By Muluneh Wuhib
From all kinds of trajectories and paradigms advanced by all kinds of intellectuals it appears that ‘taming’ natural resources for the betterment of humanity within an environmentally sustainable niche is the currency nowadays in terms of global development strategy in general and Africa in particular. However, some individuals and non-governmental organisations stationed in their comfortable homes and offices in the west are campaigning day-in day-out with the objective that the environment and its milieu in some corners of the world must remain the ‘untouchables’ so that western tourists use them as one of their safari destinations. For example, their campaign against the construction of environmentally friendly dams, in Ethiopia, for the purposes of producing Hydropower, is beyond comprehension. Their actions need unreserved condemnation by all sane people.
Ethiopia has every legal right to utilise all its rivers, including the Blue Nile which discharges 85% of its waters into the Nile, for the purposes of implementing the country’s Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) envisaged within the coming five years to tackle poverty comprehensively and place Ethiopia within the group of middle income countries of the world. Hence, the construction of the Millennium Dum on the Blue Nile with a capacity to produce 5250 MW of electricity recently launched in Ethiopia and would be financed internally without seeking external assistance. All Ethiopians, within the country and the Diaspora, are determined to see to it that the project is completed without any hitch. The Ethiopian Government lead by EPRDF and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi deserve a tumultuous and congratulatory note for their farsightedness regarding this noble and worthwhile cause. The project would be a noose designed to strangle poverty and throw it into the dust bins of history.
At this juncture, it is worth mentioning that the utilization of the Nile waters for the betterment of all the peoples of the Nile basin countries is not only fair but necessary. However, some of the so-called Nile River treaties require closer scrutiny.
2. The 1902 Treaty
The 1902 treaty envisages only the no ‘arrest’ of the flow of the waters of the river. The construction of a dam in order to produce Hydropower do not in any way ‘arrest’ the flow of the river. It would actually have a very positive role in retaining the silt and regulate the flow of the river by way of avoiding seasonal flooding in the lower riparian states. In this case the Sudan and Egypt.
3. The 1929 and the 1959 Treaties
It would be much better to examine the 1929 and 1959 treaties together as both were pencilled down to ascertain Egypt’s national interest, after all, without any iota of concern for the upper riparian countries. The 1929 so-called ‘agreement’ was what the colonial power, Britain, designed to make Egypt, the gift of the Nile, as the sole owner of the Nile waters.
In 1959, three years after the Sudan became independent, the British pushed hard for a Sudan-Egypt Nile Waters Agreement in which Egypt’s share would be 55.5 billion cubic meters (the lion’s share) and Sudan’s share would be 18.5 billion cubic meters of water. When the treaty was signed it was assumed that more than 10 billion cubic meters of water would be lost to evaporation and the agreement totally precluded any share for the upper riparian states. However, at the time, Ethiopia formally registered a protest with the UN.
4. Current Situation
It is crystal clear that the 1929 and the 1959 agreements referred to above were unfairly eschewed towards Egypt with the lion’s share of the ‘booty’ and the Sudan as getting only a ‘spoon feed’. It is this unfairness that gave rise to the demand of an ‘equitable share’ by the upper riparian countries and hence, the birth of the Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA).
As Ato Zenebe Kebede, the Director General for International Legal Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia underlined in his paper entitled “Challenges and Prospects for Better Cooperation in the Nile Basin (March29, 2011):
“Although the Nile is a common resource of all the Basin countries under International Law, the entire Nile water resources have all along been utilized solely by Egypt and Sudan based on the 1929 and 1959 treaties. There has never been a basin-wide legal and institutional framework for cooperation and equitable utilization of the Nile waters among the basin states.” He further rightly added that:
“. . . The low level of economic and technological development as well as lack of the required resources hindered the upper riparian countries, for decades, from utilizing the Nile waters in their respective territories for hydropower production and irrigated agriculture.”.
There is consensus among International lawyers, Hydrologists and Geographers that all basin states stand to gain from cooperation in the development and management of the Nile waters. The CFA is spearheading this consensus. Egypt and the Sudan must come to their senses and sign the CFA instead of trying to derail it. It would be a futile exercise on their part as the required 6 basin countries have already signed the agreement. What remains is the exercise of ratification..
5. Concluding remarks.
In concluding remarks it is worth underlining that the CFA is a framework for win-win situation, not a zero sum game, for all basin countries and therefore not designed to inflict harm on the two lower riparian countries, Egypt and the Sudan. It must be also noted that population growth within the basin countries requires economic growth. The two must go hand in hand. Therefore, cooperation outweighs intransigence for the betterment of the population of the Nile Basin countries and it is time for Egypt and the Sudan to come on board. I rest my case.
Muluneh Wuhib is a Geographer by profession and can be reached at: email@example.com