The Grand Ethiopian Millennium Dam and the Cooperative Framework Agreement: A View from Ethiopia and Egypt: Part II

Zerihun Abebe Yigzaw

Egypt`s View

In part I of this series I have stated the Ethiopian view of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and the Cooperative Framework Agreement of the Nile (CFA). The view of Ethiopia is the view of all upstream states except Eritrea whose bandit styled leadership remains as a servant of the interest of its sponsors in its armed struggle against Ethiopia for decades. On April 2013 Eritrean leadership has reaffirmed that it supports the so-called historic rights of Egypt on the Nile waters which has no any legal base under international water law or state practice. Now let us see Egypt`s view of the GERD and the CFA separately.

The negotiation for the CFA took ten tough years. Despite the negotiation ended on 2007 hoping that Egypt followed by Sudan would come to agreement with upstream states the signing and ratification process was delayed for three years. In spite of the extraordinary summits of the Nile Council of Ministers in different cities from Nairobi to Addis Ababa to Cairo nothing was changed and on May 2010 Rwanda, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and  Uganda and after a couple of days Kenya signed the agreement. On February 2011 Burundi became the sixth state in signing the treaty. The ratification process is also begun in countries such as Ethiopia. But Egypt and Sudan has publically declared that they will not sign the agreement on its current form. This situation created hydropolitical deadlock in the Nile Basin and it splits the Basin into upstream vs downstream positions. The question is then what is the main point of difference that appeared irreconcilable in such a way to make the countries rigid to accept?

The origin of the divide is the so-called previous or old agreements on the Nile Basin. In its entire history the Nile has never witnessed any multilateral and all inclusive agreement that binds all the riparian states. The only situation to talk is the CFA where all riparian states except Eritrea negotiated for 10 years. If there are agreements it is colonial era treaties concluded by colonial powers mainly Great Britain which was in control of much of the Nile Basin during the colonial era. In this regard the 1929 agreement is repeatedly mentioned. This treaty gave Egypt veto power on any upstream water projects and recognizes the so-called historic rights. And in post-independent Sudan and Egypt, in 1959 Egypt and Sudan entered in to an agreement and divide the total annual flow of the Nile in to three entities-Egypt 55.5 billion cubic meter of water, Sudan 18.5 Billion cubic meter of water and the evaporation in the Sahara desert from Lake Nassir which was created by the mega Aswan High Dam granted more than 10 billion cubic meter. Thus, these pseudo-agreements are exclusionary, partial and unfair where all other riparian states have no any legal or moral obligation to be abided by. Thus the negotiation for the CFA was meant to come up with new basin wide and all inclusive agreement which declares equitable and reasonable utilization of the Nile waters for the benefit of all riparian states. Nevertheless, Egypt and Sudan failed to accept the outcome of the agreement because the CFA ignores the obsoleted agreements of 1929 and 1959. The main article dealing this issue in the CFA is Article 14(b).

Regarding Article 14 (b) all riparian states except Egypt and the Sudan agreed that Nile Basin States therefore agree, in a spirit of cooperation:

 not to significantly affect the water security of any other Nile Basin State (Article 14(b))

But this was not accepted by Egypt and Sudan and Egypt proposed the replacement of the agreed statement by

not to adversely affect the water security and current uses and rights of any other Nile Basin State. (Egypt`s proposal)

The main message of Egypt`s proposal was clear. As far as the Nile Basin is concerned, there has not been any current share or right given to the riparian states by agreement. Neither there is a quota allocated to. But Egypt was trying to maintain the unfair status quo through the CFA in the name of water security but was not accepted. The concept of water security is not that much developed as it has different meanings to different people and states. Nonetheless, what downstream Egypt trying to do is, to bring upstream states in its circles so that they can live in a situation where they are denied of their natural rights of utilizing their natural resource in their territory. Thus Egypt`s view of the CFA is an old wine in new bottle.

Having in mind its view about the CFA, let us look now the recent reports and views from Egypt regarding the GERD of Ethiopia. In recent days before and after Ethiopia`s diversion of Abbay-the Blue Nile River to smoothly undertake the construction of the GERD, Egypt`s officials, the president, the Minister of water and irrigation as well as the Egyptian media are stating that they are not against Ethiopia`s or any other Nile riparian`s water project as long as it is not against Egypt`s share of the Nile.

The English version of Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt Independent  quoting Egypt`s Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Mohamed Bahaa Eddin  reported that Egypt is not opposed to the construction of the Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia, or to any other development project, as long as it does not impair Egypt’s interests. Ahram online on the other hand misquoted state minister of the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Berhane Gebre-Christos said on Monday, as if he said, Nile dam will not impact Egypt’s water share. Ethiopia`s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn is also misquoted as if he stated that `the dam
would not affect Egypt’s quota of the river.`
The two most repeatedly used phrases are `Egypt`s share` and `Egypt`s interest`. What are the messages of these phrases?

Egypt is using these terms in its mindset of the 1959 Agreement with Sudan which gives them 55.5 billion cubic meters as stated above. But no Ethiopian government would dare to say the GERD will not affect `Egypt`s share` on the Nile as there has never been any multilaterally agreed water quota allocated to the riparian states of the Nile so far. Sharing of water is a process that awaits the ratification of the CFA and it will be done when the Nile River Basin Commission is established as clearly stated in Article 15 and 16 of the CFA. Nevertheless, Egypt is trying to push Ethiopia to accept the unfair 1959 agreement between Sudan and Egypt through the GERD. The Egyptian Gazette reported that `It is hoped that the (Egyptian) Presidency will hastily settle this conflict with Ethiopia by signing an agreement committing Addis Ababa’s government to preserving Egypt’s quota of the Nile water and having the project implemented under the supervision of Egyptian experts, especially given Egypt’s good experience in
the field.`
So the message is clear and unambiguous. Egypt is trying to use both the GERD and the CFA (the dispute on Article 14 (b)) to achieve one objective of maintaining the 55.5 billion cubic meters of water annually. The conflict then lays here. When Ethiopia says the construction of the GERD will not affect the interest of the downstream states, it is not to refer and accept the interests defined in the obsoleted 1959 agreement but thinking in mind that the GERD benefits all of the riparian states with no harming any other state.


Concluding Remark

It will not help Egypt if it continues its cunning tactics with the old mindset of colonial and bilateral agreements that denies the interest and water need of upstream states? The answer is absolutely no. I have discussed some similar issue in this blog when I explained about The International Panel of Experts on the Grand Ethiopian Millennium Dam. Water projects in upstream Ethiopia are in the best interest of downstream states. Ethiopia`s mega water projects are helpful in enhancing and maintaining the health and integrity of the Nile River System which will result in improved environment and increased water flow. But this can only be achieved through cooperation, mutual trust and confidence. Hence Egypt`s policy makers, the media and the academia must throw away the shackles of the old Nile Basin which is based on colonial as well as partial bilateral pseudo-agreements. The future of the Nile and its peoples is in the hand of those who dream of an integrated, one river basin of peace, prosperity, mutual respect and mutual benefit. To make the long way short though Egypt followed by Sudan should leave the old school so that the Nile can quench all the thirsty in the Basin.


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