By Professor Ali Abdalla Ali
November 30, 2009 — On 22nd November (i.e) a decade ago, the countries of the Nile Basin (Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda) agreed to initiate a common vision that tries to;
"Achieve a sustainable economic and social development through the fair utilization and benefit from the waters of the Nile Basin."
This vision is called the Nile Basin Initiative; NBI for short.
The NBI aimed at;
* To develop the Nile Basin (NB) resources in a sustainable and equitable way to ensure prosperity, security and peace for all its people.
* To ensure efficient water management and the optimal use of the resources.
* To ensure cooperation and joint action between the riparian countries seeking win-win gains.
* To target poverty eradication and promote economic integration.
* To ensure that the programme results in a move from planning to action.
* The Strategic Action Programme (SAP) represents the Nile riparian countries strategic approach to achieving sustainable socioeconomic development in the NB through equitable utilization of, and benefit from the common NB water resources. The SAP provides the means for translating this shared vision into concrete activities through twofold approaches;
* Lay the ground work for cooperative action through a regional programme to build confidence and capacity throughout the basin (Shared Vision Programme-SVP).
*Pursue, simultaneously, cooperative development opportunities to realize physical investments and tangible results through sub-basin
activities (Subsidiary Action Programme in the Eastern Nile and Nile Equatoria Lakes Region).
The strategic plan of the NBI aims at working out two plans. The first one is concerned with the programme of the joint vision and the second on the programmes of tributary basins. In addition to the joint projects and the programmes and projects of the NBI and programmes and public projects to manage water resources.
The various projects cover a number of areas such as infrastructure, energy connections which will include electricity links as well as other industrial and commercial projects.
The NBI has its organizational set up which constitute the Ministerial Council (which consist of Ministers of Irrigation and Water resources in the NB) followed by a Consultative Technical Committee (consists of highly qualified engineers) as well as regional offices in Addis Ababa, Uganda and the capital of Rwanda.
This is in brief the idea of the NBI. It was an idea in the making for many years since the seventies. Since its inception in 1999 numerous meetings and conferences were held in various capitals of the riparian countries and studies were executed as well as designing a number of joint projects. The vision came to stay and it became a reality in the African scene. It is there to set a new sort of basis for the utilization of the water of this great river on which around 160 million inhabitants depend. They need this God sent gift for their every day living and without which no life is possible. The idea of the NBI is to use every drop of the Nile waters for the sustainability and survival of those who happened to be tied with this basin .Moreover, since water is a very special commodity if not managed wisely and equitably shared with a lot of self denial, it is possible that it could be a real source of conflict and wars of which Africa had enough. So whoever initiated the idea of NBI must be commended for thinking along these lines. The world of today is drifting towards larger entities than small ones. There is no place for the smaller and weaker entities. Therefore, simple logic dictates that people and riparian countries should by necessity come together since the NB had naturally brought them together. There is no better bond than through this God given gift!
The purpose of this brief article is to try to see what kind of challenges will face this imaginative vision especially after the two meetings held in Kinshasa and Alexandria during this year in which a new Nile Waters Agreement was put before the riparian countries. This is so because it appears that both the Sudan and Egypt seem to be reluctant to sign the new agreement proposed by the members of the NB. It had, therefore, been suggested that the members of the Nile Basin might be allowed to sign and to leave both Sudan and Egypt to sign later so that the unity of the members might not be affected negatively .It is this issue that is worrying me as a citizen of the NB and also as an economist who always believed that when matters are related to a factor of production or more (in this case water) it will be unwise to think about this developmental factor of production exclusively in terms of legal and technical aspects. To my mind it is what the people of he NB wish to do with the water which is a significant developmental factor of production and then the legal aspect comes in to determine and outline the legal rights and obligations of the various players. In this brief article I would like to emphasize the economic and social aspects which are also deeply and clearly reflected in the objectives of the NBI. Therefore, in an attempt to contribute to the ongoing sincere efforts by those responsible for the NBI, I thought I would like to throw some thoughts in a sincere hope that the noble objectives of the NBI shall be realized.
1.The utilization of the Nile waters had been going on for decades if not for centuries by those who happened to live in this basin, without any sort of rules or regulations or agreements between those countries from which water used to originate and those who use this water down stream. It was a factor and source of living taken for granted until the basin countries experienced foreign intervention which necessitated regulating the flow of the Nile with agreements in which the riparian people had no knowledge or hand in. The 1929 agreement gave the right to Egypt by the British to object to any activity in the Nile without her consent. However , the agreement was revised in 1959 and hence referred to as the 1959 agreement and was signed by both Sudan and Egypt ( as independent countries) prior to the construction of the Aswan High Dam ( AHD).This agreement allowed Egypt 55 billion cmw and Sudan 18 billion cmw. This 1959 agreement is still considered by the Sudanese as an unfair and unjust agreement since it was made between two military supported governments (General Abboud of Sudan and Nasir of Egypt). As a result of the AHD the people of Wadi Halfa in the Northern borders of the Sudan, had to be resettled in the Eastern Sudan in an environment which was completely hostile to them and different from their own and the country lost valuable historical treasures as a result of the new Lake Nasir created by the AHD. Moreover, a compensation of only LS 15 million was given by Egypt to the people of Wad Halfa. Nothing was mentioned of the possibility that Egypt might provide Sudan with energy resulting from the AHD. More important is that the 1959 agreement was made out without consultation or contact with riparian countries especially Ethiopia whose Blue Nile feeds the River Nile with no less than 86 % of its total waters. The irony is that Ethiopia is allowed to use 1% of the Blue Nile. That is why such a move must have created some silent ill feeling especially on the part of Ethiopia and some riparian countries, However, today’s reality is the fact that all the riparian countries seem to be adamant on trying to realize a common shared vision as to how the Nile waters could be fairly managed and shared among all the people of the NB and for their welfare and prosperity. One cannot easily argue as to why the countries up stream came to this realization at this very juncture. The most important fact is that all the people living in the NB are in front of a strong new reality with which everybody has to live within this globalized world. All have to come to terms with these new realities
It must be surmised that it will definitely be very difficult for countries down stream i.e, Sudan and Egypt who have been using and sharing the Nile waters between themselves to easily entertain the idea of a new Nile Water Agreement or a revised one because the use of this flowing waters became a sort of a historical right or even a sacred one. That is why one feels that this is the first challenge that will face the attempts to realize the vision of NBI and really make it work. This attitude on the part of Sudan and Egypt is a normal reaction which will need considerable brain work to convince both parties as well confidence building assuring both that any new arrangement or revision of the these agreements or even their scraping will not deprive them from having their requirements of this God sent factor without any hurdles. In the Islamic heritage it is always maintained that people and in spite of their different roots and colours share equally and are partners in three things; Fire, Water and Fodder. In other words no single human being should be deprived from these three things. These three things should be equally shared among all people irrespective of their root or colour and since they are also simple humans! Both Sudan and Egypt will take some time to come to terms with these new realities. It should not take them too long to determine that their position since any delay in coming to a joint vision will retard the targeted development of the NB and its people.
2. The NBI which consist of 11 riparian countries had become a new reality for all the players in the NB. Moreover, in essence it calls for cooperation and good neighourly spirit and ties among the countries of the NB, through the proper management and the utilization of this God’s sent gift in a manner which will lead to developing the NB and its people. Sticking to one’s position or becoming impatient or down play the needs of other members of the Nile basin will not help in achieving the NBI noble target. All the players have to realize that such behaviour might lead to conflicts and possible wars of which Africa had enough as mentioned before. Moreover, no one country can claim exclusive rights or sole ownership of this important developmental factor of production. Therefore, a rational and just base and appreciation of people’s needs will be the best thing that could be offered by the people of the NB to each other.
3. The NBI aims at spreading real confidence among the NB members since water is a significant developmental factor and a matter of life and death. If certain players insist on their position, the other members will definitely resort to the international community, the UNSC or even the International Court of Justice to obtain what they believe is their legitimate need or even resort to countries that could constitute a menace to those who insist on their position. International intervention is something which the NBI members should try to avoid as much as possible. At this juncture one hopes that the development partners of the NBI shall constitute a safety valve in addition to their role in helping in the financing of the proposed projects of the NBI. However, any issues pertaining to the NB should as much as possible be resolved within the frame of the countries and people of the NBI.
4. One believes that if good intentions and clean hearts prevail among the riparian countries, why should we not extend the concept of the joint project to a wider development concept where the Nile waters could be considered as a developmental factor of production which could be used with other available resources (i.e. fertile land, human resources, technology and suitable environment etc.) irrespective of place or riparian country in the NB. To elaborate more Ethiopia provides about 86 % of the Nile resources but does not have large tracts of land as Sudan. In the same way Egypt does not have more than 6 million acres of land and is trying expensively to reclaim the desert to secure its food requirement. At the moment some Egyptian investors are acquiring large tracts of land inside the Sudan in order to grow water hungry crops such as Wheat, Rice and Sugar irrigated against Sudan’s share of the Nile Waters. In fact Egypt reduced the area under cultivation of water hungry crops in order to compensate such reduction by investing in Sudan’s agriculture and using some of Sudan’s share of the water. This is in fact creating a subtle and silent discontent among the enlightened Sudanese population. Egypt still hopes to have an increased share of water from the Sudan’s share in spite of the fact that Sudan had been loaning Egypt annually something like 5 billion cmw ! Some up stream riparian countries have relatively less land than the Sudan. Any further development of Sudanese agriculture shall be limited by the share that has been given to it by the 1959, why don’t we think differently? Why should we not help for example Ethiopia to develop its hydro-electricity projects up stream thus saving evaporation and silting down stream which is becoming a menace to dams down stream. Let Ethiopia be a producer of power for all the riparian countries. Why should we not concentrate in utilizing the large fertile lands of some riparian countries and provide them with the necessary requirement of water irrespective of what is specified in the 1959 agreement and, whatever ,is produced to be shared among the members of the Nile basin in accordance with a certain agreed formula. In this sense what we should aim at is to consider the Nile waters as a developmental factor of production to be used to produce food where ever comparative advantage exist in any riparian country for the benefit of the members of the NBI. This shall be in addition to what down stream or up stream countries are at present growing of crops in their respective countries. In this way water shall become really shared equitably by all and for the benefit of all.
Alternatively and in order to avoid such practices which might lead to unnecessary sensitivities, one is tempted to propose at this juncture the establishment of what one could call a "Common Welfare Strategic Reserve" (CWSR) which will keep aside about 20% (for a start) of the Nile waters as a strategic reserve out of which agreed amounts of water be allocated by NBI members to one NBI member state for the purpose of common benefit projects such as hydro-electric power generation ,agriculture, industrial development, etc… the product which can be equitably shared by all NBI members according to a formula to be agreed among them. A system of "Common Welfare Strategic Reserve Units," can be established for the management of such a mechanism among NBI member states .This suggested reserve could be increased gradually if the exercise is a success. It will also have to be within a new agreement specifying the actual need for water in each and every member state as well as the potential benefit that all members can reap from the allocation of water within this mechanism to one or the other member state. This does not exclude allocation of each members state of a minimum quota of water based on its vital basic needs assessed on the basis of projected needs over a specific period of time from 2 5to 50 years for instance.
5. What one is trying to throw out is for all the members of the NBI to consider water as a developmental factor of production to be mixed with land, human resources ,technology etc. to meet the needs and welfare of all the people of the NB (and even the rest of Africa).Therefore, the concept of everyone to claim a certain share and have the unused water stored will have to be gradually thrown away. That idea of course does not exclude the needs of the members for other domestic needs. It is usually known that about 70 % of the rivers’ waters in the world are used for agriculture.
This mutual satisfaction of needs through rational use of the Nile waters as a developmental factor of production and through imaginative mechanisms will definitely end in a much closer relationship between NBI members which might justify gradual integration of the riparian countries of the NBI. Once water is treated in this way i.e. as a developmental factor of production mixed with comparative advantage and other resources of the members of the NBI plus the realization that the destiny of all the members of the NBI is the same and that the pooling of resources (including water) will be for welfare of the NB countries many minds and hearts will find peace.
The issue at hand is not an insolvable one if all the riparian countries and people feel strongly that they have the same destiny, that they can no longer afford more crisis and possible wars, that water is a God sent gift meant to unify people than dividing them apart, that no one should be deprived of it, only then that many obstacles could be removed and the noble targets of the NBI be realized and their welfare achieved. The work and efforts done in the last decade by those in charge of the NBI is commendable, but let us not spend another decade in order to be able to resolve these pending issues. A certain degree of sincere will and self denial might do the trick.
6. Last but not least a more detailed elaboration of these thoughts stated above, into a practical operational frame and action programme will have to wait until the writer is able to see the reactions of those concerned about this vital issue and these thoughts as well.
Professor Ali Abdalla Ali has been with Sudan University of Science and Technology for the eleven years ending 2008.At present he is joining Ahlia Omdurman University as Professor of Economics and also collaborates with Khartoum Stock Exchange as Economic Advisor .He can be reached at email@example.com.