9 March 2017

East Africa: Nile Basin Countries Building Bridges Over Ethiopian Dam, to Calm Tensions

Five Nile Basin countries have moved to build bridges following an imminent falling out over the use of the Nile waters.

The issue surfaced last October when former director general of external security of Uganda David Pulkol wrote in a report that Egypt had teamed up with Juba and Kampala to stop the construction of Ethiopia's $4.7 billion Grand Renaissance Dam by any means.

Mr Pulkol - a former intelligence officer who fell out with President Yoweri Museveni - claims in the report that Museveni, South Sudan President Salva Kiir and Egyptian President Abdullah Fatah Sisi had hatched a plot to open training camps for Sudan armed opposition at the Uganda-South Sudan border with the view to toppling the Sudanese and Ethiopian governments.

The South Sudan rebel movement led by Dr Riek Machar weighed in with allegations in January that Egyptian war planes had bombarded their positions in Upper Nile after President Salva Kiir visited Cairo in January to sign military co-operation and infrastructure agreements.

These developments have caused a flurry of activities that saw President Kiir late last month lead a government delegation to Addis Ababa to allay any fears and to also discuss bilateral issues. Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn visited Kampala on Thursday as Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Uganda move to normalise relations.

Controversial Ethiopian dam

Sudan supports the construction of the Ethiopian dam since it will benefit from the flood control and from the produced clean energy imported at lower rates. The dam has a capacity of producing 6,000 Megawatts.

Ethiopian authorities had last October accused Egypt and Eritrea of sponsoring the mass protests by the Oromo ethnic group in and around the capital Addis Ababa, claiming that they had video clips showing members of the outlawed Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) sharing a stage with Egyptians. Sudan has also insisted that the SPLM-North and Darfur rebels are being supported by Juba.

Tension among the five Nile Basin countries started building in October last year when Ethiopia's Oromo people staged anti-government protest over land in which over 300 died, forcing the government to declare a state of emergency.

As recent as last December, Prime Minister Desalegn said that there are Egyptian institutions harbouring, supporting, and funding terrorist groups in Ethiopia.

However, Ethiopia's ambassador to Kenya Dina Mufti Sid told The EastAfrican that previous misunderstandings and suspicions have been cleared after President Kiir gave assurances during the recent visit that South Sudan will not be used to conspire against Ethiopia.

"Ethiopia's position is that we want to build good relations with our neighbours and beyond because the dam which is now 59 per cent complete will benefit all the Nile Basin countries. We have no issues with Uganda, we are co-operating within the African peacekeepers force to fight Al Shabaab in Somalia," said Mr Ding.

Not going to war

Nimat Jad Allah, the press attaché at the Sudanese embassy in Nairobi, also maintained that her country will never go to war with Egypt over the Nile waters because they have a long history of co-existence and close cultural links.

Egypt is opposed to the Ethiopian hydroelectric dam over fears that it will reduce water flown downstream. Egypt has expressed concern that the planned lake adjacent to the Grand Renaissance Dam will be filled with 74 billion cubic metres within three years, which will affect the flow of water to Egypt.

Instead, Egypt wants the lake to be filled within 10 years to avoid interference with the flow of the Nile waters, its lifeline.

Tributaries rising from the Ethiopian highlands supply about 86 per cent of the waters of the Nile through the Blue Nile, which joins the White Nile in Khartoum.

Mr Ding said that Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan have formed a tripartite committee to ensure justice and fairness in the use of the Nile waters and hired a French company to study the environmental impact of the Ethiopian dam.

Egypt is also pushing for fresh consultations over the Nile Basin Co-operative Framework Agreement, 2011 to ensure that the 55 billion cubic metres of water it receives annually will not be interfered with.

President Sisi has toured Kenya and Uganda trying to drum up support for Egypt's concerns over the new treaty that scrapped the 1959 Anglo-Egyptian Agreement that prevented other riparian states from engaging in large-scale irrigation or building dams using the Nile waters.

According to Kenya's director of Water Resources John Nyaoro, Egypt is justified in its demands because Article 14 (b) of the Nile Basin Co-operative Framework Agreement 2011, states that after the establishment of the Nile River Basin Commission, there would be further negotiations on equitable and sustainable use of the Nile waters.

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