By Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome
The longstanding row over the use of the Nile waters, for which the dictates of the 1929 and 1959 treaties between Britain and Egypt were shoved down the throats of the Nile basin countries on independence, resulted last year in the required number of members of the Nile Basin Initiative to sign on to a new negotiated treaty to make it legally binding, inspite of Egypt and Khartoum Sudan refusing to accept the majority verdict. Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and Ethiopia signed the new treaty while new member South Sudan indicated they too would add their signature, possibly ahead or alongside the meeting next week when the 21st Council of Ministers session will take place in Juba.
In recent weeks did Egypt sound the war drums in an attempt to intimidate Ethiopia not to ratify the new treaty and halt their plans for the construction of a new hydro electric power plant on the Blue Nile, aptly named the Great Renaissance Dam, to which the regime in Cairo vehemently objected. A grand blunder by a national TV station in Egypt then showed live scenes from discussions in parliament in Cairo, where the majority of members advocated strongly for military action against Ethiopia, leaving the Morsi regime in a bind as their intent and purpose became exposed for the world to see.
The 6.000 MW project, which is thought to have the capacity to not only transform Ethiopia’s economy but also provide electricity to neighbours South Sudan, Sudan (Khartoum) and even to Kenya, is a do or die project for Ethiopia and work on temporarily diverting the Nile at the site where the dam is due to be constructed has started last week. Egypt’s Morsi left ‘all options open’ following the publicity debacle his regime suffered when members of his party were outspoken about blowing up the dam to ‘save our water’, with the result that the riparian states upstream have moved closer together to resist such aggression and extortion.
Ethiopa has now formally ratified the new Nile Treaty and the other water producing countries like Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi have equally left no doubt, that while they respect the right of Egypt to water from the Nile, it will be the framework of the new treaty and not, as Egypt and Khartoum continue to insist, the old agreements of 1929 and 1959 which will henceforth govern the use of the Nile waters and the waters of upstream lakes and contributory rivers.
Interesting were opinions emerging from conservation circles in Kenya, who have been hugely critical of Ethiopia’s plans for the Gibe III dam, which is bound to very likely cause irreparable damage to the Lake Turkana ecosystem: ‘We have no issues at all with the new Renaissance dam in Ethiopia. Perhaps our support for that dam can persuade Addis to review the issues we presented about Gibe III and the impact that has on Lake Turkana. We support Ethiopia’s right to build the new Renaissance dam and their right to decide on how to use their share of Nile waters. With 6.000 MW it will provide enough power for Ethiopia, South Sudan and even for us here in Kenya to purchase from Ethiopia. Our cooperation on the LAPSSET project too should signal to Addis that quid pro quo has its advantages so why not give back on the issue of Gibe III’ said a regular source in Nairobi, who in the past was often making comments when touching on the Gibe III project and its impact on the Lake Turkana ecosystem.
There are strong indications that alongside the meeting in Juba next week, the upstream riparian states will also confer over the threats made against Ethiopia and discuss contingencies and countermeasures, should Egypt continue to show open hostility against fellow member Ethiopia. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni also waded into the debate when he commented on the topic while speaking about the budget reading in Kampala. He was quoted in local media to have said: ‘I have seen statements in the media coming out of the government of Egypt about the commendable work of Ethiopia. What Ethiopia is doing is what governments in Africa should do.
The new government of Egypt should not repeat the mistakes of previous governments, the biggest threat to the Nile is not building hydropower dams, the biggest threat is the continued under development of countries in the tropics. No African wants to hurt Egypt, however, Egypt cannot continue to hurt black Africa’ coming out clearly on the side of Ethiopia and setting the stage for a partisan meeting of the Nile Basin Initiative ministers next week in Juba. Perhaps time for the regime in Cairo to sit back and reflect on how they are now perceived among the African upstream riparian states as a war mongering radical country, and to devise ways and means to cooperate instead of confront, to work with the African countries and not against them and how to formulate new partnerships instead of trampling the rights of African countries into the desert dust. Watch this space.