East Africa: Let Egypt Be Fair Over Nile

22 October 2019

The importance of the River Nile to Egypt's survival cannot be gainsaid.

Unfortunately for the giant north African state, the river originates from and stretches across several other sovereign jurisdictions, which renders it untenable for Cairo to dictate its use. About 160 million people rely on the Nile waters.

Egypt is at the tail end of the veritable chain and has every reason to be concerned about the use of the Nile by the upstream states.

Any undue interference could spell doom to it. It was against such background that, in 2015, it signed a new "Nile agreement" with Ethiopia, essentially overriding the 1929 Anglo-Egyptian treaty that gave the latter disproportionate control.

The 1929 deal granted Egypt at least 48 billion and Sudan four billion of the Nile's estimated 84 billion cubic metres a year.

Egypt was also given powers to approve any construction projects on the Nile and tributaries, to reduce diversion or wastage and ensure the waters reached the country.


The deal was enhanced in 1959 between Egypt and Sudan, raising the former's annual allocation to 55.5 billion cubic metres and Sudan's to 18.5 billion but making no proviso for the needs of the upstream states.

With the other riparian states attaining their independence, the seemingly flawed agreement was bound to be challenged.

The greatest bone of contention now is Ethiopia's Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile.

Though Addis Ababa argues the dam will not block water from reaching Egypt, Cairo has campaigned against what it terms a project that interferes with the river.

But the dam is a reality that Egypt has to accept. In the final analysis, negotiation would be the best way out, to ensure, at the very least, equitable distribution of its waters, with mutual respect for the sovereignty of all the stakeholder states.

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