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Egyptís Unreasonable Posturing in a Cooperation Era

By Maru Feleke
Tigrai Onlne - February 14, 2014

There are been many talks (chatter) about the existing allocation of Nile River or what equitable utilization of the water between the upper and lower riparian countries should be like. The close relationship that exists between the countries and the issue they can agree upon through time has been the recent agenda of the Media, Ethiopia and Egypt being the centre of attention.

 The people of the two countries have drunk from the same water; they have bonded through their historical linkage. They are also one of the founders of organization for African union (OAU). And they (Ethiopia and Egypt) including Sudan are the first hosts of African cup of Nations.

Unfortunately, it can it be safely said that their relationship is as strong as their years of historical linkage would suggest. And this has a reason. Egypt’s political leaders’; which administered the country at different times, one sided approach and attitude towards the Nile River has been mainly cited as one of the reason.

All the leaders’, to a point where it can be safely said they’re all the same, strategy and approach towards the river is clear - “full ownership of Nile”. The question of Nile is not an issue of Yesterday or before that. It’s a question which endured through years and centuries without having a resolution (closure).

Here, let us talk about some facts about the River. Nile has a length of 6 thousand 825 kilometers, making it the largest River in the world. It crosses through ten Countries. We should understand one important thing here. Ethiopia contributes 85% of the water, as a source of the River.

Those who want to inflict harm and bad things upon the country had plotted many sinister schemes. They have tried so hard to see an unstable, poverty stricken, war torn and backward Ethiopia. There isn’t a stone left untouched by them to realize this goal of theirs. They have tried every strategy and conspiracy they thought we’ll get them results.

They have their own reason for doing what they’re doing. Previous Egypt leaders believe that if a peaceful and prosperous Ethiopia exists, it would lose them the control (“ownership”) of the River. They had continually indoctrinated their people that it would lose its ‘peace of mind’ if this was to happen.

Even the Egyptian intellectuals had been preaching that in order for their country to continue with beings stable and prosperous, their leaders’ strength and guarantee their people’s well-being, controlling the source of the Nile River is a matter of securing their country’s existence and should be given priority over everything else.

This attitude (thinking) of Egypt’s elite and leaders has led them to work to control Ethiopia (the source of the River) and earn regional hegemony. Egyptian Media experts were also involved in this indoctrination. They opened a campaign on coaching a negative attitude towards Ethiopia. But, all these effort of theirs hasn’t been successful.

Since the turn of 19th Century, Egypt’s leaders that has administered the country at different times; be it their strategy, their concerns, or be it the agreements and treaties they signed, be it themselves or their colonial masters, all their attention (concern) rests on one thing, and one thing only- Nile River.

It has been preached, indoctrinated and sermonized that it’s only through controlling the Nile River that Egypt’s political stability, security and development & civilization will be realized.

To realize this plan of theirs, there isn’t a plot left un-hatched, a stone left un turned to create an ‘Ethiopia’  where they can control and do whatever they want without any restriction.

Egypt’s leaders in order to realize their dreams of seeing a weak and helpless Ethiopia; they have meddled in Ethiopia’s internal matters and armed and organized forces that have complaints of some kind. They have thoroughly contemplated and tried their might to realize their goal - although it was to no avail. The world used to talk about our poverty for years. This shame creating a sense of disappointment has led the public to wage a campaign against poverty.

The Nile River which has been for long time a subject for the country’s painters, poets and singers, has now finally is about to benefit the people. The fact that the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam construction is now completed 30% is great news.

By following the colonialist footsteps, there wasn’t any diplomatic and political activity left not taken by Egypt to solely use the Nile River. One of those activities includes the desire of Egypt to impose the colonial-are treaties as if they are relevant to the times.

The first of the treaties that was made with regards to (Blue) Nile River was the one signed between Menelik II and Great Britain in 1902. The core principles of this agreement, when looked in detail, implicate some important stuff.

This agreement Menelik II made with Great Britain does not impede him from using the River either partially or fully. The phrase “which would arrest” does not impede Ethiopia from using the Nile, except from stopping the River from flowing completely. And the phrase “except in agreement with Great Britain” only implies a temporary deal, not a permanent one.

The other motif of the agreement has to do with the fact it only says ‘except for Great Britain’s and Sudan’s consent’; so it doesn’t concern Egypt. It’s a “Right in persona” prohibition, not a “Right in Rem.” This means, since the agreement only prohibits emperor Menelik II, the issue has been closed with the passing of Menelik II. As it doesn’t have any bearing anymore.

The other treaty is the 1906 tripartite agreement made between Britain, Italy and France, without the consent (recognition) of Ethiopia. As this agreement was part of a scheme by Europeans to scramble Ethiopia and as it’s a direct threat to Ethiopia’s sovereignty, Emperor Menelik II has outright rejected the agreement.

At the time Britain, who has long wanted to control the source of the Nile, started an indirect activity through Italy, knowing very well that their motive will not sit well with Ethiopia. Thus, in 1925 Italy, Egypt and Sudan (under the tutelage of Britain) signed an agreement to have an upper hand on the benefits of the River. In addition to this, Italy came to agree not to do any kind of work on (Blue) Nile River.

When this agreement was made, Ethiopia member of the League of Nations at the time vehemently protested this agreement (treaty) through its representative citing that it’s a direct attack to its sovereignty. With this, the agreement failed to materialize.

The other one is the agreement signed between Egypt and Britain (representing Sudan) on may, 1929. This agreement states that Egypt will get 48 billion cubic meters and Sudan 4 billion cubic Metter. What this specific agreement brought is the fact that Egypt understood Sudan has the right to use the water of the River on some level.

The other thing is Egypt’s effort to include a phrase that guarantee’s Egypt an upper hand on the River. Even at that time, Ethiopia did not accept the treaty or Egypt’s historical right”; as it’s not an issue that the country can accept (in the first place). And the country does not have an obligation to accept it. This is because a treaty signed between two countries, cannot bind a third party without its consent.

After Sudanese independence, it has criticized the agreement (treaty) as nothing but an act made to consolidate both countries’ relationship, even if it only benefits Egypt at the expense of Sudan. This treaty is an unjust agreement that made Egypt and Sudan (to an extent) the sole benefactor, while excluding the other riparian countries (from the benefits of the River). 

The new thing this agreement brought to the table was the fact that, Egypt trimming down its strong stance on having an upper hand on the River’s benefit, have permitted Sudan under the principle of “absolute territorial integrity” to utilize up to 18.5 billion cubic meters of the water.

Whether it was during the negotiation phase or when the actual deal was struck, Ethiopia has stated that it does not accept this agreement. Looking at the agreement’s motif, it does not include other countries, except for implicating the rights and obligation of the two countries; Egypt and Sudan. With regards to international transboundary Rivers, the source and beneficiary countries have all adhered to various doctrines in relation to utilizing (allocating) the River.

Let us first see ‘the freedom to use natural resource’ doctrine. This theory is also known as the ‘Harmon Doctrine’. It states that the source countries of the River have the right to use the water within its borders just like its own any other natural resource.

This doctrine was first practiced by American, using Rio-Grande International River for irrigation by disregarding Mexico. The US by consolidating this position, it has been using the River for many Years.

The other one of the theories is “absolute territorial integrity” which has a theme of non-intervening on the River’s natural course. This doctrine believes that the country that has been using the River first, has the right to utilize it.

This theory (thinking) is mainly reflected and supported by developed countries. Its main objective is to discourage or better yet to prohibit new beneficiary countries that may sprung up. Since this principle provides the lion-share of water to the de-facto beneficiary countries, Egypt supports it very strongly.

The other theory is “limited territorial sovereignty”. This theory states that both the lower and upper riparian countries can use it cooperatively. This doctrine stipulates that all riparian countries enjoy an equal right to the utilization of a shared resource, and each country must respect the sovereignty and reciprocal rights of other riparian countries.

However, the upper riparian countries right to utilize international Rivers without harming the lower countries in usually not backed by real commitment to practice it. Nevertheless, this principle has a huge support and is backed by International law.

Although this doctrine provides the condition for the riparian countries to develop cooperatively, it’s not believed by many that it can come to fruitation other than being just mere words. Even when water experts and researchers alike believe (with regards to Nile River) that the upper riparian countries by building a huge water tank can save up to 15 billion cubic meters of water from being wasted, the beneficiary countries won’t move to make it happen as they see information’s like these suspiciously.

As the Nile River is an international watercourse, the Helsinki principle states that it should be handled by International laws. However, except for Harmon doctrine, as most of the theories doesn’t take the riparian countries’ interest in to account, it leads to conflict instead of cooperation.

Therefore, this thinking hasn’t garnered the acceptance of most of the beneficiary countries or legal experts. As a result, many legal experts have been researching and studying on ways to enable transboundary Rivers be utilized in a way it will mutually benefit all the riparian countries.

After 15 years of very deep research and study the international legal Association in 1961 reached an agreement on International River’s importance on farming and Industry. “What does the main agreement principles say?” let us look…..

In order to mutually benefit from International Rivers, the principles states that water division should be based on equality, cooperating on planned projects, communicating and solving peacefully conflicts that may arise between riparian countries.

In addition to this, the international law institutions during its 52nd assembly have passed various new principles concerning international water utilization. Among these principles benefitting through fair division is the most important and main principle.

However, since this principle (or law) didn’t cite any thing with regards to the obligation of the riparian countries, 20 years later an article that ensures the implementation of the laws was added during the 1986 Seoul 62nd assembly. The second effort in connection to international transboundary Rivers was making the issue to appear before the international law commission based on the support of the 1971 UN general assembly.

The commission after making a broad and extensive research it has completed its job in 1994. The results of the research were presented on the 51st General assembly where it was fully passed except for those articles that demand additional research.


Out of the passed basic articles, article 5 and article 6 states that issues like population size, alternative water supply, water reserve, technological status and the demand of the region’s economy are factors relevant to utilize the water in an equitable and reasonable manner.

At one time our great leader Ato Meles Zenawi once said, “As the Nile River is our resource, if we are able to use it cooperatively, it will strengthen our brotherly bond. We mustn’t think like before. Today there’s a call for fair and equitable utilization of water, as the days the narrow-thinking where very few countries hegemonic control the water is long gone”

As we all know the upper riparian countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda haven’t benefitted from the Nile water for centuries. Instead as countries like Ethiopia are very mountainous, they are not only losing the water but also their fertile soil; hence why most of River’s border lands are turning into a desert.

These things together with the global climate change, by forcing the Ethiopia’s mountainous land to lose its fertility, have degraded the people of the region to a point where it can’t feed itself.

Thus, if the upper riparian countries like Ethiopia don’t do a strengthened work in environment conservation, experts warns that the River’s sustainability will come into question. A good indicator for this is the fact that the River’s water quantity fluctuates every time and is decreasing from time to time; which has to do with the increased desertification of Ethiopia, the source country of the River.

The agreement signed by Ethiopia Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania is to ensure an equitable distribution of the River’s water between all the riparian countries; and also for them to have a just benefit from their natural resource. And if the river is to give a long sustainable benefit, the upper riparian countries should do an environmental conservation work on the river.

And Ethiopia has been giving its willingness and readiness to do this environmental work. However, Egypt who did not look at the upper riparian countries agreement favorably, also did not want to understand it by throwing unreasonable and perverse reasons.

The fact is dams that are to be built in the upper riparian countries will save the lower riparian countries from unnecessary silt deposit, and decrease the rate of water wastage by ensuring a steady year-round flow of the river, via controlling the River’s fluctuating quantity. This new cooperative framework without decreasing the lower riparian countries water quantity they used to receive, it will benefit the upper riparian countries.

As the former treaties and agreements with regards to the River were done between colonial masters and representatives, without including the riparian countries (in the negotiation), it won’t have any acceptance in any way or kind of criteria. Lest not forget that the agreement did not even give recognition to the upper riparian countries.

Continuously citing an agreement which gives zero recognition and benefit to a country that contributes 85% of the water can’t be taken acutely. The fact is Ethiopia for the past six decades wasn’t successful in its Endeavour to find aid and support from international monetary (Financial) institutions and donor countries for projects that has to do with developing Nile. 

There are some who suspect some Egyptian officials hand is behind this. Today after recording economic growth for nine consecutive years, transforming itself in to a better position in the process, Ethiopia has built a capacity to undertake projects which benefits itself and its neighbors without resorting to asking and pleading to anyone else.

Although Ethiopia is now in a position to do what benefits itself, yet it did not resort to the self-serving attitude like the lower riparian countries used to do. Instead the country is moving with a principle of “let us all benefit by developing our shared resources cooperatively”, an approach which will surely sway anyone with reasonable attitude.

Here is how Prospects of cooperation in the Nile Basin works… Ethiopia unlike Egypt and Sudan don’t have an irrigable land. Instead, Ethiopia has the potential to generate immense electrical power better than the aforementioned countries.

If Ethiopia is to build huge dams that generate immense electrical power, the riparian countries will be beneficial. This will also help increase the downstream countries’ dams’ water holding capacity by significantly decreasing the amount of silt deposited in their dams. And it will also help decrease the huge quantity of water that’s lost (wasted) through evaporation.

The ‘Let’s develop Nile together’ agreement (cooperative framework) signed by four countries (with two pending signings), will not make one beneficial and the others bystander, like the previous treaties did. Many agree that this agreement will guarantee the lower riparian countries interests without harming both Egypt’s and Sudan’s interest. Trying to go on forever by sticking to colonial-era treaties according to their interests and current desires doesn’t go well with this day and age.

Egypt has signed many agreements (treaties) under the colonial rule of Great Britain. However, the country disregarding these treaties and agreements, have chosen its independence. If these interests and treaties were not made void by Egypt, then the country wouldn’t have found its freedom.

When Egypt was able to shred the treaties it signed, it’s not acceptable for the same country to force Ethiopia accept the 1929 and 1959 treaties; treaties that was not signed by Ethiopia (in the first place) and treaties that were vehemently opposed by Ethiopia.

Even today some of Egyptian media look at Ethiopia, through their yesterday’s vista. The current officials should know the policies and strategy that was followed by the previous leaders (with regards to the issue) was wrong (and unacceptable). It’s better for them not to tune to an antique & obsolete thinking. Instead it would be behoove of them to spend their time on public–to-public diplomacy (forum) and round-table negotiations.

The days expansionism through bolstering military capacity and acts of initiating aggression or hostilities are now a thing of the past. The strategy of “controlling the source of Nile” adhered from the times of Mohammed Ali Pasha through King Farouk, wouldn’t work Today.

This same policy that was followed by Gamal Abdulnasser through Anwar Sadat to the now jailed Hosni Mubrak has no place in today’s world. Today Ethiopia’s policy towards the River Nile is garnering a huge acceptance on every international arena. And this is not without a reason. This is because this new thinking holds the principle of “Let us mutually benefit our shared resources through fair and equitable sharing”.

The fact that Ethiopia gives huge priority to being good neighbor, and also the fact that it plays a huge role in not only its neighbors’ peace and security but also the continent as a whole, makes us its citizens very proud. 

Today it’s obvious that the whole people of Ethiopia have put its full attention to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project. The people have put its whole effort to realize the project through its money, its expertise or its labor. As it’s a positive response to a great cause, again I’m proud of my fellow Ethiopians.

The grand Ethiopian renaissance dam