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Dear Egyptian People,
We members of the Forum for the Study of Foreign Policy in Ethiopia, a nongovernmental organization established in 1995, write to convey our warm greetings to our Egyptian Sisters and Brothers. We are deeply saddened by the futile war of words going on over the waters of the Nile among concerned countries. We are convinced, beyond any shadow of doubt, that Africa’s problems cannot be solved through the exchange of vindictive words or a policy of confrontation. The threat or use of force has so far failed to solve any of the world’s outstanding issues. For this reason, we, Ethiopian veteran diplomats and International civil servants do not subscribe to the view expressed by those who predict that the next war in our region would be fought over the Nile waters. We earnestly hope that there will be no wars and that all outstanding issues will be resolved by peaceful means. It is obvious that nobody comes out victorious from a war. It is a typical zero sum game, with all its devastating consequences.
Indeed, Ethiopia and Egypt have more than the waters of the Nile in common. It is to be recalled that relations between Ethiopia and Egypt date back to Pharaonic times. Furthermore, from the Fourth Century AD up to 1959, Ethiopian Orthodox Church Archbishops were appointed by the Coptic Patriarchate of Alexandria. This is to say nothing of the Islamic heritage the two countries share since the time of the Prophet Mohammed. We all remember the Prophet’s well known instruction to his followers not to touch Ethiopia on account of the fact that Ethiopia’s Axumite King had granted refuge to his early followers when they were forced to flee Mecca in 615 AD.
We, wish to clarify some misunderstandings on facts about our common Nile River by pointing out some vital issues regarding the utilization of the Nile waters for the benefit of all the inhabitants of the riparian states. What are these facts?
Some Egyptian politicians insist that the Nile River is exclusively the property of Egypt. We do not share such a view. We know the often cited saying that “Egypt is a gift of the River Nile.” But we have, at the same time, to remember that the Nile is Almighty’s Blessing to Ethiopia, Egypt as well as Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and South Sudan. By far, the biggest contributor to Egypt’s water supply is, as we well know, highland Ethiopia whose Blue Nile, Atbara and Sobat Rivers supply some 85 percent of the waters of the Nile and all the silt at Aswan following the rainy season in the region.
Consequently the waters of the Nile are not the property of any one riparian state, upstream or downstream, but a shared resource to be utilized equitably to the benefit of all the inhabitants of the Nile Basin.
Throughout history, Ethiopia and the White Nile riparian states have not been able to use but a tiny fraction of the Nile waters for their economic development. As for Ethiopia, it is less than one percent. To come out of their deep rooted poverty, it is imperative that these countries use more water.
It is therefore a paradox that the former (the Egyptian) President Mursi has recently stated that even a drop of water cannot be spared for the use of the countries where the Nile emerges.
Based on the above, it is unrealistic that Egypt can continue to maintain its hegemony over the waters of the Nile, at the expense of urgently needed energy to tackle widespread poverty, among a fast growing population of several hundred million riparian states. The Nile, is equally a great natural asset for present and future development of the African Countries.
Again, some Egyptian politicians argue that the upstream states have abundant rain and other water resources for their irrigation needs, while Egypt, conveniently ignoring its own huge underground water resources, claims it has one and only source: The Nile. While nobody denies this fact, it is important to note that rainfall is not a very useful criterion, because above all, in the semi-arid tropics, the variations around the main rainfall are very large and the runoff may not be captured except at high cost. Rainfall may be concentrated in regions unsuited for cultivation, or it may come at a time when it threatens standing crops. Because of the unequal distribution of rainfall and its unpredictable character from June to September, Ethiopian farmers are facing periodically great risks.
The ideal would be rainwater which could be stored effectively and the main rainfall occurring in appropriate areas and economically exploitable ground water. This would be too much to ask from Mother Nature. Most Ethiopian regions suffer from cyclical droughts.
Under such conditions, it would be difficult to attach much importance to the availability of an alternative water resource. Having said that, there are no international rules preventing a country to utilize the waters of a river crossing its territory because it has rainfall.
Other Egyptian politicians and jurists wrongly state that all riparian states must respect past colonial bilateral treaties regarding the sharing of the Nile waters. Such statement would be a wrong assessment of the current international law governing the use of trans-boundary watercourses, defined by the United Nations Convention, adopted in 1997.
Let us look at the historic background of these colonial treaties, particularly the one signed in 1929. In the course of the Nineteenth Century, Great Britain believed that the best way to control Egypt is to control the Nile.
With this in mind, all the agreements that the British signed with other colonial European powers were imposed on the upper riparian African countries under its administration (including the Sudan), preventing them from interfering with the upper reaches of the Nile, except in agreement with and consent of the lower riparian state: Egypt. For this reason, the present legal regime of the Nile was defined, until 2010, by two bilateral agreements: (a) the Exchange of Notes between Egypt and Great Britain, on 7 May 1929, to enable Great Britain to satisfy its need for cotton for its textile industry; and (b) the Agreement between the Republic of the Sudan and the United Arab Republic (Egypt) for the full utilization of the Nile waters, signed on 8 November 1959.
When the two lower riparian States signed the 1959 Agreement, Ethiopia protested and made its position clear to the international community rejecting the bilateral agreement which violated its sovereign right to use the waters of the Nile River for its economic development.
In the 1929 Agreement, Great Britain recognized, on behalf of the Sudan, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania which were under its administration, (Independent Ethiopia was not involved) the so called “natural and historical rights” over the Nile Waters to Egypt, including the right to give her prior consent to any project to be undertaken on the Nile by the upper riparian states. This was a British political concession to Egypt, and has no validity in Customary International Law. The 1959 bilateral Agreement, based on the so called acquired rights established by the 1929 Agreement, deals with the full utilization of the Nile waters between the two signatory States, Sudan and Egypt, excluding all the other riparian countries of the Basin, and as such, binding only Egypt and Sudan. What has to be noticed here is that Egypt had totally changed the “untouchable” colonial treaty of 1929 in order, among other things, to increase Sudan’s share of the Nile waters.
The main standing question, at this point, is that none of the upper riparian countries was involved in the negotiations for signing both Agreements.
Ethiopia and all the other post independent African states rejected these unfair and inequitable treaties, and never accepted to abide by their provisions.
Regarding the 1929 agreement, Egypt questioned the right of riparian states to reject colonial treaties arguing that such treaties are related to territories and as such remain valid for ever.
But given the fact that the Nile is not a boundary watercourse which separates riparian States but crosses 10 successive countries from South to North, the answer to the Egyptian’s position is quite clear, unless we consider treaties on international rivers as related to territorial treaties.
This being said, the relevant provision regarding border treaties of the 1978 Vienna Convention on State Succession in respect to Treaties does not mean that a boundary treaty would never be contested by the successor State if there exists valid legal grounds to do so. It means only that State Succession by itself does not affect ipso jure (by the operation of the law), the validity of the working out of a border established previously by treaty. Furthermore, the notion of unequal treaties and the Tabula Rasa (clean slate) principle are some of the legal grounds to question the validity of these treaties. For instance, Sudan refused to abide by the 1929 Agreement based on such principles.
According to Egyptian politicians Egypt has an acquired right over the Nile waters; this is wrong because there is no such concept as acquired right accepted by modern international law.
In addition, the primacy of prior appropriation doctrine that Egypt claims would be incompatible with the widely accepted principle of equitable utilization.
To hold otherwise would mean that a state which had succeeded in first appropriating all the waters of the basin, to the exclusion of its co-riparian states, could altogether bar any uses of these waters by others.
Obviously, such a situation would make a mockery of the idea of equality of right among states.
Furthermore, to accord such a priority to existing use of Egypt in the Nile Valley condemns Ethiopia as well as the other African riparian states to underdevelopment and impoverishment and, in some cases, to be dependent on international food aid to stave off mass starvation, for the benefit of the relatively rich Egyptians.
According to Egyptian politicians the new Nile River Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) puts in danger the water security of Egypt and therefore has no validity whatsoever without the prior consent of Egypt. Such statement does not reflect the view of the majority of the riparian states based on the current international law.
From times immemorial, these riparian states have shown the spirit of their brotherhood and common interest on the Nile to Egyptians as well their determination to replace unfair colonial agreements by newly negotiated
Arrangement: the Nile River Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement of 2010.
Before the CFA, the Nile was the sole international watercourse in Africa not yet governed by a basin-wide agreement binding all the riparian states with regard to its management, its use or even its conservation.
As we all know, throughout the world, nations sharing international water- courses have cooperative basin initiatives for water scarcity. That is exactly the purpose of the CFA, so far signed by six states, with two thirds of member states required for the Agreement to come into force.
One of the basic principles of the CFA is that each Nile Basin State has the right to use within its territory the waters of the Nile, in a manner consistent with other basic principles such as the equitable and reasonable utilization of their common resource and the obligation not to cause significant harm to other riparian countries.
As for concern regarding water security, this concept is unknown in international river law, However, in a sprit of compromise, all the riparian states, have accepted, with the exception of Egypt and Sudan, that the Nile Basin States recognize the vital importance of water security to each of them and agree to work together to ensure that all States achieve and sustain water security and not to significantly affect the water security of any other Nile Basin State. But Egypt and Sudan interpret the notion of water security as a means to preserve their current uses and rights over Nile waters. Clearly, this
amounts to maintaining the status quo to perpetuate the unfair old agreements of 1929 and 1959. If upstream countries have to accept existing agreements, there is nothing left, as every drop of water is shared between Egypt and Sudan. Such an option is unacceptable to the other riparian countries of the Nile.
A number of Egyptian politicians affirm that The Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) will significantly reduce the flow of water to Egypt and harm Egyptian farmers. As scientifically proved, this is simply not true.
Even some Egyptian hydrologists agree that the GERD will serve as a water reservoir for Egypt and the Sudan by reducing the amount of evaporation and increasing the flow of water all year round.
As a matter of fact, GERD has many benefits for downstream countries:
It will regulate the water flow downstream and avoid catastrophic floods, especially in the Sudan.
One serious problem to downstream Sudan and Egypt is sedimentation and siltation in their huge dams such as the Rosaries Dam in the Sudan, and the Aswan High Dam in Egypt. As we all know, the sedimentation is destroying their water reservoirs and water canals; as a result, the life of these infrastructures is at risk. For this reason, Egypt and Sudan should support financially some sort of measure upstream to mitigate such a serious problem, which they have been trying to tackle on their own but have failed. The construction of the GERD, then, will put an end to such a headache. That being said, the dam will not be a warehouse of sedimentation because there is a guarantee that environmental rehabilitation programs are being undertaken in upstream Ethiopia. This will significantly reduce soil erosion in the highlands of Ethiopia and is of mutual benefit for all riparian states of the Eastern Nile Basin directly and to Equatorial Lake countries indirectly.
Environmental protection helps to avoid sedimentation which will increase the water catchment through reforestation and water resource conservation.
The ten-member Panel of Experts initiated by Ethiopia, including Egypt and Sudan, was established to study the impact of the GERD lower riparian countries. In its report, the Panel concluded that the construction of the GERD will not significantly reduce the water reaching lower riparian countries (Egypt and Sudan).
For sure, there will be some impact until the dam is filled. But remember that Merowe is a huge dam in the Sudan. Its construction took years to complete but it had little impact until it was filled.
As we all know, Egyptian farmers were patiently waiting for years until Lake Nasser was filled. The same patient attitude should be expected for the GERD to be finalized and benefit the region, thanks to its huge hydro-energy production.
The Egyptian authorities would need to show a genuine pragmatic willingness to accept the GERD. Indeed, through reduced flood loss and dam control, basin experts calculated that Ethiopia will produce some 6000 MW of cheap hydroelectricity for the region and still release greater amounts of water downstream to Sudan and Egypt than it does presently.
By recouping much of the amount lost to evaporation in the Equatorial swamps through completion of the long sidetracked canal, the CFA could yield an extra 7 to10 billion cubic meters more from the river.
The African Union and concerned African States, including Sudan and South Sudan, all gave their full support to Ethiopia, promising contributions for the development of the region. Dr. Dlamini-Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, declared that Nile riparian countries would have, in the new spirit of Pan Africanism, to settle the issue on the use of the river not on the basis of ancient colonial treaties, but in reference to the negotiated new Agreement adopted by the majority of the Nile riparian states.
The Forum is hopeful that Egypt will adhere to the Cooperative Framework Agreement and decide to join all the Nile riparian states in a spirit of African Unity, for the benefit of all the peoples of the region.
LONG LIVE THE FRIENDSHIP BETWEEN OUR TWO PEOPLES
LONG LIVE AFRICA
From the forum for the study of foreign policy regarding the use of the Nile waters
Tamrat Markos, General Manager