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The Nile should not be a bone of Contention but a source of Co-operation

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Tsehaye Debalkew

The longest river in the world, the Nile is shared by ten riparian States that necessitates its development with the objective of fairness and justice. The 1929 agreement was signed between Great Britain (albeit representing its colony, Egypt) and Great Britain, which also represented at the time the colonial territories of Uganda, Kenya, Tanganyika (now Tanzania) and the Sudan. The lop-sided so called accord gave Cairo the right to veto projects initiated by the higher riparian states that would affect its water share unjustly given to it by virtue of the unjust agreement.

The treaty for the full utilization of the Nile, concluded between Egypt and the Sudan in 1959, divides the entire flow of the Nile between the two countries. Other riparian countries, notably Ethiopia - a country with a population of 90 million higher than that of Egypt to-day and which contributes about 86% of the annual discharge of the Nile uses only less than 1% of the water that emanates from its womb.

Ethiopia, a nation which is referred to as the water tower of Africa has long earned the bad reputation as the epicenter of famines.  Despite this saddening episode Ethiopia could not develop its water resources to feed its needy population, mainly because of policies of international financial institutions that sadly have fallen prey to the continued barrage of Egyptian mythology which claims that Egypt is the gift of the Nile. Although it is plausible to admit that according to the adage Egypt remains to be the gift of the Nile, it is beyond doubt that the Nile is indeed the gift of Ethiopia.

Thus the Nile status quo was such that Ethiopia, whose name has almost become synonymous with drought and famine, has been condemned to starve, while Egypt has continued to utilize the entire water flow. What is more, Egypt has kept on building new mega-irrigation projects even further wherefrom the country reaps exorbitant foreign currency kick backs.

As a result, upper riparian countries with Ethiopia's initiative proposed the Nile Co-operative Agreement by rallying the Nile basin countries which is aimed as a tool that drives cooperation and collaboration for the just utilization of the natural resource that is a bounty for all.

For centuries on end Egyptian rulers have claimed "natural" and ‘historic rights’ to control the Nile waters, punctuated by wielding threats of war against any upstream country that might attempt to build dams or water infrastructure on the river. This became a prominent feature of Egypt’s Nile policy after the construction of the Aswan High Dam and now its inclusion in the new Egyptian draft constitution.

It is to be reminisced that President Anwar Sadat after realigning his country with the West with all its attendant advantages had announced that the only thing that could bring Egypt into war again would be if any country threatened Egypt’s control of the Nile waters. Egypt as a result got the unhampered access to the West and its babies, like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund which it could influence against lending for water infrastructure in any one of the upstream states.

Ethiopia is building the Grand Renaissance Dam, a power generating one, expected to produce around 6000 megawatts of electricity. According to the report of the International Panel of Experts, the mega dam does not put Egyptian interests in jeopardy. 

The war drumming scenario unleashed by some Egyptian media and a few elements who blindly cherish the old status quo despite the fact that the report of an independent international panel of experts drawn from Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan and other countries had concluded that the hydropower dam would not significantly reduce the flow of water reaching Sudan and Egypt, as the water merely has to pass through the dam’s turbines and come out the downstream side to produce hydroelectricity, does not at all concur with the reality.

Cooperation is the anti -thesis of the Modus Operandi that has been the distinguishing feature of Egyptian foreign policy relying on bullying its neighbors through intransigence.

On the contrary Ethiopian foreign policy vision is Development through genuine Co-operation anchored on fairness and equitable utilization of resources, including extra-territorial assets as it emanates from its world recognized constitution.

It is high time that the current Egyptian Leadership change gears in contrast to the confrontational posturing and live in the era of Twenty first century by following the peaceful trail.

The Nile belongs to both the upper and lower riparian states. These countries need to work together and march forward in unison by resolving any challenges they face on their way to extricate their people from the grinding poverty that unfortunately is an anathema for all that are situated more or less in the same package. None of them can afford conflict or confrontation.

 All of them need peace and development. Peace and development can only be achieved through concerted and purposeful venue aimed at attaining them wholeheartedly and in earnest. Co-operation must be the defining lot of all, by not turning the Nile into a bone of contention but making it a beacon and source of co-operation.

Egypt in particular should be cognizant of history not to be the game pawn of certain quarters that enjoy playing one element against the other. It is not by any sane assessment in the interest of the Egyptian people to resort to confrontation to resolve the Nile issue. It is only through Dialogue that a win-win solution could be attained. No more, No less.

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