Monday,22 October, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1370, (23-29 November 2017)
Monday,22 October, 2018
Issue 1370, (23-29 November 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Cooperation on the Nile

A policy of strengthening relationships with the Nile Basin countries has been adopted to face the repercussions of the building of the Grand Ethiopianm Renaissance Dam, writes Haitham Nouri


Cooperation on the Nile
Cooperation on the Nile

In an unanticipated development this week, two factions of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) signed an Egyptian and Ugandan-sponsored agreement to unify the governing movement in South Sudan. The agreement was signed in the Egyptian Intelligence headquarters in Cairo.

Egypt had hosted talks from 13-16 November between a South Sudan government delegation and the group called the “Ten Detainees” with the aim of unifying the SPLM and ending a four-year war that has brought the country to the brink of famine.

“This is an Egyptian effort to restore calm in South Sudan,” said Al-Haj Waraq, editor-in-chief of the Sudanese Hurriyat newspaper. “This event also cannot be viewed independently from the growing Egyptian role in Africa and the Nile Basin countries in particular,” he added.

There are 11 countries along the Nile, including Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, Egypt, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea and Kenya. Among those, Egypt and Ethiopia depend on the nile as their main source of water. More than 60 per cent of the water reaching Egypt comes from the Blue Nile, which originates in Ethiopia

However, Ethiopia’s construction of its Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), a major dam on the Blue Nile, has been stoking fears that this will reduce Egypt’s water supply, especially as the reservoir behind it is filled to generate power.

Many commentators believe that Egypt’s absence from the African scene for decades has dwarfed its political and economic influence leading to the Entebbe Agreement that gave the Nile Basin countries the right to build dams without prior notice.

During the 1960s and 1970s Egypt had close relations with the African nations. But it then drifted away, especially after the attempted assassination of former president Hosni Mubarak during the African Summit meeting in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa in 1997.

However, “Egypt did not totally turn its back on Africa as is commonly believed,” said Alor Maing, a journalist from South Sudan. “We have had an Egyptian presence here in South Sudan since the beginning of this century.” 

Maing pointed out that there is an Egyptian hospital in the South Sudanese capital Juba as well as six agricultural and industrial secondary schools founded by Egypt. “There are also people from the Egyptian Ministry of Irrigation, which supervised the construction of a number of small dams and wells in order to promote agriculture,” he said.

In the 1970s, Egypt initiated the Jonglei Canal project which could have increased Egypt’s share of Nile water by three billion m3 and enabled South Sudan, then an autonomous part of Sudan, to reclaim three million acres of swamp land and set in motion a huge agricultural development project.

However the Jonglei project came to a halt with the outbreak of the Sudanese civil war in 1983, when the Sudanese president breached the 1972 Addis Ababa peace treaty between Khartoum and the South.

With the death of the Jonglei project, which was being carried out by French firms, the Egyptian presence in Africa south of the Sahara faded, according to Helmy Shaarawi, director of the African Studies Centre in Cairo. “The Egyptian presence used to extend beyond South Sudan to Uganda, Eritrea and a large number of other countries in the continent,” he said.

Egypt had close relations with Uganda at the time of president Yoweri Museveni. It helped with the raising of the Owen Dam in the mid-1970s and with other development projects in Kampala and Entebbe.

“Egypt’s relationship with Uganda grew closer after the Islamists came to power in Khartoum and with the rise of extremist Islamist movements in Somalia,” Waraq said, adding that “Museveni was and remains the strongest opponent of the Muslim Brotherhood in Sudan and the Shabab Movement in Somalia.”

Uganda has supported Egyptian efforts to unify the factions of the SPLM, the ruling party in Juba since independence in July 2011.

Midhat Askar, former project director for Africa at Arab Contractors, related that “during the first decade of this century we completed a housing project and the construction of government buildings in Rwanda, including the Defence Ministry building there.”

In the Horn of Africa, Eritrea is regarded by some as a strong Egyptian ally by virtue of Asmara’s tense relations with its neighbour Ethiopia. Egypt has established a model farm near the port of Massawa, and there is an agreement for Egypt to build a meat-processing plant, a livestock farm, and two solar-energy plants.

Cairo and Asmara have also signed an agreement to regulate Egyptian fishing in Eritrean territorial waters. This stipulates a target of 100,000 tons of fish per season, divided by the two sides, with Egypt having the option of purchasing the amounts it needs from Eritrea.

“The ability to import fish from Eritrea has helped alleviate rises in the cost of fish in Egypt last year,” said Egyptian Ambassador to Asmara Yasser Hashem.

Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki was one of the first African leaders to visit Cairo to congratulate president Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi on his victory in the Egyptian presidential elections in 2014. He was also one of the few leaders on the continent to declare his support for the 30 June Revolution, which he hailed as “the revival of the soul of Egypt.”

Egypt has helped to free Asmara from its political isolation, which Ethiopia has capitalised on since tensions erupted between the two countries in 1997. More recently, Cairo has also helped improve Asmara’s relations with the Gulf countries, especially since the formation of the Saudi-led Coalition against the Houthi rebels in Yemen in March 2015.

Tangible fruit of this process can be seen in the UAE’s lease of the Assab Port in Eritrea which had been largely inactive. The UAE has also developed a number of small airports, enabling them to come into service as logistical centres in the war.

Asmara has received Arab assistance, enabling it to improve its economic circumstances, much to the annoyance of Addis Ababa. Many Ethiopian observers believe that the strengthening of relations with Eritrea is actually directed against Ethiopia, though Egypt denies this.

“Egypt strives to maintain balanced relations. It doesn’t enter relations for the purpose of revenge,” said former intelligence director Hatem Bashat, currently chairman of the African Affairs Committee in parliament.

“We have strong relations with Eritrea, South Sudan, Rwanda and Tanzania. These are all Nile Basin countries. But we do not direct relations against any other country either. All we ask is that our friends in Ethiopia be more sensible in dealing with our anxieties concerning water. We will not sacrifice a drop of water from our established historical rights,” Bashat said.

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