Friday, December 12, 2003

Kenya: ... will no longer honour Nile Treaty ... Egypt mad

Kenya has decided it will no longer honour the Nile Basin Treaty even as talks about reworking the treaty continue.
"The government will not accept, under any circumstances, any further restrictions on the use of Lake Victoria waters as it was not party to, and was not consulted, before the treaty was signed," said [Foreign Affairs minister Moses] Wetangula to applause from MPs.
Egypt, as you might well guess, is not pleased. (See map of Nile basin)
Egypt has reacted strongly to Keny's intended withdrawal from the Nile Basin Treaty, describing it as "an act of war" against his country.

Egypt's Minister for Water Resources and Natural Resources, Mahmoud Abu-Zeid, speaking to the East African Standard on the sidelines of a water conference in Ethiopia, accused Kenya of breaching international law by opting out of the treaty.

The Egyptian minister threatened that Kenya could "not lay claim to sovereignty to protect itself from any action that Egypt may want to take". (link)
Water/enviroment ministers are in Ethiopia for the "The Pan-African Implementation and Partnership Conference on Water" ... a UN sponsored conference. Conference site here.

Countries have been arguing over the Nile for decades ... almost gone to war a few times. And Kenya's dissatisfaction with the treaty has been clear. Just this past June, Kenya's energy minister, Raila Odinga, called for a review of the treaty. In Uganda last year, an MP sponsored a motion annulling the Nile Treaty. The motion didn't get far but it did have supporters. And there are a number of other examples like that.

However, Kenya's move is still a bit of a surprise because word was that Egypt, the regional superpower, and jealous guardian of the Nile, has been talking to the other nations that lie along the Nile's course -- seriously talking about finding a more equitable way to share the waters. Here is a story from just a few months ago, talking about how the Kenyans and others were sending delegates to talk to the Egyptians.

So what's with the treaty ...

**Disclaimer** I've been trying to figure out this story. But as you might guess ... digesting 150 years of water/colonial/post-colonial history is not that easy. So here is what I've been able to glean from a couple of hours of reading ...

In 1929, Britain -- acting on Sudan's behalf -- signed the Nile Waters Agreement with Egypt (full-text). The agreement divided the use of the Nile waters between Egypt and Sudan, allotting Egypt 48 billion cubic meters (bcm) and Sudan 4 bcm. The deal was revised in 1959 and became known as the Nile Waters Treaty (full-text). This treaty increased Egypt's allotment to 55.5 bcm and Sudan's to 18.5 bcm ... and set the limit for the other countries along the Nile's course -- the riparians -- at 1,000-2,000 million cubic meters per year.

The Kenyan papers mention that the 1929 agreement was reviewed in 1952. I believe they're talking about this -- an agreement between the UK and Egypt regarding the construction of the Owen Falls Dam in Uganda. The dam made it necessary to raise the level of Lake Victoria ... and Egypt agreed to compensate Uganda for loss of hydroelectric capacity.

Also note that the Kenyan papers call the treaty the "Nile Treaty" or the "Nile Basin Treaty". I believe both are just different terms for the "Nile Waters Treaty".

Getting back to the treaty ...

Except for Ethiopia, the other countries along the Nile's route didn't exist as countries in 1929. And as evidenced by Mr. Wetangula quote excerpted at the very top, some folks in Kenya (and other riparian states) believe that since "Kenya" didn't sign it, the agreement doesn't apply. The legality of this argument is of course in question.
"This is international law and they have to inherit this as they have inherited their boundaries," commented Ahmad Metawie, chairman of the government's [Egypt] Nile Water Sector. (link)
The biggest issue with the 1929 agreementent is that it basically bars the riparians from utilizing the waters that feed into the Nile without Egypt's agreement. Here is the pertinent graf ...
4(b) Save with the previous agreement of the Egyptian Government, no irrigation or power works or measures are to be constructed or taken on the River Nile and its branches, or on the lakes from which it flows, so far as all these are in the Sudan or in countries under British administration, which would, in such a manner as to entail any prejudice to the interests of Egypt, either reduce the quantity of water arriving in Egypt, or modify the date of its arrival, or lower its level. (full-text)
John Kamau posed an interesting argument in a commentary published in the New African two years ago. He argued that the agreement should be scrapped because it is pegged on the wrong assumption that Lake Victoria is the source of the Nile.

When the agreement was signed in 1929, people didn't know that two-thirds of the water that reaches Egypt actually comes from the Blue Nile which originates in Ethiopia. Rather, they thought that the White Nile, with headwaters at Lake Victoria, was the main source. Kamau was arguing that since the White Nile doesn't provide the bulk of the water, it would do no harm for Kenya to utilize Lake Victoria and its tributaries.

However, there's a problem with Kamau's argument. Though the White Nile contributes less water, it's still crucial.
The White Nile ... rises in the headwaters of Lake Victoria in a region of heavy, year-round rainfall; unlike the Blue Nile, it has a constant flow, owing in part to its source area and in part to the regulating effects of its passage through lakes Victoria and Albert and the Sudd swamps. (link)
The rainy season in Ethiopia is restricted to a four-month period when the rivers that feed into the Blue Nile are flooded. Outside of that time, the water level is quite low.

The World Bank offers this "bio" of the countries along the Nile, explaining their relationship to the river.

If you find mistakes, omissions, better/more information ... please e-mail me.