Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1122, 15 - 21 November 2012
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1122, 15 - 21 November 2012

Ahram Weekly

Prospects of cooperation

When it comes to sharing Nile water consensus is as distant as ever, writes Doaa El-Bey

Al-Ahram Weekly

Egypt’s decision to rejoin the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) was hailed as a positive step by participants in a symposium on prospects for cooperation and dialogue between Egypt and the Nile Basin states. The decision to re-engage in dialogue despite rejection of the Entebbe Framework Agreement signed by upstream states in May 2010 was widely praised during the symposium.
Egypt froze its membership in the NBI two years ago in protest at the decision of upstream states to sign the Entebbe Agreement which calls for the redistribution of shares of Nile water.
Cairo’s re-engagement will begin with Egyptian involvement in the NBI’s regional office for the east of the Nile which is focussed on establishing an electricity network between its three member states, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan.
Hani Raslan, from Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, said the move is positive inasmuch as it seeks to find a mechanism for cooperation and emphasises the will of the three member states to cooperate. But while it may strengthen relations between the three countries it will not resolve differences between Upper and Lower Nile Basin states.
The two downstream states, Egypt and Sudan, will continue to refuse to sign the Entebbe Agreement, Cairo’s default position being that the 1929 and 1959 treaties on the distribution of Nile water remain in force. Sudan, too, refuses to contemplate any reduction in its share of the Nile.
The Entebbe Agreement signatories, meanwhile, insist on their right to build projects, including dams, on the Nile without first securing the consent of downstream states, as the current treaties require.
Symposium participants agreed that dialogue and boosting cooperation on a regional level among Nile Basin states could only help improve relations.
Advisor to the Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Rafik Khalil underlined the importance of dialogue if three major sticking points are to be overcome: the mechanisms of any new water sharing system, the issue of prior notification of any project within the Nile Basin and the imposition of a majority rather than unanimous vote among NBI states to ratify any decision. Egypt and Sudan have consistently refused to shift their position on all three issues.
Raslan argued that while Egypt is determined to protect its historic rights to Nile water Cairo recognises the importance of cooperation among Nile states over issues such as dam building. Egypt, he sees, must continue to refuse to sign the Entebbe Agreement until an acceptable compromise is reached over the three outstanding issues.  
Both Raslan and Khalil agreed the tripartite committee is a possible venue to settle differences with Ethiopia over building the Renaissance Dam.
Indeed, a tripartite technical committee is already at work assessing the impact of the Renaissance Dam. The 10-member committee is composed of two experts from Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia and four international experts. It is expected to produce a final report in February.
Should the committee find the dam will not impact on Egypt’s share of Nile water then there will be no problem, said Raslan. But should it conclude the project will negatively affect Egypt then Cairo will be forced to ask Addis Ababa to redraw its plans.
Egypt could also take part in financing or building the dam and participate its operation. And that, Raslan insists, will open the door for cooperation over other projects.
Should a compromise not be reached, “Egypt will have to launch a political, diplomatic and legal campaign on the national regional and international levels to show that it is presenting a fair case that conforms to international law,” Raslan told participants.
Ethiopian Ambassador Mahmoud Al-Deiri avoided answering a question on Addis Ababa’s response should the committee find the Renaissance Dam negatively impacts on the flow of Nile water to Egypt.
“We are partners. And partnership to us means each country can decide for itself how to conduct its path to development,” he told participants.
Al-Deiri added that the decision to sign or not to sign the Entebbe Agreement was a matter for each state to decide individually.
South Sudan’s ambassador, Anthony Kon, argued that Cairo and Khartoum’s refusal to sign the framework agreement was a negative position.
“Our brothers in Egypt have decided to stick to what they call their historic right over the Nile. What will Cairo do if other member states decide to build more dams or other projects? Will it resort to war to resolve the problem as the Egyptian media say?” he wondered.
“War is never a solution. The solution is to look rationally at the issues. When you do that you realise that the states making requests so that they can develop have every right to what they are asking for. Surely it should be possible to sit and agree on a quota for each state.”
South Sudan, which seceded from Sudan last year, has said it will not sign the Entebbe Agreement. Yet Kon told the symposium that 60 per cent of South Sudan’s population supports the agreement and suggested the government could yet change its mind.
The Ugandan charge d’affaire wondered aloud whether disagreement on an article or two could furnish enough reason for Egypt to declare war on upstream states.

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