Zerihun Abebe Yigzaw
One of the projects of the Shared Vision Program (SVP) of the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) is “The Regional Power Trade (RPT) Project aimed to facilitate the development of regional power markets among the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) Member States. By assisting the NBI Member States to develop the tools for improving access to reliable, low cost, sustainably generated power, the project is helping to contribute to poverty reduction in the region, over the long term.” This long term objective aimed at enhancing the power interconnection between the riparian states of the Nile so that they can become more integrated to solve common problems together and share the fruits of the Nile in mutually benefiting way. To achieve its objective, the NBI is structured in to two sub-basin programs-Eastern Nile Subsidiary Action Program (ENSAP) and the Nile Equatorial Lakes Subsidiary Action Program (ELSAP). Each program has its own projects designed in a way to benefit the riparian countries. For example the ENSAP has eight projects of which Eastern Nile Regional Power Trade is the most important one-which is the subject of this short story.
The objective of the Eastern Nile Regional Power Trade is “To promote EN regional power trade through coordinated planning and development of power generation and transmission interconnection and creation of an enabling environment.” One of the achievements of this project is the “Pre-Feasibility studies for three hydropower sites two in Ethiopia and one in Sudan including technical, environmental and social issues.” “Feasibility Study for the electric transmission interconnection” is also done. In one of the parallel projects in ENSAP related to the power trade, Ethiopia-Sudan Transmission Interconnection where almost all the works are done and power supply testing was embarked on August 2012. Ethiopia is also to be connected with Kenya on another project from Gibe III.
When we come to the Eastern Nile Power Trade however we find a missing link in the studies where the needed power trade is challenged by one of the biggest potential buyers of power in the Nile Basin-Egypt. Egypt despite its rhetoric of cooperation on the Nile it is working towards alienating itself from Nile related hydropower projects. This stance of Egypt is not though officially expressed but it is inferred from the power related projects and policies of the country. For instance, during his visit to Moscow, Russia, on April 2013 president of Egypt Mohamed Morsi called Russia to invest in the Energy sector in Egypt. As reported by Russia Today (RT) “Russian Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak announced that Egypt proposed sending a delegation to Cairo “to resume cooperation in peaceful nuclear projects” to jointly construct new nuclear power plants. Cairo plans to build 4 GWt of nuclear power facilities by 2025.” While there is a huge potential of hydropower on the Nile Basin that will enhance cooperation and integration, Egypt`s initiation for nuclear energy should be scrutinized however.
According to the state run Ahram online, Egypt is heading with a new energy policy of connecting the country with Saudi Arabia. In a project which is planed to be completed by 2015 “Egypt signed an agreement with Saudi Arabia on Saturday to link their electricity grids, a project worth approximately $1.6 billion and generating about 3,000 megawatts of power, the Saudi embassy in Cairo stated.” Such Egypt`s move is one of the other proves that Egypt is alienating itself from the Nile Basin hydropower projects. In one occasion the writer of this story has learned from a close key informant that while asked in a workshop in one of the West African countries about connecting the power grids of the Nile Basin states, the Egyptian experts team unpleasantly responded that they are not interested in buying energy from hydropower plants in upstream countries because their country’s future energy investment is focusing on the nuclear sector.
Despite the multilateral water projects identified by the NBI and their prospect of mutual benefit and win-win gains in enhancing cooperation and bringing about further integration, the energy policies of Egypt is against those prospects and is a paradox that is self-evident. Countries such as Ethiopia and Sudan in the Eastern Nile have shown progresses in connecting their power grids to benefit from the fruits of the Nile mutually. The path opted by Egypt is though the missing link in connecting the whole Nile Basin`s power grid. What is the long-term aim of leaving the energy in the Basin then?