Entebbe — President Museveni yesterday, in the company of Ethiopian premier Hailemariam Desalegn, capitalised on the opportunity to express displeasure with the impasse over the new framework that seeks to replace colonial agreements on sharing and usage of the River Nile.
Although careful and measured not to upset Egypt, which is very sensitive over the use of the Nile waters, Mr Museveni took an indirect swipe at Egypt for its refusal to put signature to the new agreement, saying now is the time to wrap up discussions over the matter.
"The Nile issue is very important and hence the need to have equitable use and ensure cooperation," Mr Museveni said, adding that "the ongoing issues that never come to an end are because of disinformation or misinformation."
The Nile issue was a top agenda yesterday during bilateral talks between the two heads of state, who also discussed the political crisis in South Sudan, Somalia and trade between Uganda and Ethiopia.
With an estimated length of 4,132 miles, the River Nile is considered the longest river in the world. Its catchment area is shared by the 10 countries of Burundi, Rwanda, DR Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, South Sudan, Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia, better known as the Nile riparian states.
The Nile riparian states 17 years ago established the Nile Basin Initiative, an intergovernmental body, to iron out differences over sharing of the Nile waters, but in 2010, a new charter known as the Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) or the Entebbe Agreement was adopted to guide a new course of cooperation.
Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania, DR Congo, Ethiopia, and Kenya signed the new agreement but Egypt and Sudan declined, insisting on the pre-colonial agreements which grants them bigger quotas of the Nile waters but which the former interpret[ed] as granting "monopoly" over the river. Egypt signed an agreement with Britain in 1929 and Sudan signed another with Britain in 1959, granting them larger quotas of the river flow.
The CFA's main principles are equitable and reasonable utilisation of the waters of the Nile. In 2013, Sudan made a U-turn and requested admission into the CFA leaving isolated Egypt, which continues to repudiate the new agreement arguing that it negatively affects its current share.
President Museveni, when asked whether they did not need to first scrap the colonial agreements, skirted the question, saying "we don't have to go into debate over colonial agreements; we were not there then, but are here now and it us to resolve the issues of the river."
But as a way forward he indicated they had resolved to hold a Nile Summit in June to be attended by all Nile riparian head of states to conclude the matter.
Egypt [and Sudan] declined to sign the CFA specifically over Article 14(b) which requires members "not to significantly affect the water security of any other Nile Basin States."
Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was in Uganda last December in attempts to drum up the matter and rally President Museveni as an ally. The use of the Nile already sowed discord in relations between Egypt and Ethiopia, especially after the latter undertook construction of the mega Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.
Mr Desalegn, on his part, expressed optimism that the June heads of state summit over the matter would have it concluded. "Since the agreement (CFA) was adopted here in Entebbe, we hope it will be concluded here as well," he said.
The Nile has two main tributaries, the White Nile that starts its journey from Lake Victoria in Jinja, and the Blue Nile that has its source at Lake Tana in Ethiopia, which both merge in the Sudan en route to the Mediterranean Sea.