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On Avenues for greater cooperation over the Nile: Reflections on the roles of the Nile Tripartite Technical Committee( By Samuel Addis)

On Avenues for greater cooperation over the Nile: Reflections on the roles of the Nile Tripartite Technical Committee( By Samuel Addis)

For most of their history, cooperation among Nile riparian states has remained a distant prospect despite numerous attempts to achieve it.  Their relationship indeed has been characterized as relationship animated by reticence, mutual suspicion, backstabbing, ambivalence and arm twisting. There has always been a distinction between the downstream countries who have wanted to maintain the lopsided status quo and the upper riparian countries who have insisted on their natural right to use their Nile waters. It is no real exaggeration to say that for long the upper riparian have merely been bystanders while lower riparian countries, mainly Egypt, have utilized almost all of the benefits of the Nile.

Egypt in particular, as the self-appointed hydro-hegemon of the region, has always been intransigent over the maintenance of its 55 billion cubic meters of water acquired under a colonial era treaty.  This has meant efforts to conclude a multilateral treaty among the riparian countries have been an uphill battle since the 1920s. Clinging to an outdated mentality, Egypt long argued for its historical rights to use the Nile water, basing its claims largely on norms of international law that had lost currency long ago. The history of the Nile is replete with anecdotes of Egypt employing manipulative power politics and tactics, defending colonial era treaties and at times even threatening to resort to a military option to defend what it called its unfettered right to use Nile waters in accordance with the 1959 agreement. The upper riparian countries for their part proved unable to stage any concerted action to claim their rights to use the Nile waters due to political rivalries, war, civil strife, drought or economic malaise.

Eventually, however, the formation of the Nile Basin Initiative with a broader agenda of achieving sustainable economic development through the equitable utilization of the benefits from the Nile was seen as offering new hope for agreement. Even more, the fact that the initiative was spearheaded by Egypt and Sudan seemed to indicate a change of heart and possibility for a brighter future. After a decade of negotiation the first multilateral treaty, the Comprehensive Framework Peace Agreement was tabled for signing on May 14th 2011 in Entebbe, Uganda. On that date, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda signed the agreement; Burundi followed suit afterwards. Congo has yet to sign. Egypt and Sudan, however, despite the long negotiations, refused to sign the agreement apparently for reasons of security but in reality with the objective of maintaining the status quo. In fact, to the dismay of the upper riparian states, Egypt, on the basis of its historical rights, continued to insist on a veto power over any project in upper riparian countries and on a new rule on voting in the Comprehensive Framework Agreement, equivalent to endorsing the 1929 and 1959 agreements.

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