Egypt's participation will add new tonic to Nile Basin Initiative

One of the main highlights of the recent Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) meetings was Egypt’s consideration to participate in NBI activities after a seven-year hiatus.

Another highlight was the ten-year NBI strategy for the period 2017‐2027 defining the riparian countries’ efficiency and effectiveness in the utilisation of its resources, including human, financial and physical.

The latest of these meetings was the just-concluded Fifth Nile Basin Development Forum in Kigali, which committed to the riparian countries’ continued cooperation to ensure that populations living in the basin have water security.

Population and climatic projections gave context to the challenges defining anticipated stresses on water resources – a reality which Egypt may not ignore despite initial reservations based on its historical claims of its share of the Nile.

Figures shared at the meeting stood out how the population of the Nile Basin countries is projected to more than double from around 400 million to one billion by 2050.

This predicates socio-economic development that must be kept up with it, thus the anticipated goals laid out in the NBI 2017-2027 strategy.

The goals bear spelling out, as they give an idea of what needs to be achieved if the resources are to be effectively utilised. There are six goals, which include increasing hydropower development and power trade; improving food security; protecting and restoring water-related ecosystems across the basin.

The others are improving basin resilience to climate change impact, strengthening governance and enhancing availability and sustainable management of trans-boundary water resources of the Nile Basin.

With such a broad strategy, Egypt cannot afford to be left out in the deliberations that must ensure its implementation.

In 2010, the country froze its membership in the Nile Basin Initiative in objection to the Entebbe Agreement, which disregarded the 1959 treaty that had granted Cairo an annual quota of 55.5 billion cubic metres and Sudan 18.5 billion cubic metres. This, in effect, allocated almost all the Nile water to the two countries.

It will, therefore, be recalled that it was the lopsidedness of this treaty against upriver states that inspired the Nyerere Doctrine (named after Tanzania’s first president) which asserted that former colonies had no obligation to abide by treaties signed on their behalf by Britain.

But that is all in the past. Two weeks prior to the October Kigali Forum, the 25th Nile Council of Ministers of Water Affairs (Nile-COM) meeting in Uganda approved the ten-year NBI strategy, while noting with satisfaction the “very fruitful discussions held regarding Egypt’s resumption of its participation in NBI activities.”

In the same vein, by affirming continued cooperation to ensure water security for all in the ten riparian countries as happened in Kigali, the NBI provides an important platform through which Egypt can argue out its needs and defend its water interests. Being on the outside only seemed to exacerbate disharmony and the threat of conflict.

The other countries had moved on, nevertheless, as demonstrated by Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam that is nearing completion and generate more than 6,000 Megawatts of electricity.

Despite initial concerns that the dam would stem water flow downstream as voiced by Egypt and Sudan, the two countries would later sign a declaration with Ethiopia in March 2016 tacitly blessing the dam’s construction. They are now set to reap from the electricity to be generated.

When one looks at the long history of threats and conflicts that have characterised the Nile River Basin for millennia, it may seem that everything is now calming down to a collective stewardship of the second longest river in the world and its potential for bounty benefitting all.

It is, therefore, understandable that the NBI meetings should wax lyrical. The symbolism may not be lost if one recalls the supplicating line sang in “A Hymn to the Nile” recorded in the ancient Papyrus Sallier II, saying, “O, Nile, verdant art thou, who makes man and cattle to live.”

This is especially because we now know better unlike in the ancient times when the Nile was perceived a mysterious god, alternately beneficent and vengeful with its ebb and flow.

The views expressed in this article are of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Times.