Tuesday, June 2, 2009

New Nile treaty sails past Egypt, Sudan snags

By MALINGHA DOYA - June 1 2009 - www.theeastafrican.co.ke

Failure by Egypt and Sudan to come up with a common stand during the Nile Council of Ministers’ assembly in Kinshasa, DR Congo, frustrated their attempts to block a new pact to govern the use of River Nile waters.

To the disappointment of the two downstream countries, the pact was adopted and will soon be signed and ratified by Nile Basin governments.

But the controversial article on water security that the two countries had issues with, will be presented as an annex to the adopted pact pending its resolution.

This paves the way for establishment of a permanent River-Basin Commission to implement development projects.

Preparation and commencement of these investments cost more than $1.2 billion, which will be funded by donors. Currently, the governments work under a temporary organisation which has no legal status in most of the countries, dubbed the Nile Basin Initiative.

The EastAfrican has learnt that before the meeting, Egypt and Sudan wrote a protest note to convener Jose Endundo, who is the chairman of the Nile Council of Ministers (Nile Com), and also DRC’s Minister for Environment, Nature Conservation and Tourism, saying they would boycott the meeting and would urge other countries to do the same.

They said some issues that the meeting was called to resolve, particularly recognition of current uses and rights of River Nile, had been referred to the Nile Basin heads of state. Reversing this resolution was out of order, they said.

Sources said Egypt may have wanted to preside over the critical discussion when it takes over chairmanship of Nile Com from DR Congo next month.

Egypt and Sudan had asked for “historical rights and uses” of the river to be recognised through placement of an article in the new pact.

But other Nile Basin countries — Burundi, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda — had not agreed on this. The meeting went on as scheduled, but Sudan almost stopped it prematurely when it left a few minutes into the negotiations, saying its minister had other commitments back home.

The decision to continue meeting without Sudan left Egypt in a weak position.

Sources said the delegation from Egypt had just one option — to request that controversial articles be presented as an annex to the agreement, but to adopt the blueprint.

“I was not going to come here but when I found out that everyone else would come, I decided to do so, too,” said Mohamed Nasr Allam, Egypt’s newly appointed Minister for Water Resources and Irrigation.

The Egyptians appeared disappointed, pacing back and forth in the corridors of the Grand Hotel, where the meeting was held. This was after it was announced that the treaty had been adopted, and was on its way to the various governments for signing and ratification.

“We still want historical uses of Nile waters to be recognised by other Nile Basin countries. This is the only source of water we have, although we also recognise the need for others to use the water. We want historical rights to be recognised in the agreement before it is signed,” said Egypt’s Nasr Allam.

Sudan’s Minister for Irrigation and Water Resources, Mohamed Ali Kamal, said, “This meeting was unnecessary, based on the previous resolution of Nile Com, because we referred this [contentious] issue to the heads of state. Turning around to deal with positions already taken is embarrassing.”

Mr Kamal further said that Uganda’s Minister for Water and Environment, Maria Mutagamba, who chaired Nile Com in 2007 when the deferment was made, was supposed to ask President Yoweri Museveni to call for the heads of state summit.

In an earlier interview, Ms Mutagamba had told The EastAfrican that she could not do so because President Museveni was busy at the time with preparations to host the Commonwealth Heads of Governments meeting.

“When the minister from DRC took the chair, he was expected to call for the summit, but he requested for three months to go around the countries to resolve the problem. The differences were still there, but he went ahead to call for this extraordinary meeting,” said Sudan’s Mr Kamal.

Boardroom sources said Sudan felt snubbed by Egypt, which was the first to retract a notification stating that it would not attend the meeting.

Stopping the meeting would not go down well with DRC’s Mr Endundo, after he spent time consulting delegates in each of the Nile basin countries.

“This meeting was called specifically to discuss issues pertaining to the co-operative framework agreement and the permanent basin commission. We are going to look each other in the eyes and discuss the differences,” Mr Endundo said before the closed-door forum.

Mark James Mwandosya, Tanzania’s Minister for Water and Irrigation, said, “We later decided to conclude the issue ourselves. We did not want to turn our presidents into ministers for water issues.

It would be like putting a vote of no-confidence in ourselves. The Permanent Commission will deal with the issue of water security in the first six months of establishment.”

The timing of the meeting was critical as a number of projects under the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), the temporary inter-governmental organisation preceding a permanent commission, are ending.

Second, NBI is beginning a long-term programme with investment projects to be handled by a permanent commission.

Third, NBI is on an ambitious campaign to secure funds for development projects in the sub region. Some of the investments in East Africa include; a hydro electricity plant at Rusumo Falls for Rwanda, Tanzania and Burundi; water management facilities in Malaba for Kenya; water hyacinth control in Kagera region (Uganda) for Burundi, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda; and a fisheries improvement project on Lake Albert for Uganda and DRC.

The controversial article 14 in the draft pact reads, “Nile Basin states, therefore, in a spirit of co-operation, agree:

a) to work together to ensure that all states achieve and sustain water security,

b) not to significantly affect the water security of any other Nile basin state.”

Egypt and Sudan want part b) of the article to read, “Not to adversely affect the water security “and current uses and rights” of any other Nile basin state.”

The other countries declined this proposal to guarantee a more liberal regime of water use for future economic programmes. These include large irrigation schemes already planned and awaiting implementation in Ethiopia and Tanzania.

The two countries plan to draw water from River Nile and its feeders for irrigation. This could affect the amount of water flowing to Sudan and Egypt.