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Cain`s Path of Bernard Membe of Tanzania on the Nile

July 10, 2014

By: Zerihun Abebe Yigzaw

Tanzania like any other Nile riparian state has its national interest on the Nile waters as it is one of the water source country through the White Nile. Knowing the injustice done by ex-colonial powers, it was Tanzania which for the first time-among the Equatorial Lakes countries to nullify colonially entered treaties which privileged downstream Egypt at the expense of the interest of upstream states. Tanzania is a pioneer of the Nyerere Doctrine which is even regarded as one of the doctrines of international law in the post-colonial world pertaining to state succession to treaties. The doctrine was named after the first president of Tanzania Julius Kambarage Nyerere-who was among Africa`s liberators and intellectuals. Following the independence of his country Tanganyika which later unified with Zanzibar and named Tanzania Muwalimu Julius Nyerere made his country`s position on the Nile very clear and unambiguous particularly regarding the 1929 Agreement which Britain signed on behalf of its East African ‘colonies’.

In a statement sent to Britain, Egypt and the Sudan on 4th July 1962, after discussing the importance of Lake Victoria and its catchment to the needs and interests of the people of Tanganyika, the Government of Tanganyika (Tanzania) declared that: “… the Government of Tanganyika has reached the conclusion that the provisions of the 1929 Agreement purporting to apply to the countries under British Administration are not binding on Tanganyika…” In line with this, Tanzania further noted that ‘recognizing the importance of the waters of the Nile to all riparian states the government of Tanganyika is willing to enter in to discussions.’ The very idea of the note identically sent to the governments of the three countries is that Tanzania will not bind by the colonially signed treaty and the waters of the Nile is important to all riparian states. Hence, its utilization should be conducted in “a manner that is just and equitable to all riparian states and to the greatest benefit of all their peoples.”

It is based on the above fair and reasonable declaration that Tanzania has been engaged in Nile negotiations to create a Basin which is based on fairness and justice for all riparian states. Tanzania is one of the leading countries in shaping contemporary Nile Basin and has been active in the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) activities and the process of formulating the Cooperative Framework Agreement on the Nile Basin (CFA). It is one of the four riparian states of the Nile which signed the CFA in the first day of signing in Entebbe-Uganda.

But recently mixed news are came out of Dar es Salaam-Tanzania. On 27th of May 2014 the media reported that Foreign Minister Berand Membe of Tanzania was saying that the CFA should be reviewed in favor of Egypt which is a downstream state on the Nile. The Minister in a statement that he submitted to the country`s parliament was further quoted saying “A total of 78 million Egyptians depend on the Nile River hence without Nile there is no Egypt. If the water level goes down, then the Egyptians will not be able to do any irrigation farming,.” While stating that Egypt was solely dependent on the Nile, Mr. Membe do indeed forgot to mention or deliberately hide the fact that Egypt`s ground water make the country one of the richest in the world with the utilizable storage capacity of more than 53,000 Billion cubic meters of water which is equivalent to the 500 years flow of the Nile River. Moreover, Mr. Membe did ignore or undermine the desalination potential that Egypt could undergo as a country surrounded by the Mediterranean and the Red Seas. I do not blame Mr. Membe, of course, as he is a politician but not an Engineer or a man with the technical expertise to look deep into the fundamental issues. Or Mr. Membe was speaking as if he was an Egyptian minister and protecting Egypt`s interest against the interest of his country-Tanzania. Be that as it may, Tanzania`s Water Minister Professor Jumanne Maghembe told the parliament that his country will continue abiding by the CFA and “Tanzania is now in the process of ratifying the protocol to the agreement,” as the CFA ” seeks to establish a permanent Nile River Basin commission which will set clear procedures of water sharing.” Nevertheless, Foreign Minister Bernard Membe on June dismissed Prof. Maghembe`s statements and stated that Tanzania`s position is what he had said and “there will be no ratification” of the CFA in November, The EastAfrican Reported.

Why Bernard Membe is Wrong?

Membe is Tanzania`s minister not of Egypt. States are sovereign and they strived to maintain and if possible to maximize their interests not to abandon. Tanzania`s interest on the Nile basin can best be maintained, maximized and protected not through the way Membe opts but through the Maghembe`s way. Tanzania despite available surface water resources it is a country with mounting problems. According to World Population Review, currently (2014) Tanzania`s population is about 49.48 million which is growing at a rate of 3.0 percent annually. This has its own impact on the country`s current and future water utilization. Due to rising population and other related problems by 2025 Tanzania will fall under the category of water-stressed countries. While demand for water is increasing with rapidly growing population the supply is dwindling. Besides climatic change has posed another problem on the country as its water sources such as mount Kilimanjaro is losing its ice tremendously. And the country to meet its water demands for agriculture and pure water supply for its rural and urban dwellers is forced to utilize the Nile waters from Lake Victoria and its catchments.

But Foreign Minister Bernard Membe was speaking as if he was Egyptian and undermining his own country`s current and future water needs on the Nile. At the beginning of this piece, the position of Tanzania which is defined by Muwalimu Julius Nyerere-the father of Modern Tanzania is presented. But Membe`s moves are of ruining such a historic and principled stance of Tanzania for unknown reasons which is tantamount to betraying his own country.

Membe: Fall in the Egyptian Trap?

Among the Nile Basin countries, it is only Egypt which have been trying to excessively politicize the waters of the Nile. The very purpose is toMembe detach the Nile from being a technical issue where scientific data can assist to solve the Nile problem and shove it into politics and subject to pressures. Here, Minister Membe seems ensnared by the Egyptian perilous tactic. To quote himself, he has said to the EastAfrican that, The Nile “…is a diplomacy issue, not a technical issue for any engineer to comment on.” From such a remark one could conclude that, Membe is either deliberately ignoring that water diplomacy is based finding novel solutions based on scientific knowledge or he is not well aware of that. If not Membe again could have been trapped by the appeal to pity of Egypt as he is quoted for saying that “A total of 78 million Egyptians depend on the Nile River hence without Nile there is no Egypt. If the water level goes down, then the Egyptians will not be able to do any irrigation farming.” Again, in his recent remark, Membe was quoted for saying, “that Egypt should be given preferential treatment in using Nile waters. That is a desert country; we have to be fair to them.

Moreover, Membe is likely hijacked by the divide and rule policy of Egypt most of the time which is implemented via detaching one riparian state from the others by pledging unrealized promises. This process of action is mostly devised in the name of strengthening bilateral relations against multilateral one. Media reported that, in the document that he submitted to the Tanzanian Parliament, Membe stated that, “the Nile basin has also increased tourism activities between Tanzania and Egypt as Egypt Air had added two direct flights from Tanzania to other parts of the world to ensure Tanzania expands the tourism sector. He said for the past two years Tanzania has received over 13,000 tourists from Egypt.” But, disregard it not, what Membe said is value-free.

In general terms, Membe`s moves are costly for Tanzania to afford. His path is Cain`s path as he has stood on the interest-life of his own brothers and sisters both in rural and urban Tanzania both against their bread and water. Of course, his move would detach the African country Tanzania from its African brothers and sisters. Besides, Membe will end up in regret as Cain did after what he did against his brother, Abel. Of course, no one needs to be Cain, at least in principle.

Tanzania: What is Next?

Maghembe of Tanzania MoWTanzania has been one of the leading countries in the Nile Basin in fighting for equality of all riparian states and enhancing justice, equity, fairness and equitable and reasonable utilization of the Nile waters to the greatest benefit of all the peoples of the Nile Basin. Julius Nyerere`s Doctrine was a pioneer in mobilizing riparian states of the Nile in the Equatorial Lakes Region in denouncing the injustice and the crime committed against them by self-interested ex-colonial powers. Currently, the Cabinet of Tanzania has approved the CFA for ratification by the parliament which is a very good step to maintain the legacy of Muwalimu Nyerere. Ratifying the CFA by the Parliament as uphold by Water Minister Prof. Jumanne Maghembe will preserve the interest of the great people of Tanzania, otherwise, the current and future generations as well as history, will judge the duplicity of the wrong doers against the interest of the people. It is the hope of this writer that Bernard Membe will not desire to stand on the left during the judgment day of the Nile.

One Comment
  1. Gizachew Addis permalink

    Nile Riparian states must work closely. Tanzania ought to avoid duplicity in developing national interests.The idea of Mr. Membe and the move of Tanzania towards the CFA can not go together. I like Mr. Zerihun’s careful view.

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