Sunday,22 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1141, 28 March - 3 April 2013
Sunday,22 October, 2017
Issue 1141, 28 March - 3 April 2013

Ahram Weekly

Entebbe all over again

Gamal Nkrumah reflects on reports seeping from Juba concerning South Sudan’s presumed signing of the Entebbe Agreement

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Al-Ahram Weekly

This week, a chink of light emerged from Juba over an issue that has long constituted a fundamental foreign policy challenge facing Egypt. “We joined the Nile Basin Initiative. We are on the way to join the framework agreement, through which Nile Basin countries could discuss the best ways for using water sources,” Paul Mayom, South Sudan’s minister of water resources and irrigation, is reported to have announced yesterday in a surprise and as yet unconfirmed move. Mayom’s statement, if proven correct, would mean that South Sudan will join the Entebbe Agreement.

A big question hangs over Egypt’s readiness for this change of mindset of South Sudan. Cairo is not opposed per se to the Entebbe Agreement, however, Egypt does demand that any agreements of Nile Basin countries should be reached only with the consensus of all Nile Basin nations. South Sudan had previously rejected the water distribution agreement, originally signed between Egypt and Sudan in 1959 on the pretext that it did not have a say in the drafting of the agreement.

African upstream countries, spearheaded by Ethiopia, protest that the agreement granted the downstream countries of Egypt and Sudan the lion’s shares of the Nile water. It is against this backdrop that in April 2010, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania signed a new agreement in Entebbe redistributing the Nile’s water. Egypt, along with Sudan, boycotted the deal, saying it was non-binding precisely because their perspective was not taken into account.

The bottom line is this. Unlike Egypt, South Sudan and other upstream Nile Basin nations are not desperately in need of Nile water for agriculture since they receive considerable rainfall sufficient for agricultural purposes at the very least. Cairo does not question South Sudan or other upstream Nile Basin nations’ right to have a say in how the Nile waters are utilised and distributed. But let’s not let the possibility of providing answers to the challenge of Nile waters utilisation cripple the chance for working together to collectively develop the Nile Basin.

Nevertheless, Burundi joined the Entebbe agreement in March 2011, paving the way for its approval. So, if South Sudan, also signs the agreement it will result in a de facto prevalence of the views of upstream nations to the detriment of Egypt and Sudan. Mayom is reported to have explained that South Sudan does not recognise the 1959 agreement. “We were under the control of Sudan, when the agreement was signed. Thus, we couldn’t say anything,” he extrapolated further.

Egypt, which receives the largest portion of the Nile’s water, has grave reservations about any agreements that do not preserve its historic rights as stipulated in the 1959 agreement. About 85 per cent of Egypt’s water originates in the Ethiopian Highlands. The Blue Nile, running from Ethiopia, through Sudan to Egypt is the lifeline of the country. Rainless Egypt, in sharp contrast with its well-watered neighbours, is utterly dependent on the water of the Nile River, and has been so since time immemorial. Egypt’s share of Nile waters stand at 51 billion square metres annually, according to a deal signed with Sudan on 1959, which gives the latter 18 billion square metres of water per year. Sudan, is also more dependent on the Nile for irrigation purposes and agriculture than either South Sudan or the other upstream nations.

Nevertheless, the decision of South Sudan with regards to the Entebbe Agreement is potentially significant. A new opportunity to pursue a fresh Nile water redistribution is sorely needed. With one of its main, perhaps the most important, national security concerns pushed to one side, the hope in Cairo is that upstream Nile Basin nations, including South Sudan will now seize the moment and consider Egypt’s legitimate concerns more seriously.

 

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