The East African (Nairobi)

26 April 2010

North Africa: We'll Sign New Treaty - Nile States

Nairobi — Upstream countries that share resources of the River Nile have resolved to move forward and sign an agreement on equitable utilisation of the world's longest river without necessarily involving Egypt and Sudan.

Water Affairs ministers from the nine-member states that share the Nile resources failed to strike an inclusive deal at an extraordinary meeting in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, last week, dogged by intrigues and claims of bias.

After 18 hours of meeting interspersed with walkouts and consultations, the seven upstream countries set May 14 as the beginning of the signing process that will be left open until April 2011.

But Egypt and Sudan are not expected at the signing ceremony in Entebbe after they objected calling for more talks until consensus is reached on the controversial Article 14 (b) of the proposed Co-operative Framework Agreement (CFA) which relates to historical water rights and uses.

During the extraordinary NileCom meeting, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda agreed that "with regard to the signing procedure, we should open the CFA from May 14 and it shall remain open for not more than one year," said a statement by the Nile Basin Initiative secretariat.

Egypt and Sudan rejected the position, saying that the proposal "reflects only the views of the seven states."Egypt, which currently holds the rotating Nile Council of Ministers chairmanship, had introduced a new proposal seeking to establish the Nile River Basin Commission before concluding negotiations on the Agreement, in a move that could be described as putting the cart before the horse.

In their latest proposal, Egypt and Sudan wanted all the Nile Basin countries to issue a presidential declaration to launch the commission as negotiations to reach a comprehensive agreement continue.

"They also proposed that modalities of the commission be elaborated by the Nile Basin countries, taking into consideration the relevant provisions in the draft CFA," the NBI statement added.

More negotiation

The commission is anticipated to replace the legally fragile Nile Basin Initiative which is based in Entebbe, Uganda.

The two downstream states had initially opposed the establishment of the commission until the latest meeting when they suddenly changed tack and demanded the countries establish the commission ahead of the signing of the CFA.

The change of tack by Egypt and Sudan is attributed to the realisation that the NBI expires in 2012 and a new framework needs to be in place before then to replace it.

The proposal was, however, opposed by the upstream states consisting of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Burundi and DR Congo who saw it as an attempt to delay signing the protocol.

The upstream countries will have Tanzania Water Affairs Minister Prof Mark Mwandosya to thank for staying awake late into the negotiations to notice insertions that Egyptian negotiators were attempting to introduce in their favour while the rest of the room drifted off the pace as the night wore on.

The establishment of the commission outside of the agreement, Prof Mwandosya noted, would mean creating a hollow institution less effective than NBI.

An official of NBI who attended the closed door meeting later told the press of the lack of impartiality by the NileCom chair and Egyptian Water Minister Nasr Eddin Allam.

Speaking to the press at the end of the meeting, Egyptian Vice-Foreign Minister for Nile Basin affairs Reda Bibars said that Egypt would not be affected by upstream states signing a final agreement. Her Irrigation colleague added that more negotiations would follow to settle the outstanding issue.

The North African state banks on the international law that protects it in this context, especially with respect to prior agreements signed in 1929 and 1959 that preserve the country's current water quota.

Speaking at the meeting, Kenya's Assistant Water Minister Mwangi Kiunjuri said citizens of the riparian states were becoming worried about the inability to make the Nile River Basin Commission a reality.

However, he stated that the Commission's establishment must be done within the Framework and not outside as proposed by the downstream states.

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