Nile treaties are malicious and must be renegotiated

Tuesday May 11 2010


TANZANIA PLANS TO BUILD a 170-kilometre water pipeline from Lake Victoria to benefit an estimated 4,000 people in its arid northwestern region.

Similarly, Kenyan policymakers often toy with the idea of pumping massive amounts of water from the lake to supply populations in vast water-deficit areas.

Similar sentiments regarding the use of the waters are increasingly gaining currency among upstream countries.

These plans remain just dreams, thanks to an abusive agreement drawn during the colonial days to dispossess Africans of their Nile heritage.

There is a 1929 agreement between Egypt and Britain granting Cairo the lion’s share of the Nile water resource. This treaty shamelessly forbids Ethiopia, which generates over 85 per cent of the total Nile water, from irrigating farms.

The agreement empowers Egypt to command Ethiopia (a sovereign state) on the utilisation of the Blue Nile water within its borders.

DESPITE ATTEMPTS BY SEVEN UPSTREAM nations to convince Egypt to renegotiate this bizarre agreement, Cairo continues to ignore them while barring any large-scale upstream irrigation or power generation projects on the Nile Basin.

Instead, Egypt persists on squandering the spoils of the Nile through the creation of a new town called Nubia from scratch (1987) fed by canals drawing excessive amounts of water from the river.

Construction of the Tanzanian water pipeline is a way of expressing the determination of the seven riparian nations — Kenya, Uganda, Eritrea, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, and Ethiopia — to counter this historical injustice.

Faced with an estimated population of over 160 million, which is likely to double in 25 years, countries on the Nile Basin are under pressure to access this water.

Unless Egypt co-operates, lack of an agreeable agreement may spark military action or Northern Sudan and Egypt will eventually contend with any remaining volume of water after upstream states have extracted enough quantities to satisfy their water and energy needs.

Threats from the north that their inflated share of the Nile’s water is a historic right, and that Egypt reserves the right to take whatever action it deems necessary to safeguard that right, is no longer practical.

Egypt is certainly aware that most riparian nations resent this treaty. Besides, the collaboration between the World Bank and Egypt to deny upstream countries the external funding required to construct multipurpose dams on the Nile has also fanned this resentment.

To put it simply, the World Bank has continuously displayed its reluctance to provide infrastructure development funds to riparian states, which want to harness the Nile waters unless Egypt endorses the projects.

Through this, Western donors are playing the enforcers’ role of the 1929 and 1959 Nile Treaties crafted purposely to impoverish the people of the Nile Basin.

The ministries of Foreign Affairs in the seven African countries stand accused of naïvetè and utter incompetence for accepting Western donors such as Cida to lead them into engaging Egypt and Sudan in meaningless diplomacy.

The ministries should have refused to recognise the treaty due to its oppressive and discriminative intentions. This agreement is a racist colonial relic, premeditated to underplay the needs and interests of Africans.

Egypt and Sudan have persistently stalled efforts to renegotiate both the 1929 and 1959 treaties. This unfriendly act has attracted the attention of politicians in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania who are questioning the legitimacy of this colonial instrument of oppression.

UGANDA MPS SUGGEST THAT EGYPT pay compensation for denying Kampala access to a readily available local resource.

Intriguingly, while Cairo denies Ugandans and others the use of the Nile, Egyptians exploit it fully for generating electricity and irrigating crops, thus enabling this desert nation to industrialise at the expense of upstream states.

Furthermore, the treaty grants Cairo a right to inspect the entire 6,400 kilometre of the Nile, including its estuaries and Lake Victoria, to ensure no major water-related project is underway. This is an affront to the sovereignty of the riparian states.

These countries are therefore justified to renounce or ignore the Nile treaty as a nuisance in the conduct of their international relations.

Mr Osoro is a political analyst and media consultant ([email protected])