Egyptian officials attending the Nile Basin Discourse Summit (NBDS) on Thursday walked out of the meeting aimed at promoting development in the catchment area.
Trouble began at around 4pm when officials from Egypt showed discontent at how the summit organisers were selecting the day's main speakers. The Egyptians especially complained on why only presenters from Ethiopia were chosen to present without giving them (Egyptians) the opportunity.
Organisers of the Kampala summit had planned that after lunch, a panel of experts would be selected to make various presentations on how all the Nile Basin countries can harness development in the catchment area. But mid-way through the announcements, two Egyptians officials (male and female) stood up in protest saying the organisers' aim was to sideline their country by stopping them from presenting.
"They have chosen four Ethiopians to speak and they haven't given us a chance to present. Why have they refused us from speaking?" protested one of the unidentified Egyptian male official who was later joined by his colleagues in protest. Adding: "This is really unfair to us and our country and we won't allow it. They are making Egypt look bad."
Officials from participating countries like those from Sudan tried to calm the situation but their Egyptian counterparts couldn't have anymore of the "insults" and vowed not to go back to the summit.
According to an insider, Egypt only tried to politicise the issue because the summit wasn't political at all as it's intentions were not to discuss the contentious articles in the Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA).
Under the CFA, all countries want to have equal shares to the Nile waters but Egypt maintains that the colonial agreements give it more power. It hasn't ratified the CFA and maintains that all countries in the catchment should first seek permission from it before they set up any project on the Nile. The other countries object this.
"The Egyptians and Ethiopians act this way every time we have discussions pertaining the Nile and it's these issues that are slowing us down. The Ethiopian presenters were only chosen to sit on the panel of experts to discuss how we can promote development in the Nile Basin. They were not even going to talk about their issues with Egypt," said an official who preferred anonymity.
In 2011, Ethiopia embarked on a project to construct the Grand Renaissance Dam on the Nile, the largest power plant in Africa, but ever since then it has come under intense attack from Egypt. The predominantly Arab country argues that its 94 million people depend on the river for water and construction of the $4.2bn dam will disrupt the flow of the Nile River and sees it as a national water security threat.
The colonial treaties signed between Egypt and Britain in 1929 and 1959 give the Arab Country close to 90 per cent rights to the Nile waters. Recent calls for studies to find out the potential effects of the Renaissance Dam have yielded no results as Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt have failed to agree on which consultancy firm should do the job.
Speaking at the two-day summit, Prof Muawia Shaddad, the incoming NBDS chairperson, observed that the Nile Basin was faced with a lot of challenges. He noted that problems like climate change, population outburst, poverty would be sorted if Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) under NBDF were involved in the activities of the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI).
Shaddad explained that now that the Nile Council of Ministers(Nile-COM) had approved NBI's strategic 10-year plan, the CSOs would work together with the initiative to address a number of bottlenecks. At the same event, a three-year memorandum of understanding was signed between NBDS and NBI aimed at achieving the latter's strategic plan.