EDITORIAL: New Nile Treaty good for security and stability

Tuesday January 30 2018

Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance dam on the Blue Nile.

Ethiopia’s controversial Grand Renaissance dam on the Blue Nile. The hydroelectric dam is at the centre of differences between nations that share the River Nile’s water. PHOTO | FILE 

By The EastAfrican
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Most countries in the Nile Basin are procrastinating in ratifying the 2010 Nile Treaty, and yet it has the potential of igniting water wars in the region.

The ongoing high stakes tussle between Egypt and Ethiopia over the building of the Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile is an indication that hydro politics in the Nile Basin could have serious security ramifications for the region.

This casual approach to the new treaty has delayed the formation of the all-important Nile River Basin Commission that is supposed to implement the Nile Basin Co-operative Framework Agreement, 2010, and ensure equitable use of the Nile waters among the 10 Nile Basin countries.

While six countries — Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and Ethiopia — have signed the agreement, only Tanzania, Rwanda and Ethiopia have ratified, out of the minimum six required.

Yet, these are the same countries that have campaigned for decades to end the exclusive rights of Egypt over the use of the Nile waters as per the 1929 and 1959 agreements.

Concerted pressure forced Egypt to accept the formation of the Nile Basin Initiative in 1999 and to join negotiations for a new treaty that would lead to an “all-inclusive” use of the waters.

It is understandable that other riparian states are resisting demands by Egypt for renegotiations of the treaty to give it guarantees that it will continue receiving 50 billion cubic metres of water annually prior to the new agreement.

But other countries must also understand that Egypt, dependent on River Nile for 90 per cent of its water needs, is worried that there are about 25 dams either under construction or planned by riparian states.

Egypt has already indicated that it will even need more water in the future because of population growth and effects of climate change. It is time for the commission to be up and running.

However, Egypt’s concerns can be addressed by the formation of the Nile Basin Commission, which will ensure that national development projects are co-ordinated through consultations, without endangering the interest of any of the riparian countries. 

Ironically, the same national interests and politics are emerging as the biggest impediments to the ratification of the treaty.

Kenya had made a step when its Cabinet approved the treaty prior to the 2017 elections, but parliament is yet to ratify it because the country is still preoccupied with post-election politics.

Uganda, being the second source of River Nile, is concerned about possible confrontation with Egypt.

Burundi, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo are too preoccupied with their internal political crises, making the Nile treaty a non-priority political item.

But other riparian states must recognise that the Nile is the lifeline of Egypt and Sudan, and that co-operation on issues affecting it is good for security and stability for the whole Nile Basin.

If not, the region might face conflicts over water in the near future.