By Dr. Suleiman Walhad
January 6th, 2023
The Nile is a vital and major African river, which traverses through many African countries from source in the Burundian mountains to its final destination in the Mediterranean Sea, in Egypt. Its major tributaries come from different countries but the most significant is the Blue Nile, which emanates from the Horn of Africa States. Indeed, most of the waters that go to Sudan and Egypt come from the highlands of the Horn Africa States. It is fed by other smaller tributaries from these highlands and the River through millennia was considered the lifeline of Egypt. It is still a major supplier of fresh water to Egypt and Sudan but does not benefit much its source region. Lately a dam, the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (the “GERD”) was built on the Nile to generate energy for the region, and this has irked Egypt much as well as Sudan, another beneficiary of the river flow.
Agreements managing the waters were literally between Anglo-Egypt and Anglo-Sudan both ruled by Britain at the time and later between Egypt and Sudan. The two countries gave each other the waters of the river, with some left for evaporation. The source countries were not considered in those sharing agreements and this, after many years prompted the Nile Basin countries to sign a cooperative framework agreement, which was originally signed in 2010 by only the four countries of Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda. The Agreement was later signed by Kenya and Burundi in 2011. Egypt and Sudan did not sign the agreement and remained outside it ever since. The cooperative framework agreement named after Entebbe, where it was first signed, remains the only legitimate international agreement and upon which projects on the Nile can be constructed.
The GERD does have both political and economic dimensions affecting the countries through which the river flows, namely Sudan and Egypt, but it is not going to deprive water from the two countries as the two countries claim. Fear is a great disease and fear itself drives many ill-considered actions. It has been the way of humankind throughout history and Sudan and Egypt could not be blamed for being fearful of a disruption of water flows to their countries. These fears could, however, be settled through agreements subject to international laws round the table. Threats of destroying the DAM that has been the main parlance coming from Egypt were and are unnecessary and could have repercussions on its own projects on the Nile.
Egypt claims extreme water deficiency, but this could be met through technology. It is true that Egypt receives less rain, but it also enjoys two seas, the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, where it can construct major desalination plants producing not only sweet water but also energy for its industrial infrastructure. Egypt and Sudan should not stand in the way of usage by the Horn of Africa States region of its own waters. Entertaining geostrategic alliances to suppress the Horn of Africa States usage of its own resources can always backfire on Egypt and Sudan. The two regions are bound by history, trade, and geography. It would not a bad idea if the two regions worked together without undermining each other.
Egypt was correct when it signed the Declaration of Principles for the construction of the DAM and should not be in the way for the filling and managing the Dam for energy production and other agricultural usage of the waters of its lake. It would be opportune to participate not only in the development of projects on the Nile in the Horn of Africa States but also join the Nile Basin Entebbe Agreement. This would enable Egypt to achieve geopolitical gains with respect to the countries of the Nile Basin and the world.
Should Sudan and Egypt be willing to continue on the principles of construction of the DAM to which they agreed and the filling of it normally, it would be beneficial for both of them. Sudan would be receiving part of the energy of the GERD and Egypt would benefit form the projects on the river both agricultural and otherwise. There would be a normal relationship between the Horn of Africa States and the Sudan-Egypt alliance, and freedom to embark on economic development and not armory and militarism, the outcome of which is never clear.
Involving other parties that have no interest in stabilizing the region is neither good for The horn of Africa States nor for Egypt and Sudan. It is perhaps the prodding of some of those parties that keep the two regions at each others wrong side.