Home | News    Friday 12 March 2004

Talks on sharing waters of Africa’s longest river adjourn with no conclusion

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KAMPALA, March 12 (AFP) — Experts from 10 African countries holding talks in Uganda on how to share the waters of the Nile River adjourned their meeting without reaching agreement, officials said.

"The Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) Committee has adjourned the meeting, but the consultations on various issues will go on," NBI Executive Secretary Meraji Msuya told AFP by telephone.

Officials from 10 countries — Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda — had been meeting behind closed doors in the Ugandan town of Entebbe on the shores of Lake Victoria, the source of the Nile.

The committee, set up in December 2003, has since Monday been studying controversial historical treaties on the use of waters from the Nile, Africa’s longest river.

A Ugandan government source said that 10 to 12 issues sparked disagreement during the talks, particularly a requirement by Egypt that countries to its south notify Cairo if they want to undertake new projects using the Nile and Lake Victoria waters.

"The countries have strongly objected to the requirement," the Ugandan source, who requested anonymity, told AFP after the meetings ended on Friday.

Egypt clings to treaties it signed with Britain in 1929 and 1959, which restricts other basin states, which were British colonies at the time, from undertaking projects that would reduce the volume of water flowing to Egypt.

When he was president of Tanzania, the late Julius Nyerere declared that all such treaties were nullified by independence.

Tanzania has embarked on a 27.6 million dollars project to draw significant volumes of water from Lake Victoria, prompting threats from Egypt.

Kenya has said it would similarly start using Lake Victoria waters, pointing out that it is most of its rivers flow into the lake.

NBI official Msuya said the meeting will reconvene on a later date and that two other meetings are expected before the countries agree on a new arrangement to use the waters of the world’s longest river to develop their region.

Msuya said all the countries will be represented in another series of meetings starting on Monday in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

Ugandan officials say the Nile Basin countries south of Egypt prefer a protracted negotiation process to give them time to fully understand the whole issue of how to use the waters of Nile, before they sign any agreement.

The most hostile position is between Egypt and Ethiopia, whose economies are largely dependent on the Nile.

Egypt’s attempt to reclaim parts of its southern desert in the Toshka valley will mean exceeding its water quotas and this has hardened positions in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia.

Drought-prone Ethiopia, the source of the Blue Nile, which joins together with the White Nile from Lake Victoria to form the mighty river as it flows towards Egypt, also wants to use the river for irrigation.

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