Egypt ready to talk over allocation of Nile waters

Sunday May 08 2011

Egyptian women wash pots and pans in the River Nile in Qalyoubia village north of Cairo. Photo/FILE

Optimism is growing that the tension between Egypt, Sudan and upstream countries over the construction of the Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile could ease after Egypt said last week it was ready for talks.

Egypt’s ambassador to Ethiopia, Tarek Ghoneim, said renegotiating the allocation of Nile waters and raising transparency in the matter would be very healthy and good for Egypt and the region

The region has seen months of heated public debate around the renegotiation of Nile water sharing sanctioned by colonial agreements

East African Community states have expressed their intention to restart stalled negotiations with Egypt on the use of the Nile waters.

A communiqué released after a meeting by EAC presidents in Dar es Salaam, last week said that “The Summit reiterated its readiness to host a special summit to advance negotiations on the Nile water question with a view to realising a mutually acceptable solution among all riparian states.”

The wave of democratic change sweeping North Africa in the past few months has presented an opportunity for upstream countries to overhaul the colonial-era policies that had given Egypt the lion’s share of the Nile waters and veto power over hydro projects on the river.


Analysts say that Egypt, eager to re-engineer itself and enhance its global clout as a leader of both Arab and African nations, has to change its posture from that of a bully over the Nile waters to a more diplomatic negotiator.

Towards this end, a delegation of 40 Egyptian representatives visited Kampala in early April to hold talks with President Yoweri Museveni concerning new plans for the sharing of Nile Basin water.

Delegation co-ordinator Mostafa Gendy said that “What the delegation is trying to do is build upon the sympathy that the African people showed towards our revolution and to work towards a new start.”

However, according to reports, negotiations stalled when the delegation objected to the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, formerly known as the Grand Millennium Dam project, to be located about 40 kilometres from Ethiopia’s border with Sudan.

Until now, Egypt had snubbed talks on the Nile Basin Co-operative Framework Agreement (CFA), recently signed by the upstream Nile basin countries—Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi — it is hoped that the latest move will culminate in enhancing dialogue on the CFA.

The Agreement would re-order Nile water sharing, at present still regulated by two 1929 and 1959 deals that allow Egypt a 90 per cent allocation of the river’s waters.

Of the water reaching the Aswan Dam in Egypt in a normal year, 86 percent originates in Ethiopia.

The Renaissance Dam project is Ethiopia’s biggest infrastructure project to date.

It is expected to generate 5,250 MW of power and will cost $4.8 billion to construct.

The massive project will be Africa’s largest hydroelectric dam and the world’s 10th largest, with twice the generating capacity of Hoover Dam in the United States.

Financing of the dam will be a major challenge. Global donors and banks are unlikely to provide the finance needed to build upstream water projects for fear of getting snarled up in a regional diplomatic row.

The Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation recently issued a government bond dubbed the “Millennium Bond” to raise capital for the project, with a maturity period of five years at an interest of five per cent.

It is hoped that the bond issue will raise $650 million from Ethiopians at home and abroad.