- North Africa
Ethiopia - Egypt: A tug of war over the Nile basin
Egypt makes offers but Ethiopia won’t budge
Despite a generous offer made by visiting Egyptian minister of Water Rosources and Irrigation, Dr. Mohamed Nasr Eldin Allam, Ethiopian Minister of Water Resources, Asfaw Dingamo, has stood by his government’s firm stance to continue with its decision to protect the upper riparian (Nile basin) countries. The Ethiopian position seeks to limit Egypt and Sundan’s indiscriminate use of the Nile’s water resource. The Egyptian Minister visited Ethiopia this week.
The Egyptian minister, appointed March 11, 2009, replaces Mahmoud Abu Zeid, who had been criticized for his weak negotiations on Nile issues. Egypt claims his replacement was due to a health related problem. Dr. Mohamed Nasr Eldin Allam, the new minister, is touring Nile riparian countries, a move criticised as lobbying to maintain Egypt’s grip on the Nile basin.
The visiting minister held closed door discussions with top Ethiopian Government officials, including Asfaw Dingamo, Minister of Water Resource. Talking to the press, Mr. Asfaw Dingamo indicated that Dr. Eldin Allam had expressed his country’s (Egypt) willingness to cooperate with Ethiopia and also provide Ethiopian water experts with a high level all-expense-paid training. “We accepted the new Egyptian minister’s offer,” Asfaw said. The training will be conducted by an Egyptian based training institute which offers short term Applied Training Programmes to all Nile countries, and is run by The Nile Basin.
The offer, however, does little to change Ethiopia’s unrelenting position on regulations affecting the subject of Nile sharing since negotiations among all Nile countries began, about a decade ago. The negotiations aim to amend an exclusive 1959 agreement signed between Egypt and Sudan that expressly excluded Ethiopia, despite the country’s 85 per cent contribution to the Nile’s water resource. Ethiopia’s insistence on protecting other riparian countries, while demanding that the Nile sharing programme should be free of any agreements that may prove detrimental to some countries, remains the main bone of contention.
An Ethiopian proposed article that deals with the possibility of water sharing without causing significant harm to other riparian countries has caused negotiating countries to split into two major blocks: Upper riparian countries, consisting of a host of countries under Ethiopia’s leadership including Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Burundi; and lower riparian countries, made up of Egypt and Sudan.
The two lower riparian countries, Egypt and Sudan, have indicated that they will not endorse the Ethipian proposed article unless a clause that guarantees that there will be no damage to water security is inserted. However, this clause if accepted, will allow the two countries to continue using the Nile water resource intensively and extensively, experts say. The division has halted the Nile Basin Ministerial Council sponsored negotiation process.
“We explained our stance to the Egyptian Minister and told him to lighten the gloomy negotiations,” Asfaw told Capital.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is the current chair of the Nile Council of Ministers, however, Egypt will take over in the month of July, which may give it an opportunity to influence other nations. But before then, a final conference, to be hosted by DRC is expected to highlight a three point proposal that could improve Ethiopia’s position if endorsed by the Nile Basin member countries, Mr. Asfaw said.