The New Times (Kigali)

Africa: Rift Widens as Egypt, Sudan Delay Signing Nile Basin Pact

Bujumbura — Disagreements on River Nile security have split the Nile basin member countries because the deadline to sign the Cooperative Framework Agreement has expired.

The Nile Cooperative Framework Agreement seeks the establishment of a permanent River Nile Basin Commission through which member countries will act together to manage and develop resources of the Nile.

But no agreement on possibilities has been reached yet as Egypt and Sudan are said to be reluctant to sign the agreement.

The 39-article agreement was supposed to be adopted by all basin states before June last year and then ratified before going into force as an international treaty.

To date, seven out of nine Nile Basin countries have adopted the new agreement which Egypt and Sudan refused to adopt.

The states are Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, DRC, Sudan, Ethiopia, Egypt and Burundi.

Several government officials and stakeholders who turned up for the third celebrations of the Nile Day held in Bujumbura, Burundi over the weekend blamed the two countries for refusing to embrace the deal.

Speaking in Bururi Province, Tutovu Commune in Burundi Saturday, the Burundian First Vice President Dr. Yves Sahinguvu decried the delay of signing of the agreement saying that his country "supports firmly the idea that the countries of the Nile Basin should quickly conclude negotiations on the Cooperative Framework which started ten years ago, and to sign it as soon as possible."

"We should give a legal base to our cooperation to engage all together and take up challenges which are drawn up in front of us for the development of our people," the Vice President told participants.

In a similar development, the Chairperson of the Nile Discourse, Oweyegha Afunaduulu stressed that; "plans are underway to facilitate dialogue on the cooperative arrangements among stakeholders and communities so that pressure is increased to sign the agreement."

In another call, the Executive Director of the Nile Basin Initiative Secretariat, Henriette Ndobe, said that after many years of negotiations on the pact, today's ambition is to sign and ratify the agreement.

"The decision that countries are being called upon to take is major. It is a life-giving and a life time decision for all the countries to act independently of the history, geopolitics, the limits of sovereignty, and political boundaries. Through deepening the cooperation, the decision will serve all long-term national interests" Ndobe challenged the participants.

If the pact is signed, it would secure the existence of NBI.

The Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) was expected to be signed in September 2007 but it was delayed because of lack of consensus on some articles in the agreement.

The new agreement is expected to replace the old one of 1929 but Egypt and Sudan are opposed to it for fear that it would limit their access to the Nile waters.

Contentious articles

The new treaty's strength lies in five main articles, but has since sparked off heated debate among member countries.

Among the most contentious provisions include article 4, which is on equitable and reasonable use of the Nile waters, Article 5 (prevention of harm to the waters), Article 6 (protection and conservation of the basin and its ecosystem) and Article 8, which requires prior informed consent before using the waters.

The new wording puts a check on the 1929 treaty, which required the riparian states to seek permission before using the Nile waters.

Egypt and Sudan depend almost entirely on the Nile for their agricultural production and are major users of the 6,700 km river's waters. The basin of Nile, the longest river in the world, is about three million sq km.

But the water conflict dwells most on article 14 which has remained unresolved. It is this unfinished business of Article 14 that talks about water security that indicates that the negotiations may have not yielded much after all in terms of real benefits for the downstream states.

The article states: "Having due regard for the provisions of Articles 4 and 5, Nile Basin States recognize the vital importance of water security to each of them.

The States also recognize that cooperative management and development of the waters of the Nile River system will facilitate achievement of water security and benefits.

Nile Basin States therefore agree, in a spirit of cooperation, to work together to ensure that all states achieve and sustain water security and not to significantly affect the water security of any other Nile Basin State."

All the states agreed to this provision except Egypt and Sudan that want the last part of the article re-phrased as 'Not to adversely affect the water security and current uses and rights of any other Nile Basin States'.

Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and DR Congo have rejected rephrasing the article which has left the agreement hanging in balance.

Egypt denies

Egypt and Sudan have been pushing for the reinforcement of the old treaty that only favours them but the other countries have also maintained their position.

However, Egypt denies frustrating the agreement, saying it was only questioning some clauses.

In an interview held last year with the Chancellor of the Egyptian Embassy in Kigali, M.H Kandil Kandil said that it was a matter of some clauses in the agreement and that they were trying to reach a consensus with the sister countries.

He refuted allegations by the other riparian states which accuse Egypt of only looking at her own interests.

"We did not refuse to sign at any point; we are the initiators of the agreement and are pushing for it to be signed in the shortest time possible," he told The New Times in 2008.

Egypt is guaranteed access to 55.5 billion cubic meters of water, out of a total of 84 billion cubic meters.

The Cooperative Framework negotiations began in 1997 with a panel of experts analyzing international precedents like drawing on the UN Convention for the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses (1997) and the experience of other basins.

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