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Ethiopian politicians unanimously ratified a treaty replacing 90-year-old agreements giving Egypt and Sudan control over almost all the water in the Nile.
The Nile River Co-Operative Framework Agreement replaces a 1929 treaty, which gave Egypt veto power over any project involving the Nile upstream countries.
Ethiopia is the first country to ratify this agreement. Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, Tanzania and Rwanda are also signatories to the framework, but have yet to ratify it in their respective parliaments.
Egypt and Sudan have rejected the framework.
The 1929 agreement – modified in a 1959 treaty between Egypt and Sudan – has been criticised by upstream countries as a colonial relic.
Under the treaty, Egypt is guaranteed access to 55.5 billion cubic metres of water, while Sudan can utilise 18.5 billion cubic metres, out of an annual total of 84 billion cubic metres.
Alemayehu Tegenu, Minister of Water and Energy, said during the parliamentary session on Thursday 13th June: “Most of the upstream countries have signed the agreement. But passing it into law was delayed as a gesture of good will to the people of Egypt until they formally elected their government, during the period of late Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi.
“Now is the right time to ratify it,” he added.
Alemayehu was referring to Ethiopia’s May 2011 decision to postpone ratification of the treaty on sharing Nile River water until a new Egyptian government was formed and in a position to join the negotiations.
The late PM promised a visiting Egyptian delegation that he would temporarily freeze consideration of the treaty that would reverse colonial-era agreements guaranteeing Egypt and Sudan 90 per cent of Nile water.
“Ethiopia, having seen the current situation in Egypt, where they need to establish their own government and go through a democratic process of election of their president, sees that it is sane and wise to wait for Egypt and give her time. So it is by way of freezing the ratification at parliament that the process will be delayed until such time as Egypt comes up with its own popularly elected government,” he said back then to the delegation.
Two years on, the house approved the bill, giving Ethiopia the right to construct and develop projects on the Nile River.
Alemayehu also stressed that the Ethiopian government is committed to building structures including the Great Renaissance Dam (GRD) that will support the country’s fight against poverty.
“We have a principled stance on the construction of dams. We are determined to see our projects brought to completion. And we will finish it whatever it is,” he said.
Ethiopia’s move is expected to encourage other countries to take similar steps.
Members of the Nile Council of Ministers, the governing body of the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) are due to meet on Thursday 20th June, 2013, in Juba, Republic of South Sudan.
Delegates will discuss Nile co-operation and how to move it forward, as well as reviewing progress to date.
In May 2010, the five upstream states signed a Co-operative Framework Agreement to seek more water from the River Nile — a move that was strongly opposed by Egypt and Sudan.
Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania were original signatories, with Burundi signing in February 2011.
The DRC is also expected to sign, while Egypt and Sudan are not expected to do so.
Representatives of upstream countries said they were “tired of first getting permission from Egypt before using river Nile water for any development project like irrigation,” as required by a treaty signed during the colonial era between Egypt and Britain in 1929.
The partnership among the Nile riparian “seeks to develop the river in a cooperative manner, share substantial socioeconomic benefits, and promote regional peace and security.”
The NBI began with a dialogue among the riparian states that resulted in a shared vision to “achieve sustainable socioeconomic development through the equitable utilization of, and benefit from, the common Nile Basin water resources.”
In a related development, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni warned the Egyptian government against “chauvinistic statements” in regard to the use of the River Nile waters.
Mr. Museveni’s caution followed an impassioned speech by the Egyptian President, Mohammed Morsi, on 10th June, in which he said: “all options are open on the Nile Water.”
Mr. Museveni called the work of Ethiopia’s government “commendable,” before adding that this is what the rest of Africa needs to do.
“It is therefore advisable that the new government of Egypt doesn’t repeat the mistakes of the past [Egyptian] regimes,” he said.
“The Egyptians think that the threat of the Nile is building dams on it…The biggest threat of the Nile is the continued underdevelopment of countries in the tropics,” Mr. Museveni said, in reference to the loss of forest cover [for wood fuel] that the upper stream riparian countries suffer from as a result of not utilising the Nile to build hydro-power dams to provide cheap electricity.
“No African wants to hurt Egypt. However, Egypt cannot continue to hurt Black Africa,” Museveni said.