Tuesday, November 11, 2008

River Nile treaty talks hit deadlock

By Gerald Tenywa and Reuben Olita, The New Vision [Uganda], 9th November, 2008

Negotiations on a new River Nile agreement have stalled following a disagreement among member states.

While Sudan and Egypt want the new treaty to give them the right to consent to the use of the Nile waters, the other countries in the Nile Basin, including Uganda, are opposed to this.

In two separate interviews over the weekend, the water ministers of Uganda and Kenya said they would not accept a lopsided pact over the use of the river.

“There is a particular clause on water security where Egypt and Sudan are saying the states in the lower basin of the Nile should not use water to the detriment of another country,” said Jennipher Namuyangu, Uganda’s water minister.

“The implication is that constructing hydro-electric dams and irrigation initiatives would have to get the consent of the other countries.”

This, Namuyangu said, had been part of the 1929 law, which includes an agreement on the amount of water released to the upper Nile countries.

Under the Nile Basin Initiative, the 10 countries sharing the Nile River have been negotiating a new agreement, The Nile Cooperative Framework, for the last 10 years to replace that of 1929.

The 10 countries are Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Eritrea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt and Uganda.

Under the old agreement, the Nile water belongs to Sudan and Egypt. The same agreement was re-affirmed in the 1954 treaty, which Egypt and Sudan want mantained.

“It is good that countries are putting their feet on the ground because it is unfair to endorse an agreement with such a clause,” said Dr. Callist Tindimugaya, a commissioner in the Ministry of water. “What should be done is to continue cooperating, pending the resolution of the contentious clause.”

In a related development, Tindimugaya disclosed that Egyptian officials who have been obtaining data at Nalubaale and Kiira power stations have been stopped from accessing it. The officials were getting the data under the colonial agreements of 1929 and 1954.

“We have stopped them because they do not share with us data on the way they are using the Nile water in Egypt. There is no protocol on sharing data between Egypt and Uganda,” Tindimugaya said.

Namuyangu pointed out that the future of the new agreement was in the hands of the heads of member states.

“We have passed the resolutions and the agreement is good, except the clause concerning water security. As ministers, we have hit a dead end and the contentious part has been referred to the heads of state.”

A deadlock could undermine regional conservation and development activities under the Nile Basin Initiative.

“Many development partners had committed themselves to assisting regional approaches to conservation and improvement of livelihoods,” said Namuyangu.

“If the agreement is not signed, each country will have to work alone to address its own challenges,” she explained.

Namuyangu pointed out that it was easier for a regional body to spearhead mobilisation of resources than an individual country. “There are communities without safe water and proper sanitation that could easily benefit from funding under a regional approach.”

Another issue that worried Namuyangu was that conflicts could easily emerge as selfish countries could over-exploit the Nile, resulting into its degradation.

Although the clause on water security has become a stumbling block, Namuyangu pointed out that the Nile Basin Cooperative agreement was seen by the member states as a good deal.

Kenyan water minister Charity Ngiru, during a press conference on Saturday, called on Egypt and Sudan to sign the draft agreement. She said Kenya would not accept a new agreement that continues to favour Sudan and Egypt.

Ngiru said article 15 established the Nile Basin Commission to act as a forum for cooperation and as a clearing house for planned measures to benefit member states.

The 10 heads of state were supposed to discuss the Nile issue on the sidelines of the AU summit in Egypt four months ago but the meeting did not take place.

President Yoweri Museveni met Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak at Entebbe about two months ago. Among the issues discussed in the closed meeting was the Nile.