From the People’s Daily Online
Four Nile Basin countries sign new water treaty amid strong opposition
Four countries in the Nile Basin on Friday signed a new agreement on the equitable usage of the River Nile waters despite strong opposition from Egypt and Sudan.
Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda who signed the Agreement on the Nile River Basin Cooperative Framework here, 40 km south of the capital Kampala, said they could not wait any longer for Egypt and Sudan after 10 years of negotiations.
“If we weren’t to sign today, I would assure you with certainty that we would go another 10 years or more without having reached an agreement,” said Stanislas Kamanzi, Rwandese minister of environment and lands.
“The essence of getting together is about moving quickly in an inclusive manner based on the principles of equitable sharing of our resources to promote the development of our respective populations,” he added.
Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Kenya promised to sign the agreement later, which also said the riparian countries should have equal rights to use the Nile waters.
For over a decade, the nine riparian countries and Eritrea as an observer have been locked up in protracted negotiations to draft a new treaty on the usage of the Nile waters.
All the countries agreed on the framework agreement apart from a clause which will reduce Egypt and Sudan’s right to use more than 85 percent of the water.
Egypt and Sudan want to maintain the old status quo of them using the biggest percentage of the water as stipulated in two colonial agreements they signed with the British in 1929 and 1959.
Egypt has a right to use about 75 percent of the water while Sudan has 11 percent and the rest of the seven countries share 14 percent.
The other riparian countries have to first seek permission from Egypt and Sudan before embarking on any large scale development projects on the river that would affect the level and flow of the waters.
Egypt which mainly depends on the Nile for its livelihood argues that the other countries have other sources of water.
The seven riparian countries argue that they can not maintain this status quo saying that they are now independent states and have equal rights as Egypt to use the waters.
“There are enough waters of the Nile for everybody’s need but indeed not for everybody’s greed. To satisfy that need we need to cooperate,” said Prof. Mark Mwandosya, Tanzania’s minister for water and irrigation.
The upstream countries are in dire need of using the water to generate hydropower and irrigation following persistent drought which has hit many of them leaving millions of their citizens on the verge of starvation.
Ministers from the upstream countries said that they are not threatened by reports saying that Egypt is planning legal action against the riparian states that signed the accord.
“I don’t think that is the best way for having these changes. I don’t know on what basis they are going to charge us. The best option is dialogue,” said Asfaw Dingamo, Ethiopia’s minister of water resources.
“You don’t take a family member to court, you always find a way to sort out your affairs not in public but in discussions,” said Mwandosya, referring to Egypt as a brother to the other riparian states.
The countries have now urged Egypt and Sudan to continue with the negotiations and eventually sign the agreement.
“We sincerely regret that this ceremony has taken place in the intentional and announced absence of our dear brothers from Egypt and Sudan. We encourage them to join the process as we move forward,” said Kamanzi.
According to the framework agreement, the signing will be open for one year to allow Egypt and Sudan join the rest of the countries.
According to Maria Mutagamba, Uganda’s minister of water and environment, after the lapse of one year the signing of the agreement will close and if Egypt or Sudan have not signed they will not be part of the Nile Basin Commission and in case of any disagreement the two countries will have to seek international arbitration.
The framework agreement will transform the Nile Basin Initiative to the Nile Basin Commission which will coordinate the equitable usage of the water. Countries will have to submit their intended projects along the Nile to the Commission for endorsement.