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Nile Basin ten years after: Obstacles and future challenges


A Decade of Cooperation and Progress in the Nile Basin; Obstacles and Future Challenges

By Professor Ali Abdalla Ali *

"Ten years ago there was an atmosphere of mistrust, suspicion and doubts. Today Nile Basin countries are open to each other ready and willing to interact and exchange information .This is an achievement to be cherished, nourished and nurtured by all."
)Dr. Ali Mohamed Shein, Vice President of the United Republic of Tanzania December 2009)

"Whoever considers the past and the present will readily observe….all people are….animated by the same desires……;so by diligent study of the past, to foresee what is likely to happen in the future….., and to apply these remedies that were used….,or, not finding any…., to devise new ones…."

THE Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) had celebrated in Dar es Salam, Tanzania during the period 5th.-8th. December 2009 ten years of its existence and of cooperation and progress among the Nile Basin countries which included Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Egypt, Burundi, Rwanda, Sudan , Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Eritrea (as observer).The 6th.of December witnessed the opening day in which a procession consisting of more than a 180 guests from the NB countries as well as civil societies representatives from the NB was conducted marking the start of the celebration. This was followed by two days of workshop in which an evaluation was given by the three executive directors of the NBI. Some presentations were made in the plenary e.g .a presentation by the Keynote speaker Professor Ali Mazuri and the second by Professor Al Fatih Al Tahir (Sudanese) from MIT, USA. Moreover, those present were divided into three workshops under the title of the Nile Basin Challenges. One was on providing energy for Africa’s growth; the second was on building a modernized and sustainable agricultural sector in the basin; the third was on managing the river. Although a number of papers were presented in these three workshops but the time given for deep discussion was limited to a great extent may be because of the pervading spirit if celebrations of a decade since the NBI was established in 1999. However, the writer would like to reflect on some of the issues raised more so during the presentation of the three Executive Directors(EDs) of the NBI who tried to give an evaluation of what has been achieved in a decade since 1999 as well as the reservations by some of the members which is not reflected in official ceremonial speeches or the documents distributed to those participants. In addition to some recent observation in the aftermath of the anniversary celebrations.

1.The interventions made by the three EDs have given the audience a very clear summary of what had been achieved during the decade of the NBI existence. In fact a decade is not long enough in the life of nations but might be considered very long in the life of individuals. Therefore, whatever had been achieved in ten years although modest could be considered significant if one has to remember that before the establishment of the NBI things were very much in disarray in the sense that there was no coordination among the riparian countries save for the agreements which were instituted by the foreign powers who happened to colonize most of Africa including most of the riparian countries. Even those agreements were concerned with the possible rights of the countries down stream such as Egypt, Sudan to the neglect of the riparian countries up stream from where the Nile gets its resources of the water. There was ,therefore, mistrust, doubts and even bitterness among some of the riparian countries as regards the share that they used to get from these agreements. For example although Ethiopia provides the River Nile (RN) through its Blue Nile no less than 86 % of the total water constituting the RN, yet Ethiopia is allowed to use about 1 % of such flows. The 1959 agreement which was signed between the Sudan and Egypt prior to the construction of the Aswan High Dam (AHD) has been considered unfair and unjust by most of the Sudanese people (see Ali Abdalla Ali, "Struggle over the River Nile; what should be Sudan’s Strategy?" In www.sudantribune.com, October 25th.2009 and also "Can the Nile waters be thought of in a different way?", in www.sudantribune,com,1st.December 2009).Therefore, the establishment of the NBI although had to go a long way to face the many challenges ahead yet it was an idea which brought all the riparian countries together for the first time in order to substitute conflict by peace and progress; mistrust with a gradually created trust and confidence in the sanity of each other and exchanging information which is extremely vital for understanding the problems related to this great river and the fair and just utilization of its waters for the welfare of the peoples of the NB. One feels that the people of the riparian countries should be happy ,since they are mostly farmers ,to have such an important factor of production i.e. water which is God’s gift ,as a unifying factor among them.

2. The second point mentioned by one of the EDs is that some voices in some riparian countries complain about a sort of an external interference in the affairs of the riparian countries. This objection was directed in effect to the World Bank which has been delegated by the donor countries who are supposed to be the partners of the riparian countries, to supervise the disbursement of funds given by these NBI development partners. These funds were given by the World Bank (WB) as well as others donors and it is very normal for the WB to be given the responsibility of disbursing these funds since these partners have more confidence in the WB system. Neither the NBI administration nor any riparian country could be allowed any of these funds because it has to be disbursed in accordance with WB procedures .If the riparian countries detest the modus operandi of the WB in the way it disbursed these funds, then as suggested by one of the EDs these riparian countries has to provide the necessary finance from these own meager resources and put such own resources under he responsibility of the NBI authority! Then such an independent authority can do with these funds what the riparian countries want.

3. Related to the issue above one notices the complete absence of many Arab financial institutions within the circle of the partners of the NBI . By the Arab financial institutions one would mean ; the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED), The Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development and more so the BADEA in Khartoum which deals exclusively with the African countries. The Kuwait Fund which is the national financing arm of the State ofKuwait is largely involved in many African countries with water projects in Sudan (Merawi Dam,Roseires Dam) and also in Senegal basin as well as in many other African countries. BADEA has actually been established by the Arab League and the rich Arab oil countries to help in the development of Africa. It is necessary that the Arab funds should become development partners in the NBI as part of their involvement in Africa. Moreover, they will constitute a sort of balance to the presence of Western financial institutions and development partners. This will appease those who are worried by the grip of the WB. However , that will not mean that such funds by the Arab financial institution will be given without proper procedures! The Arab countries should realize that once their major oil resources start to deplete they will definitely need to have secured investments specially in the countries of Africa which are richly endowed with very natural resources, beside the proximity of the rich Arab countries to the African continent.

4. Since the atmosphere in Dar Es Salam was that of celebrations there was very light mention about the Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) which was put up before the Kinshasa meeting last year in which both Sudan and Egypt declined to sign However, there was mention about the importance of such a CFA within which countries of NB could work together. Since the reluctance of the down stream countries (namely Egypt and Sudan ) might take some time, then cooperation between the countries of the NB could be at two levels. One could be at the level where say two countries are allowed to cooperate on bilateral basis in the short run and medium term. As more and more countries come together, in the long run it will be easy for these different groups to get together in a larger group. To one’s knowledge after the closing of the celebration discussions were continued among the representative of the NBI but it seems that not much was achieved regarding the CFA. It is something which will take a longer time for countries down stream to digest and accept especially for Egypt which remains illogical and too nostalgic about the Nile. In fact ideas as those mentioned by the WB representative that "the division of benefits (and costs) of waters use and not on the physical allocation of water|," will be a notion that will not be easily accepted by Egypt. Egypt still cries for more share of the Nile water be allocated to it! It is even requesting Sudan to allocate more water for it since they mention that Sudan gets more water from rains, rivers as well as underground while it is not fortunate in this regard. Even more Egypt does not like any mention on the part of the Sudanese when they talk about having water loaned to it to be returned to Sudan especially in view of Sudanese intentions to enhance investment in agriculture. Egypt is even complaining recently that the dams constructed in Sudan and Ethiopia are reducing the water pouring into the Aswan High Dam. This is so since the dams in Sudan and in Ethiopia were constructed with the consent of Egypt according to certain sources. This is just not true because Egypt for example was resisting for four decades the heightening of the Roseires Dam (see Ali above). In fact both the Merowe Dam and the heightening of the Roseires Dam were a result of Sudanese insistence to have them both. As for the five dams in Ethiopia time has proved that Egypt never wanted Ethiopia to have these dams. This was very clear in the recent news that the visit of the Egyptian PM to Ethiopia was not to discuss future relation but only to warn Ethiopia to stop constructing these dams according to American sources, (see Al Rai Amm and Al Tayar Newspapers in Khartoum,10th,January 2010 ) since according to the news Egypt did not give consent to Ethiopia to construct these dams.
Worse than that it was indicated in that piece of news that if necessary Egypt might go to war against Ethiopia .According to an Egyptian expert Egypt’s policy is not to use force, but if it were to be forced to do so it will use the long border of the Sudan or collaborate with either of Eritrea or Somalia who are both hostile to Ethiopia. Egypt and its loud speakers have to know that wars will never delete the natural rights of Ethiopia or for that the riparian countries. Holding to the so called historical rights which were designed and made by the ex imperial powers cannot hold. These historical rights had been inserted there to serve after independence as time bombs which were left by the imperial countries in many African countries and from which such countries suffer until today. It is illogical that while Ethiopia provides 86 % of the Nile waters from its own highlands , it is allowed to use only 1 % of such flows. If Ethiopia does not have enough land to cultivate ,it should not be deprived from producing energy which is vital for Ethiopia as well as for other riparian and African countries.

5. Another important point is that when Egyptian official and so called experts talk about the Nile waters they tend to give the impression that both Egypt and Sudan have one unified strategic target. Such notions are always mentioned by such Egyptian officials as if they were delegated to talk on behalf of both Sudan and Egypt or that Sudan is taken to be a part of Egypt !!. For example after the Dar Es Salam celebrations the present Egyptian Minister of Irrigation declared that both Egypt and Sudan are together in one trench. In spite of the fact that Sudan is a down stream riparian country yet it has taken the NBI very seriously more than Egypt. In the Dar Es Salam conference the Sudanese Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources eloquently indicated in his brief speech that the Nile waters have to be shared equitably among all people of the Nile Basin. This is exactly the major and noble objective of the NBI, i.e. to share equally and in a fair manner the waters of the Nile for the benefit of all. If one looks deeply in the Sudanese Minister’s statement one will find that Sudan’s position is not necessarily the same as that of Egypt. Moreover, the Egyptian expert mentioned in 5 above indicated that if Egypt is forced to go to war with Ethiopia that it will do so through the long borders of the Sudan or through countries hostile to Ethiopia such as Eritrea and Somalia! Implicit in this statement is that if Egypt decided to go to war with Ethiopia , Sudan will naturally allow it to use the long borders of the Sudan. In this juncture the Egyptian expert talks in such a way as if the Sudan will have no objection to allow Egypt to use its long borders with Ethiopia . This is an extremely absurd assumption. If the Sudanese – at the policy level-are usually shy or too polite to react to such irresponsible utterances by Egyptian officials and or experts, the Egyptians must be sure that Sudan and the Sudanese people will never repeat never allow anyone to use their land to harm our Ethiopian neighbours nor will the Sudan contemplates to go to war with Ethiopia. In fact it seems that the Egyptian authorities are making these utterances in order to see whether Sudan will stand on their side. How can that be when one remembers the number of agreements of cooperation made between Sudan and Ethiopia last year . Such agreements which were tantamount to a gradual integration between the two countries. It seems that these agreements and the warm relations between the two peoples on the borders of both Sudan and Ethiopia had irritated the Egyptian authorities and that the recent visit by the 100 persons delegation led by the lady Egyptian Minister of International cooperation to Ethiopia was in fact meant to counteract such Sudanese efforts which aimed at close relations between Sudan and Ethiopia .In fact the writer is for a complete integration between the two countries of Sudan and Ethiopia and would prefer such an arrangement to the proposal which was discussed in Cairo recently for a union between Sudan, Libya and Egypt!! It was tried before and it failed !! Why again ??

6. During the discussions in Dar Es Salam one delegate made a mention that there are three players that should be attended to i.e., the professors, the governments and the peasant. He tried to explain that by saying that the people of the NB have to take to scientific knowledge which is availed to African professors in order to improve people’s lives in the NB and that governments have to listen to such knowledgeable persons in order to improve the life of the African peasants. In effect the speaker was meaning to say that the development of the people of the NB had to depend on the African minds and that governments should be obliged to take their knowledge into consideration and use such knowledge to improve the lives of the people in the NB who are mostly farmers. Another journalist from Kenya I guess said that," we have to take the people (referring the people of the NB) with us since we are supposed to be planning for them." In effect these utterances clearly meant to confirm the importance of the economic and social dimension of NBI. This has long been neglected and concentration was primarily on the technical and legal dimensions of this most important factor of production i.e. water.

6.Lastly it could be seen that considerable challenges await this very noble cause as embodied in the NBI. One really felt happy to see through this celebration a gleam of hope that the riparian countries of the NB are at last coming together in the hope that all African countries will wake up to their natural rights and work together for the welfare of the African people who had been suffering for so long. If only sanity , fairness and selflessness prevail will the riparian countries come together to help themselves as well as their other African members. The members of the riparian countries especially the down stream ones (and more so Egypt ) has to realize that the world had changed considerably and that in no way can natural rights of any of the riparian countries be suppressed by force. Peaceful negotiations and open hearts are the best substitute to confrontations ,threats and wars !!

Professor Ali Abdalla Ali is Professor of Economics, Ahlia Omdurman University and Economic Advisor, Khartoum Stock Exchange. He can be reached at profalisudan@gmail.com

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  • 16 January 2010 21:01, by Machingela gai

    Dr. Ali Shein,

    Your article was good, Nile needs to be protected and its waters. But I would like to assure that environmenatal issues are not priorities now in the region where war is a culture which rules our day. Peace is our number one issue if it is possible to bring stablization of lives in the region, and then comes last the project you have been trying to push harder for its implementation. Eventhough it is accepted, it will be difficult to make it works because of that continued insecurity. You tell government of Sudan to stop war so that your Nile project would be implemented. You hear me?
    You try next time to talk of peace, not that Nilenonsense project you are preaching around. It will never work unless peaceful settlement is achieved.

    repondre message

  • 13 February 2010 16:50, by Time1

    South sudan does not and will not recognize pre and post-colonial agreements involving Egypt and British, British are not Sudanese and did not have the right to cut a deal for the Sudanese and other African countries with Egypt, as a new state we will only use the nile waters based on our own terms and full rights and will not compromise with Egypt without a proper and equal rights agreements if there is every going to be one.

    repondre message

  • 29 April 2010 14:00, by Mounyjang

    Any attempted agreement with the Nile Basin Countries without seeing Sudan referendum where it could be either a Unity Sudan or Separating Sudan.Nile Basin Countries should not hurry up with how to shares water before referendum.it seem these countries which are in processsing agreement, are conspiracies of Southern Sudan.and God will not allow that to happen.

    As a concern Citizen, i would advise that the plans should be postpone until Sudan see referendum in good faith,then the sharing water would come to the table for discussion but now no.

    Conern Citizen.

    Majok Akotdit.

    repondre message

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