East Africa: Egypt, Sudan renege on new Nile Pact

niles
Nile River
 

Nairobi — Egypt and Sudan have written a joint protest note to other Nile Basin countries saying that agreements that gave the downstream countries superior rights over the use of River Nile waters were still binding on all, despite the recent adoption of legislation opposed to the agreements made in the colonial era.

The protest note from Egypt and Sudan means that the two countries have hastily backed down from the recent decision taken by Nile Basin countries at a meeting of the Nile Council of Ministers (Nile COM) in Kinshasa DR Congo, to go ahead and sign a new agreement to govern the use of River Nile waters while temporarily shelving a controversial article that has delayed signing of the pact for years.

The two countries described the decision to go ahead with a new agreement as, "A violation of the 'consensus' principle which has been the basis of the Nile COM decisions all along and would undoubtedly ignore and disregard all joint efforts that the Nile Basin countries exerted on the issue for more than 10 years."

The two downstream countries have instead asked Nile basin countries to return to the negotiating table and resolve pending issues in the draft Nile pact before signing.

The letter signed by Sudan's Minister for Irrigation and Water Resources Kamal Ali Mohamed and Egypt's Minister for Water Resources and Irrigation Mohamed Nasr Eldin Allam reads:

"Egypt and Sudan invite the seven upstream Nile Basin countries to return to the negotiation table to resolve all pending issues including article 14 and the other articles concerning prior notification and consensus.

"However Egypt and Sudan reserve their rights based on principles and norms of public international law, in particular their rights based on the 'existing agreements' which are by their nature biding to all Nile basin countries."

The new agreement would have paved the way for the establishment of a permanent river-basin commission whose first task will be to resolve the pending article that addresses the sensitive matter of water security.

Individually, it emerged that Egypt and Sudan have divergent views on alternatives to dealing with issues pending resolution in the agreement, after Sudan wrote another letter to the chairman of Nile COM Jose Endundo opposing Egypt's proposal to form an independent committee with limited constitution to resolve the issue of water security.

Egypt and Sudan's action of reminding other countries of their rights, is going back to the very foundations of their position to have the new pact acknowledge current uses and rights of River Nile waters, reasoning that the old agreements meant well for countries like Egypt that relied on the river as the only source of water.

The Sudan delegation left the Kinshasa meeting prematurely, leaving Egypt in a weak negotiating position against a popular view of the other states, that they should sign the new pact, and reserve controversial issues for later resolution.

The other Nile Basin countries are Burundi, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Rwanda.

In order to strike a compromise, Egypt had earlier suggested that an independent committee including itself and Sudan be constituted to deal with the pending issue on water security rather than leaving it to the Commission when established.

But interestingly, Sudan opposed this move in a separate letter it wrote to Mr Endundo.

It reads: "The government of Sudan does not agree to the formation of a committee of ministers from the eastern Nile, the Equatorial lake region, Egypt and Sudan and one or two experts from international organisations to formulate an acceptable text, as proposed by Egypt."

The Nile Basin Initiative Secretariat was preparing to send documents to respective governments for reviewing ahead of commencement of signing next month, when Egypt and Sudan sent their letter.

The East African could not establish whether Mr Endundo had replied to the letters, by the time of going to press.


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