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Nile riparian countries should seek solutions for equitable shares of waters from the world’s longest river under a new Pan-African context instead of a colonial one, African Union Commission (AUC) Chairperson, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, said on Wednesday.
Her statement came hours ahead of the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry’s statement telling Egypt to stop “inflammatory and unnecessary propaganda” against the Grand Renaissance Dam (GRD), and a day before Parliament unanimously ratified a new Nile deal.
“I think it will be important to have discussions that are open and that look at how we can have a win-win solution in a new context, not in the context of the colonial powers, but in the context of Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance,” Dlamini-Zuma told journalists at the AUC Headquarters in Addis Ababa.
On Thursday, June 12, Parliament unanimously approved the new agreement on Nile water share that would replace the current colonial era agreement if ratified by six of the Nile riparian countries, making Ethiopia a pioneer in endorsing it.
Ethiopian officials believe the ratification of the Cooperation Framework Agreement (CFA) will enable Nile riparian countries to equally use the waters, but some MPs expressed their concerns on whether Ethiopia was moving hastily in ratifying it.
Six of the Nile upper riparian countries have signed the deal over the past few years. Ethiopia delayed ratification by over a year, on Egypt’s request, until it formed a stable government.
Also called the Entebbe Agreement, it is the product of decade-long negotiations under the World Bank-funded Nile Basin Initiative. It was conceived to replace the 1929 treaty written by Britain that awarded Egypt veto power over upstream countries’ Nile projects. Sudan and Egypt signed a deal in 1959 splitting the Nile waters between them without giving other countries consideration.
The new agreement signed by Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and Burundi aims to establish a commission to oversee Nile projects ensuring equitable share of the Nile waters and allows upstream countries to undertake projects over the Nile.
“Our view from the (AU) Commission obviously is that it is important that there should be discussion aimed at having a win-win solution, and we think it is possible to come to an agreement that won’t harm any party, because both (all) countries need the water,” Dlamini-Zuma said.
According to the agreement, ratification by six countries will allow implementation. The CFA enables the establishment of the Nile Basin Commission which was initiated by the Nile Basin Initiative.
The Commission would work to achieve sustainable socioeconomic development through equitable utilization of, and benefit from, the common Nile Basin water resources.
Five of the six signatories signed the CFA in May 2010, while Burundi followed a year later. As DR Congo was expected to follow suit anytime, the agreement was kept open in the hope that Sudan and Egypt would also join, but that never happened in the following three years.
Instead, Ethiopia and Egypt entered into a fierce battle of words after Ethiopia diverted a major Nile tributary for a short distance on May 28 to make way for the construction of the USD 4.2 billion GRD. Construction started in 2011 as part of Ethiopia’s vast USD 9 billion hydro-electric energy programme, but the diversion is considered a milestone in the project’s life, which is to be finalised by 2016.
On June 3, a meeting called by Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi quickly turned into a council of war where ways to sabotage the dam Ethiopia expects to generate about 6,000MW of electricity, the largest in Africa, were discussed at a live, televised consultation with politicians.
Ethiopia hopes the project would turn it into a net exporter of cheap electricity to countries within the sub region, including Egypt, and argues the water flow to Egypt won’t be affected by the GRD and any other projects it plans to undertake on the Nile.
But Egyptian politicians suggested a number of actions to disrupt the construction, including destroying the infrastructure, corrupting top Ethiopian officials or even funding rebel groups and forming an axis against Ethiopia consisting of its closest neighbours.
Since then, Ethiopia summoned the Egyptian Ambassador in Addis Ababa twice to explain the position of his government over the comments, and requested formal clarification.
Despite apologies by Egypt’s prominent op position leader, Mohammad ElBaradei, who also asked Morsi to do the same, the latter said on June 11 that he is keeping all options open to deal with the dam.
Following that official statement, Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry said in statement that it wants the government of Egypt to halt all forms of unnecessary and inflammatory propaganda against the GRD.
“The proposed suggestions of any resort to war or other forms of sabotage are unacceptable and have no place in the 21st century,” Dina Mufti, the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, told journalists on Wednesday. “Ethiopia would like to make it clear that it expects the Government of Egypt to refrain from all such unacceptable forms of behaviour or engagement and work towards greater cooperation between the two countries.”
Ethiopia “reiterates in the strongest possible terms that it will not accept any proposal, from Egypt, to halt or delay the construction of the GRD,” Dina added.
A study by international experts on the dam’s impact has found that the hydroelectric dam would not significantly harm both Egypt and Sudan. Egypt dismissed the findings, while Sudan has stated its support for the dam saying they would greatly benefit from it.
Omer Redi can be reached through [email protected] or [email protected])