Back in Africa
IN A KEEN showing of Egyptian interest to foster ties with African countries, especially the Nile Basin states, President Mohamed Morsi arrived in Uganda on Tuesday for a one-day visit where he participated in the country's Independence Day celebrations with the president of Uganda Yoweri Musevini and other African leaders, Dina Ezzat reports
The visit, according to Cairo-based African diplomats, is a firm show of Egyptian commitment to strengthen ties with its African neighbours after what they qualified as a decade of severe decline in Egyptian-African ties.
"It is good to have Egypt coming back home -- to Africa," said one. He added, "we just hope that it would be sustainable."
Since he took office on 30 June, Morsi has been careful to show interest in Africa. According to an adviser to the president who spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly on condition of anonymity, "the man was shocked when he received a review about the state of ties we have with the Nile Basin countries. The previous regime should be tried for having overlooked such a strategic interest."
Egyptian diplomats say that it is unfair to make a sweeping complaint about Cairo's commitment to Africa and insist that it was specifically ousted president Hosni Mubarak who declined to visit African countries since the attempt on his life in Ethiopia in 1995.
"It is important to note however that other senior Egyptian officials used to go, including the prime minister and the foreign minister," said one. He added, "in fact Mubarak did visit several African countries, including no other than Uganda, towards the end when he was made aware of the gravity of the situation related to the Nile Basin countries."
During the last three years of his rule, Mubarak did try to treat African frustration and Egyptian neglect, especially as Egypt's annual share of the Nile waters was being challenged with the signing of the upstream states with a new treaty to re-distribute the Nile waters.
Mubarak's diplomatic mission failed and for the most part all concerned African countries, including the newly independent South Sudan, are determined to pursue a change of an early 20th century treaty that allocated Egypt its share of 55 billion cubic metres annually of the Nile water.
Today, informed Egyptian and African diplomats say that it looks more likely that Sudan, a low stream state, might eventually agree to the new treaty. "We have no confirmation on this matter and it should not be the case because as the low stream states, Egypt and Sudan need to organise their positions carefully," said one official concerned.
In July, Morsi visited Ethiopia where he met with its leaders on the side of his participation in the African Summit. A few weeks later, Morsi delegated his prime minister, Hisham Kandil, to take part in the funeral of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi who passed away on 20 August.
While expressing appreciation for the change of attitude in Cairo towards Africa, diplomats of the Nile Basin countries insist that Egypt still needs to realise that the demand of Nile Basin states for Nile water is "legitimate" and "irreversible" as it is designed to serve the purpose of development from expanding irrigation to widening power grids.
"We welcome stronger ties with Egypt but this does not mean we will give up on our rights," said a Nile Basin diplomat.
Nile Basin states insist that the current treaty of Nile water distribution was signed when all these countries, including Egypt, was under colonial occupation and therefore cannot be valid much longer.
In Uganda on Tuesday, Morsi told his African counterparts that Egypt is keen to support their demands for development but that it hopes to reach ways by which neither Egyptian interests nor those of other Nile Basin states are affected, whether upstream or low stream.
"Egypt is willing to talk with its African neighbours and it is certainly willing to participate in joint development projects," said an official from the Ministry of Irrigation.