Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1243, (23 - 29 April 2015)
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1243, (23 - 29 April 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Questions about the CFA

Does the Nile River Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement violate the shared vision of the Nile Basin Initiative and Egypt’s Constitution, asks Mona Sewilam

Questions about the CFA
Questions about the CFA
Al-Ahram Weekly

The Nile is the longest river in the world, feeding millions and giving birth to entire civilisations. It flows north for about 6,825 km and is shared by 11 countries.

The Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) is a regional intergovernmental partnership. The objective of this shared vision is to achieve sustainable socioeconomic development through the equitable use of, and benefit from, common Nile Basin water resources.

Prior to the emergence of the NBI in 1999, there was no common institutionalised and structured mechanism that was all-inclusive and brought together all the riparian countries to address a common agenda.

The “Undugu” was one of several initiatives created before the NBI. This initiative, meaning “fraternity” in Swahili, focused on the establishment of a Nile Basin Economic Community, but it only lasted for ten years. Boutros Boutros-Ghali was Egypt’s minister of state for foreign affairs when he proposed the launching of the Undugu in 1983.

As a result, he was called “Boutros the African” by British and US officials when he served as minister of state between 1977 and 1991. Later, he was United Nations secretary-general from 1992 to 1996.

“I paid more attention to African countries mainly because of the water of the Nile,” said Boutros-Ghali in an interview with the Weekly. “I was aware that sooner or later those countries would move from a culture based on rain to a culture based on irrigation.

“A culture based on rain gives you one crop a year; a culture based on irrigation can give you two or three crops. I was in favour of the creation of an organisation to deal with the problems of the Nile River, i.e., navigation, irrigation and water distribution.”

He continued, “This had been done in Asia, and the Great Mekong River is an example. I paid for the ministers of irrigation of the African countries to visit the Mekong and learn from the expertise related to the Mekong Committee, which was succeeded by the Mekong River Commission in 1995.

“I did a lot of work, but I am sorry to say I failed. I failed too in making the ‘Undugu’ succeed and nobody took care of the group after I left my post. But the Undugu was a first step, and it needed a lot of work to move from first step to second step.

“They say the Undugu was not serious, but it was better than nothing. The challenge was to pay more attention to each other and cooperate in the area of trade, for instance.”

The later Nile Basin Initiative was conceived as a transitional institution until the Nile River Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) enters into force and a permanent institution, the Nile River Basin Commission (NRBC), is established after six countries ratify the agreement. The CFA was opened for signature in 2010 and was signed by Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda in 2010 and by Burundi in 2011.

Egypt and Sudan opposed signing the CFA; nor have the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea or South Sudan signed the agreement. It was ratified by Ethiopia and Rwanda in 2013 and by Tanzania in 2015.

The speaker of the House of People’s Representatives of Ethiopia, Aba-dula Gemeda, Ethiopia’s former minister of national defence and former chief of intelligence, explained in an interview why Ethiopia supported the CFA.

“We are very clear. We do not agree to the 1959 Treaty signed between Egypt and Sudan on the Nile River as it excluded Ethiopia, which contributes 86 per cent of the water in the Nile River. This is unacceptable, and we do not consider this treaty as ours. Let us put the treaty aside and come together,” Gemeda said.

“The Nile River Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) between the Nile Basin riparian countries is more workable than the historical treaty. It was made by us, those from Congo up to Egypt, and all are contributors to it. The CFA says the Nile River should be used in a win-win manner and no country should be ignored in order to benefit others.”

The Nile Basin Initiative includes ten countries; Eritrea participates as an observer. Although Egypt took part in launching the NBI in 1999, it boycotted the initiative after the CFA was signed by five NBI member states in 2010.

Egypt attended an NBI meeting in Sudan in February 2015, the first time it had attended such a meeting in five years. Kenya has also expressed its understanding of Egypt’s concerns.

The secretary of the Kenyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Amina Mohamed, spoke to the Weekly about the matter. Said Mohamed, “We agree that it is an issue that we must continue to engage on and hopefully we can actually organise meetings around the issue so that all the options can be put on the table, discussed and agreements can be arrived at.

“I think this is a very emotive issue, but it is a real issue as well. So we need to tackle it very carefully, ensuring that nobody’s rights are diminished in the process.”

Today, Article 2(a) of the CFA, pertaining to the use of terms, states that the “Nile River Basin” means the geographical area determined by the watershed limits of the Nile River system of waters.
Article 2(b) of the CFA says that the “Nile River system” means the Nile River and surface waters and ground waters which are related to the Nile River.

As a result, Article 2(b) of the signed CFA is a breach of the NBI shared vision. While the NBI focuses on the equitable use of the Nile Basin’s water resources, Article 2(b) of the signed CFA mentions that it is the “Nile River system,” rather than the “Nile River Basin,” that will be used.

DETAILS OF THE CFA: For more insight into the CFA and Egypt’s position on the agreement, the Weekly spoke to the president of the Arab Water Council and honorary president of the World Water Council, Mahmoud Abu-Zeid.

He played a pivotal role in launching the Nile Basin Initiative. Abu-Zeid also took part in the negotiations related to the CFA in his capacity as Egypt’s minister of water resources and irrigation between 1997 and 2009.

He said the signed CFA text was different from the draft agreement negotiated by all the countries and to which Egypt had agreed to 43 out of the 44 articles before the signing began in 2010. The signed CFA text consists of 45 articles.

“We have never opposed the development of not only Ethiopia, but also the Nile Basin countries as a whole, and this has been made clear through several speeches of our leaders, our politicians, and even in the media,” said Abu-Zeid.

“We have always talked about cooperation, and we are ready to help our brothers in Ethiopia and the other Nile Basin countries, and all the African countries as well. Historically speaking, there was never any objection to the development of any of the Nile Basin countries.

“Cooperation with the Nile Basin countries dates back to the 1960s, but after the launching of the Nile Basin Initiative in 1999, this cooperation increased a lot. We never said ‘no’ to any proposal by any of the Nile Basin countries to projects that they submitted to us.”

He continued, “As for projects on the ground, I remember, for example, the Owen Falls Dam on Lake Victoria between Egypt and Uganda. We participated in the construction and the costs, and there was an agreement between Egypt and Uganda for the operation of this dam.

“In Uganda we helped with the eradication of aquatic weeds in Lake Kyoga, which consumed a lot of water and hindered navigation. We helped in Tanzania by constructing 150 groundwater wells, assisting also on about 150 in Kenya and in Ethiopia as well.

“We were involved in many projects in several countries and assistance in building dams in Ethiopia. So we have always contributed to the development of the Nile Basin countries.

“These projects were carried out through the Egyptian Agency of Partnership for Development, created in 2014. Those related to training and capacity-building are mostly funded by this fund.

Other projects, costing millions of dollars, were funded by the Egyptian government. The projects were carried out in a spirit of friendship and solidarity. We never put any conditions on them.”

Asked for his reaction to Article 44 of Egypt’s 2014 Constitution that stipulates that “the State shall protect the River Nile and preserve Egypt’s historical rights” and “every citizen is guaranteed the right to enjoy the River Nile,” Abu-Zeid said,

“The case of Egypt is different from the case of any other Nile Basin country because Egypt depends totally on the River Nile.

“Ninety-five per cent of Egypt’s water comes from the Nile. So we have to make sure that our dependence is supported by the regulations. For example, 1,660 billion cubic metres of rain fall in the Nile Basin annually, while Egypt receives very little of this, only 55.5 billion cubic metres per year.

“Egypt plus Sudan receive five per cent of the total of 1,660 billion cubic metres. The rest is either used by the other Nile Basin countries or lost, and it is mostly lost. But besides the River Nile, many of the other countries have other rivers and watercourses and they all have lots of rainfall. So the situation is different for us. We depend mainly on the Nile, and that is why it is stated in our constitution.”

Asked about the CFA, opposed by Egypt and Sudan, he said, “The NBI was the first agreement to be signed by all the Nile Basin countries. They decided to follow two tracks: to look into development projects and to work on the CFA. Between 2004 and 2007, 43 articles were approved by all the countries out of the 44 articles of the CFA. Article 14 was the main problem.

“When the negotiations on the CFA started, the draft included a reference to the historical agreements and the countries did not agree to that. So we looked for an alternative solution, and the water security concept was introduced.

“Egypt wanted to have a reference in the agreement to its water use, to the 55.5 billion cubic metres, because we, Egypt and Sudan, discovered that it was very hard to include the historical agreements in the CFA.

“So we came up with the water security concept as a compromise from Egypt and Sudan… putting in an article on water security that refers to Egypt’s and Sudan’s water use.

“Three proposals on how to include an article on water security in the CFA were made: one by Egypt and Sudan, another by the World Bank, and a third by the negotiating team. But we have not agreed to any of them, so the negotiations stopped.

“Let me say that we decided at the negotiating table that our role as a negotiating team had been exhausted, and if we wanted to get approval for Article 14(b) we would have to go to the leaders to resolve the problem.

“At that time, the chairman of the council of ministers of the Nile Basin countries was from Uganda. We asked him to check with his president and communicate with the other presidents to resolve the 14(b) issue. That was in 2007, but nothing happened and up till now 14(b) is still an unresolved article.”

ARTICLES OF THE CFA: Article 14 states that the “Nile Basin States therefore agree, in a spirit of cooperation, (a) to work together to ensure that all states achieve and sustain water security; and (b) not to significantly affect the water security of any other Nile Basin States.”

Egypt proposed that Article 14(b) be replaced by the following words: “not to adversely affect the water security and current uses and rights of any other Nile Basin State.”

Commenting on this matter, Abu-Zeid said, “All the countries agreed to Article 14(a). When we came to Article 14 (b), there was this proposal by the other countries, except Egypt and Sudan, and because both countries wanted to include and refer to the existing uses and rights we proposed amending Article 14(b), and this has not been agreed by the other countries.

“The CFA that was opened for signature in 2010 includes the unresolved Article 14(b) in an annex that includes the text approved by all the countries except Egypt and Sudan and the wording proposed by Egypt. The signed CFA says that the issue of Article 14(b) is annexed and will be resolved by the Nile River Basin Commission within six months of its establishment.”

Asked to comment on the changed wording of the CFA (“Nile River Basin” rather than the “Nile River system”), Abu-Zeid said that this could be a breach of the NBI shared vision.

“When we talked about water-sharing and use, we referred to the ‘Nile River Basin’, which means all the water in the basin, including the groundwater and rainfall. We were surprised when we found that in Article 4(1) of the CFA text that was signed by the six countries, the wording ‘Nile River Basin’ was replaced by ‘Nile River system’ or watercourse, which is very different.

“Article 4 is about equitable and reasonable use. The ‘Nile River System’ or watercourse means only the water that runs into the river, while ‘Nile River Basin’ means all the water resources.”

The implication of this change, Abu-Zeid said, was that instead of taking into account all the water that falls into the basin, the signed CFA was proposing to take only the water that runs in the river into account, a considerable reduction.

“It is not only about cutting,” he said. “It means the other countries are free to use whatever they want without any comparison to what Egypt and Sudan are using.”

Egypt had signalled its reservations on this point, he said. “But the main reservation was about Article 14(b), and other reservations were made concerning other articles by ministers who came after me.

“The two other articles include Article 8, concerning planned measures or prior notification. This principle was in the agreement, but the procedure was not mentioned. So there was opposition from Egypt that the procedure should be agreed upon and put in the main body of the agreement.

“The other reservation is related to the amendment of the framework or protocols, which is in Article 36(3) in the signed CFA. The question was if approval was going to be by consensus or majority.

“Egypt insisted on approval by consensus, while during the negotiations and up until 2007 all the Nile Basin countries agreed, and Egypt was among them, that some articles would be approved by consensus and some by majority and that not all the articles would have the same weight. This was not approved by the minister who came after me.”

Commenting on reports that other Nile Basin countries are fed up with needing to get permission from Egypt before using the Nile River for development projects, as required by the 1929 Treaty signed between Egypt and Great Britain, Abu-Zeid said, “It is not a question of getting permission. It is about consultation.

“In all international agreements and law, prior notification exists, and it is mainly there to inform other riparian countries on the same watercourse that a project is being planned and to submit designs and specifications so that the countries concerned can look at them and see if they will cause any serious harm. If there are objections, they consult and discuss whether they are valid or not.”

Regarding the construction of the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s, Abu-Zeid said, “Egypt at that time was submitting a proposal to the World Bank for financial assistance. Prior notification was not part of the World Bank’s procedure at that time, but it became so later on. And it actually happened.

“Egypt was going to build a power station and the cooling water was going to be used from the Nile River and we wanted a loan from the bank which insisted on notifying the other countries. Egypt said it was a hydropower plant, and not a dam or a construction on the river, but the bank insisted.”

Should the other the other Nile Basin countries ratify the CFA, it will be binding on them, Abu-Zeid said, but added, “I do not think that this would affect Egypt’s water quota and use. The CFA will not be legally binding on Egypt and Sudan. It will also be a breach of Egypt’s constitution if Egypt agrees to Article 14(b), which states ‘not to significantly affect the water security of any other Nile Basin States,’ approved by all the other countries except Sudan. It will be a breach if Egypt agrees to this and signs.

“Most of the articles of the CFA have already been agreed upon. What is needed is at least amending Article 14(b). I am sure there is a good chance of this happening, especially since some countries and institutions have suggested other proposals.

“These are different from the ones proposed by Egypt and Sudan and by the other countries. The intention is to come up with wording that could be accepted by Egypt and Sudan.”

The author is a senior news anchor and correspondent for Nile TV International and a member of Transcend International, a peace development environment network. The interviews in this article were originally conducted for the award-winning “Peace in Focus” programme broadcast on Nile TV.

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