, met in Khartoum and signed an agreement on the ‘Declaration of the Principles’ of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

Ethiopia started diverting water from the Blue Nile in 2013 for the construction of the 6000MW dam in the Benishangul region near the Sudanese border. It will be Africa’s largest when completed in 2017, at 1,780 metres long and 145 metres high, costing around US$4.8 billion, reported Al Jazeera.

Egypt, largely reliant on the Nile for water and agriculture, had opposed the proposed dam claiming that it would reduce its already strained water supply and the energy generating capacity of its Aswan dam possibly by 30-40%, reported Al-Monitor.

Under current colonial-era treaties Egypt and Sudan receive the majority of water from the Nile; the 1959 Nile Waters Agreement, was a revision of an earlier English-Egyptian agreement, governing infrastructure projects and water allowances. However while Sudan has supported the GERD, Egypt has often boycotted negotiations. In the past the dispute between Ethiopia and Egypt has degenerated into threats of war.

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AFP reported that on March 24th, the day following the meeting in Khartoum, Al-Sisi met with Dessalegn in Addis-Ababa, he explained that “the agreement…represents a positive step on the right path. We’re not going to waste any more time”. This position marks a considerable change from his predecessor Mohamed Morsi, who opposed the “theft of the Nile”.

Rwandan Internal Security Minister Sheikh Musa Fazil Harerimana hailed the agreement as “unprecedented historical action… a step towards increased cooperation as well as regional peace and stability”, report the New Times.

In 1999 the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) was founded as a ‘framework for co-operation’ and a ‘regional inter-governmental partnership’ led by Burundi, DR Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan Tanzania and Uganda.

However water demands and populations continue to grow; the report by ISS estimates that the Nile basin population will double by 2050. Already existing pressures on the water supply include consumption needs, irrigation, energy demands from hydro-power, and environmental and climatic factors.

In 2010 the Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) was introduced to replace the NBI by countries who wanted more access to water and did not want to seek Egypt’s permission before implementing projects on the Nile. It has been signed by Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Kenya, while Egypt and Sudan blocked the operationalisation of the agreement, explains the ISS report.

Often the upstream countries have favoured co-operative deals, while downstream countries have stuck to colonial decrees that provided Egypt and Sudan exclusive rights to the water; Egypt opposed the CFA claiming that it would deprive them of their veto power over development projects on the Nile, on which they are much more dependant than ‘upstream’ countries.

Sudan ended a two year boycott of the NBI in 2014 but Egypt continued its stance. Additional confusion as to whether a newly independent South Sudan had any ‘official rights’ to the Nile water led to intense external pressure to ratify the CFA, a move opposed by Egypt. South Sudan however, did not sign the agreement and instead signed a military agreement with Egypt in March 2014, report Le Monde diplomatique.

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In recent years the financing arrangements have also changed; funding for infrastructure projects used to come from the Nile Basin Trust Fund (NBTF) managed by the World Bank. Now other investors, largely from China, have allowed governments to push ahead with smaller projects without considering resulting consequences for other countries.

Similarly, recent regional events have made the politic situation increasingly unpredictable; domestic instability in many of the Nile basin countries is rising and tensions between states continue, disputes may be reignited as water sources are strained by plans to turn the Nile into an “axis for development”.

The historical trans-boundary water relations are changing and Egypt’s support for the GERD may signal a shift in direction. Egypt’s State Information Service explained that “the agreement is considered a road map for action in the future as it lays down the bases for maintaining the Egyptian rights and helps promote confidence-building measures within a political, legal and technical framework”.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

Egypt-Ethiopia: Nile Dam Problems
Economic, Financial & Technical Series, 
Vol.50, Issue.10, Pp.20154B-20155B

Egypt-Ethiopia: Battle for the Nile
Political, Social & Cultural Series, 
Vol.50, Issue.6, Pp. 19729B-19730B

Nile Basin: Egypt and Sudan Cling to Historic Rights
Political, Social & Cultural Series, 
Vol.47, Issue.5, Pp.18389A-18390A

Subscribe to the Africa Research Bulletin today