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Spark of Hope from Entebbe

Spark of Hope from Entebbe

Amen Teferi 06-29-17

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni called the Nile Basin countries Summit in March as he is the chair of the Nile Council of Ministers of Water Affairs of the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI). On the Summit held last week in Entebbe Museveni has called on the Nile Basin countries to engage in strategic level discussions on River Nile issues. He advised that engagement on strategic level discussions would benefit all the riparian countries.

Museveni said “All Nile Valley countries should be assisted to develop and become first world countries. This is why we called this strategic conference.” Calling upon his counterparts to divert their focus from natural resource to human resources Museveni underscored that this will only guarantee the security and social transformation of the Nile valley.

According to Museveni, parochial argument will not benefit Nile Basin countries. The summit held at Uganda’s State House in Entebbe seeks to find solutions to the issues surrounding the Entebbe Agreement signed in Uganda over the sharing and use of the Nile water. We remember that formerly Entebbe has rejected demands by Egypt for greater control of activities related to the flow of the river Nile while promoting a position that all the countries have equal rights over the water under the Co-operative Framework Agreement (CFA).

The Nile Basin Initiative was launched in 1999 by nine countries that share the River Nile and wish to develop the river and share its benefits. These countries are Egypt, Uganda, Kenya, Sudan, Burundi, Ethiopia, Tanzania, democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Eritrea as an observer.

At the first Nile Basin Heads of State Summit held last week Museveni said: “If you start from the parochial point of what Uganda alone stands to benefit without knowing that Uganda’s prosperity depends on others, then you will lose out.” 

It is to be recalled that in 2010, seven of the Nile Basin countries – Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Kenya, Burundi and DR Congo – signed the Entebbe Agreement in Uganda except Egypt and Sudan who disagreed with the reallocation in favor of the historical water sharing quota.

Subsequently Egypt and Sudan withdrew from the bloc the same year, until 2012 when Sudan rejoined and later Egypt, in July 2016. These two countries disagreed over Article 14(b) of the agreement which requires members “not to significantly affect the water security of any other Nile Basin States.”

This means upstream countries including Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda and South Sudan cannot undertake any activities like irrigation or dam construction, which could significantly affect Egypt and Sudan’s water quotas. The Entebbe Agreement, however, allows upstream countries to undertake these activities after consultation with other beneficiaries of the river.

The Nile Basin Countries have rejected demands by the Egyptian government to take full control of the Nile’s water asserting that the other countries also have a say on how the water is to be used as they have growing populations that need to use the water as much as the Egyptians.

We know that Egypt and Sudan were particularly concerned about the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Nonetheless, Egypt and Sudan who have long-standing disputes with Ethiopia over the river had signed an agreement in 2015 which give priority to downstream countries for electricity generated by the dam.

In fact, Sudan has eventually understood that the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam being constructed on the Nile River is pivotal to its economic development effort while this has resulted in diplomatic tensions with Cairo criticizing Sudan for backing Ethiopia in the construction of the dam on the Nile which Egypt fears will affect its water needs. Now Egypt seems to be willing to act in the folder of the Co-operative Framework Agreement (CFA).

The recent Entebbe Summit aims to facilitate the resumption of Egypt’s full participation in the NBI activities that it had frozen since 2010. Egypt froze its operations in NBI in 2010 after six out of 10 upstream states signed a Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) to seek more water from the River Nile — a move strongly opposed by Egypt and Sudan.

President Museveni called the Summit in March as the chair of the Nile Council of Ministers of Water Affairs of the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI). He advised that focus should be moved from natural resource to human resource so as to guarantee the security and social transformation of the Nile valley. He added “My view is that human resource is more important. Japan, China and South Korea do not have a lot of natural resources but have a large human resource and all of them have among the highest GDP in the world. All Nile Valley countries should be assisted to develop and become first world countries. It is why we called this strategic conference.”

Present at the conference were Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, South Sudan Vice President Joseph Wani, Burundi’s 2nd Vice President Joseph Butore and Sudan’s Vice President Hasabo Mohammed Abdul Rahman and representatives of the other countries.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi also called for cooperation among the Nile Basin countries to achieve sustainable development. Sisi said to Nile Basin leaders “Our common interests are greater and more important than any differences that have tied us down for decades. The Nile Basin countries should focus on common interests, not divisions.”

Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah called on the leaders of Nile Basin countries last week on Thursday to adopt a joint view based on the common interests of their nations instead of divisions. In his speech at the Nile Basin summit recently held in Uganda, President El-Sisi said that the countries of the Nile Basin share a common interest, which is to maximize the benefits from natural and human resources.

"Our common interests... are greater and more important than any differences that have tied us down for decades," El-Sisi said, adding that now more than ever, Nile Basin countries need to cooperate to achieve sustainable development. According to the Egyptian State Information Service, the "historic" summit is the "first gathering of all Nile Basin States to discuss cooperation in many development fields."

Egypt withdrew from Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) membership in 2010 over disagreements about the Cooperative Framework Agreement, which sets out the principles and obligations of member states regarding the use of the Nile Basin's water resources. Egypt and Sudan have declined to sign the agreement, citing concerns about provisions concerning the reallocation of water quotas, among other issues.

President El-Sisi arrived in Uganda earlier on Thursday, where he discussed with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni bilateral relations and cooperation, according to the Egyptian presidency. Uganda is the current chair of the Nile Council of Ministers of Water Affairs of the NBI.

Now things are beginning to change and we see very encouraging development in the Nile basin. The Nile Basin initiative (NBI) has gone a great length in breaking some of the psycho-political hurdles surrounding the basin. Now we began to realize that the Nile offers great potential to all concerned.

We can even envisage the possibility of having a ground scheme of regional water development plan that would take in to account or incorporate the political realities of the region that will help them to work out a plan and remain to engage in constructive dialogue. As such, water would lead to the direction of conflict resolution that has regional magnitude.

One of the notable implications one could draw from this fact is that what has been a key source of conflict in the region is witnessed to be an element that forge a strong economic interdependence for the sub-region. What is underscored in this process is that even the age-old animosity and mistrust and the interstate rivalry that characterize the Ethio-Egypt relation has undergone a most significance transformation that would open up a venue for a warm friendship between the two countries.

Egypt and Sudan are understandably concerned about Ethiopia’s Grand Dam Project over the Nile waters. The Nile is essential for the entire people who live in the basin and the civilization thereof. Without the Nile water, there would have been no food, no people, no state, and no monuments in Sudan and Egypt.

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