Sunday, February 29, 2004

da Nile (an update)

I found this interesting ... water and agriculture were on the agenda at the African Union summit in Libya. But it is security policy (detailed in the first post) which dominated the coverage ... especially western coverage. While security and the creation of an African Standby Force is a big story ... what greater threat to peace and security in Africa than conflicts over water.

Recall that back in December, Kenya shocked many by announcing that it would no longer honour the Nile Waters Treaty, a treaty which severely limits the amount of water that countries along the Nile can use. Egypt's water resources minister characterized this move as "an act of war".

A few tense days after their announcement, the Kenyans started backpedaling. The Regional Development Minister, Musikari Kombo, said the government would not act unilaterally and would negotiate with Egypt.
Kombo pointed out that even though the treaty is "openly biased", the Government cannot ignore it and will go ahead and hold talks with Egypt over the matter.

... the minister stated that the rule of law will be followed to the letter to avert any confrontation between the two states.

"The Government believes in the rule of law and we cannot ignore the treaty and go ahead to tell our people to use the waters," he added.
Besides a parliamentary committee in Uganda which asked the government to revoke the Treaty, things were pretty quiet on the Nile front ... until mid-February when Tanzania announced that it is going to build a pipeline to draw water from Lake Victoria, headwaters of the White Nile.

This development got some coverage in the western press because it was characterized as a rejection of the Nile Waters Treaty. However, this wasn't an entirely new development. Tanzania's founding president, Julius Nyerere, rejected the treaty back in 1962 and the goverment mearly reaffirmed this position when it announced the pipeline project. To my understanding, the significance of this project is that it serves as the first real challenge of the Treaty and assertion of Tanzania's position.

A few days after Tanzania's announcement, Dr Tom Okurut, the man in charge of the pipeline project, issued a "clarification".
"The project will supply water within the basin area and the outflow will not affect the lake nor the Nile River," he added.

... Dr Okurut noted that water supplied to Shinyanga would be recycled to the lake and "there is no need to cause unnecessary alarm.
I can't tell you if this is accurate or not. But it is interesting that like Kenya, Tanzania thought it prudent to issue a "clarification" of its position.

Egypt, understandably, is worried about all these challenges to the Treaty. It depends on the Nile for 95 percent of its water and without the Nile, Egypt would die. (See this earlier post for more on the Treaty and Egypt's concerns.)

Gamal Nkrumah writes about the Nile issue in this week's Al-Ahram Weekly.
On Sunday [Feb 22?] President Hosni Mubarak reviewed Egypt's programme of technical cooperation with the Nile Basin nations, meeting with Prime Minister Atef Ebeid and five other cabinet ministers -- defense, interior, foreign affairs, information, and irrigation and water resources. Mubarak stated that economic cooperation and development was the surest way to raise the standards of living and reduce tensions in the Nile Basin region.

... Drumming up support for Egypt's economic initiative in the region has become the mantra of its policy towards the Nile Basin countries. Cooperation and development are the new buzzwords stressed by Egyptian officials. Mubarak, in accordance with Egypt's vital national interest in keeping or enlarging its share of the Nile waters, urged the Nile Basin nations to respect the current agreements on water sharing.
Egypt's population is increasing by more than a million a year. It wants (needs?) more water. It's hoping to get a bit more water from Sudan .
Meanwhile, Cairo, which is encouraging an end to a decades-long rebellion in southern Sudan, is counting on an eventual draining of swamps in the area to provide another eight billion cubic metres of water. This would be directed into the Nile through the 360-kilometre (223-mile) Jonglei Canal and shared equally with Sudan.

Work on the canal was begun in 1978 but abandoned in 1984 after a raid by southern rebels. Cairo is hoping work can resume once peace is reached.
The Blue Nile, which originates in Ethiopia, is the source for 86% of the Nile's volume. Ethiopia would also like to utilize some of the water ... the Ethiopian government's official strategy/approach ...
"We want to see equitable use of the Nile one way or the other, but we need to do it through negotiations and diplomatic understanding," Ethiopian water resources ministry spokesman Yetebark Mengesty said.
I started this post by talking about this weekend's African Union summit. There aren't too many details on the water agreement ... but here is the little detail I managed to find.
On water, the Leaders stressed the need for Africa countries to encourage bilateral agreements for the sharing of water resources. They enjoined the various regional economic communities on the Continent to develop appropriate regional protocols to guide integrated water resources management.

The Leaders adopted the African Water facility plan and acknowledged the African Water Vision 2025 for a comprehensive integrated development of the water sector.
Egypt's Water Resources Minister, Mahmud Abu Zei, is scheduled to visit three riparian states -- Uganda, Kenya and Burundi -- in March.

I have also seen reports that Kenya is planning a conference in March to bring together the riparian states -- Tanzania, Egypt, Uganda, Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, Congo, Ethiopia and Eritrea. (Abu Zei's trip could be part of this.)

The two-day African Union summit in Libya was actually two summits.
-- Friday & Saturday: Extraordinary Summit on Agriculture and Water
-- Saturday: Extraordinary Assembly on Peace and Security Policy