21 August 2017

Egypt in Charm Offensive - Seeks Revision of Nile Treaty to Safeguard Water Source

Egypt is trying to convince countries to adopt its renegotiated position on the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) ahead of this month's Council of Waters Ministers' meeting of the riparian states.

President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi visited Tanzania and Rwanda last week, as part of a four-state-tour that also took him to Chad and Gabon, in a diplomatic move to convince them to adopt its position and proposed agreement.

Tanzania and Rwanda recently ratified the Nile Basin Common Framework Agreement that Egypt opposes, as it lobbies for its own renegotiated and updated CFA that, it says, addresses its concerns.

While in Tanzania, President John Magufuli expressed his country's understanding of the importance of the River Nile to Egypt as its main source of fresh water, but failed to make a commitment in support of Egypt's position.

"I believe that the Nile Basin countries will reach an agreement that all parties would accept. We have agreed to continue negotiations over this issue," President Magufuli said during a joint press conference with President Al-Sisi.

The Egyptian leader admitted that they could not reach an agreement during the meeting, but both agreed on further negotiations over how best to handle the Nile Basin issue.

"We will offer our support to the Nile Basin countries so that all parties achieve the maximum benefit from the Nile without harming Egypt's water interests, and taking into consideration Egyptian concerns in this regard as a matter of life or death," President Al-Sisi said in a statement.

Egypt's position

In Rwanda, where President Al-Sisi held talks with President Paul Kagame, one diplomat confirmed that the Egyptian leader's visit was aimed at cementing Egypt's position on the sharing of Nile resources.

The two presidents did not take questions from journalists in Kigali but read out statements.

A statement released by Egypt's Presidency indicated that Al-Sisi pledged support for Nile Basin countries in return for favourable sharing terms of the Nile waters, which he said are a matter of life and death for his people.

"The President asserted Egypt's support for the Nile Basin countries with Egyptian technical experts to achieve development in these countries, stressing Egypt's keenness to achieving the maximum benefit from the Nile for all Nile Basin countries without harming Egypt's water interests, and taking into consideration Egyptian concerns in this regard as a death and life matter," the statement read.

President Kagame said Rwanda was happy to co-operate with Egypt on matters concerning the Nile and trade.

"Egypt and Rwanda do not share a border but we have many common interests on which our friendship is based. This includes our shared responsibility to care for the River Nile which sustains life for tens of millions of Africans as it makes its way to the Mediterranean," he said.

"We are happy to cooperate with you and all the countries in the region in pursuit of this crucial objective that we share," President Kagame said during a state banquet held in honour of Mr Al-Sisi.

No common ground

In an interview with The EastAfrican, Innocent Ntabana, the executive director of the Nile Basin Initiative, said a Council of Water Ministers' meeting, where the Egyptian proposals will be discussed in detail, is planned for later this month.

At the June summit in Kampala, Egypt pushed for the regional countries to replace the Entebbe Agreement with a new CFA, but most members were reluctant to accept it.

During the meeting, the heads of states, who include President Al-Sisi, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and Uganda's Yoweri Museveni, failed to strike common ground on the matter.

Egypt has objected to the CFA, which was adopted in 2010 and has been signed by six upstream countries -- Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Kenya, and Burundi -- though they are yet to fully ratify it.

Instead, the North African country has proposed its own terms to ensure maximum utilisation of Nile resources, while maintaining a colonial agreement that gives it a lion's share of the Nile.

Cairo had the backing of Khartoum but the recent fallout between Sudan and Egypt over alleged political interference and territorial disputes have left it on its own.

Egypt is seeking to have an alternative agreement signed by the heads of states, which will accommodate a number of principles governing the management of the Nile water.

This new agreement, which it failed to push through at the Entebbe talks in June will also set up the main lines of co-operation and decision-making mechanisms in relation to any project on the river.

Cairo's main drive is that, as much as the 2010 Entebbe agreement was binding, it is yet to be final, as not all signatory countries have ratified it.

The Nile Basin countries dispute Egypt's historic share of the Nile water. There are plans to set up the Nile Basin Commission to enforce demands of equitable utilisation of the Nile waters.

Nile Basin Initiative

Born almost two decades ago in Dar es Salaam, following the signing of the minutes of the meeting by nine of the Nile ministers of water resources in attendance, the NBI sought to foster co-operation and sustainable development of the Nile for the benefit of all the inhabitants of those countries.

However in 2010, major differences occurred amongst countries over water security, championed by Egypt and Sudan. This created an impasse.

In 2010, it was Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda that signed the Co-operative Framework Agreement (CFA) and were a year later to be joined by Kenya and Burundi.

The CFA has since been ratified by Rwanda, Ethiopia and Tanzania but it requires a total of six instruments of ratification to enter into force. To date, Sudan and Egypt continue to reject the CFA.

Kampala is the current chair of the Nile Council of Ministers of Water Affairs of the NBI, which has Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, South Sudan, Egypt, Ethiopia with Eritrea having an observer status.

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