Mubarak’s Fall and the Future of the Nile Basin

By Patrick Keys 

Jan25 Youth Revolt & Mubarak’s Fall

With Mubarak stepping down, the army taking over, and many political & democratic unknowns, the future of the Nile Basin and the status quo of the previous 30 years is uncertain.  (To catch you up if you didn’t hear the recent news: after several weeks of largely peaceful protests and demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of Egyptians, the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down after 30 years of rule.  The armed forces have taken over the government, dissolved the (largely corrupt) constitution, and is expected to hold normal elections this September.  If you want to know more, check out this detailed article about the recent and current dynamics that have shaped what has become known as the “Jan25 Youth Revolt or Jan25 Revolution.” )

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

What does all this mean for water security in the Nile Basin?  How will the departure of Mubarak impact ongoing discussions about allocation of the Nile, specifically is the new leadership going to remain as hawkish towards Egypt’s upstream riparian neighbors?

Multipart Series on Water Security in the Nile Basin

Over the next few posts, we’re going to explore the recent history of the Nile Basin, the relevant hydrology, and the ongoing discussions about allocation.  Additionally, we’ll take a look at what the future might hold specifically for Egyptian water resources, but for the Nile broadly, under climate change conditions.

Photo from Wikimedia, German Federal Archive

To begin with, though, lets take a look at the recent past to get a current snapshot.

Mubarak and Recent Nile Issues

Hosni Mubarak was a water hawk, in that he was unrepentant about not giving in on Egypt’s rights to the majority of the annual flow of the Nile, based on the 1959 treaty signed by Sudan and Egypt.  Regardless of their actually being ten nations that contribute to and/or consume water from the Nile, Mubarak stood firm.

As recently as the Spring of 2010, Mubarak and his cabinet were vocal about Egypt’s desire to influence allocation of the Nile.  In April 2010, Egypt’s water minister called for Egypt and Sudan to have the right to “veto any projects that may threaten their water security.” Similarly, in May of 2010 Mubarak met with the presidents of Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), to discuss the agreement set forth by the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) that seeks to equitably allocate the Nile waters among the 10 riparian nations.  Kenya had already signed, and the DRC promised to sign it in 2011.

Currently, Ethiopia is the wildcard for Egypt, since it provides over 80% of the Nile water that Egypt eventually receives.  If a new water hawk does not emerge in Egypt, the other Nile nations may combine their collective power to ‘encourage’ Egypt into accepting a less beneficial agreement in order to have a seat at the negotiation table.

Egypt’s claim to a large portion of the Nile was articulated in 2010 by Mubarak’s water minister Mufid Shehab when he suggested that the “issue of Nile water is a matter of ‘life and death,’ since 95 percent of Egypt’s water resources came from the Nile, unlike Nile Basin states that have plentiful alternative water sources.”  However, this precept is likely to be challenged by upstream neighbors over the coming decades, as water resources overall become more scarce with increased population growth, increased development, increased temperatures (from climate change), and decreased flow (due to formal and informal irrigation diversions).

Example of changing future of the Nile Basin Riparians; click to enlarge (based on data from Wikipedia).

Current Events: 11th Riparian & Nile Day in DRC

Recently, the citizens of the Republic of South Sudan have elected to break away from Sudan, and form their own nation, becoming the 193rd in the world (as recognized by the UN), and the 11th riparian of the Nile Basin (since the White Nile passes directly through it, and notably it contains the Sudd Wetlands).  Whether and how Southern Sudan decides to interact with the ongoing Nile negotiations remains to be seen.

Yesterday (February 22), the annual Nile Day celebration was held in Goma, DRC.  Though there are no recent updates available, DRC Minister of Environment and Lands Stanilas Kamanzi indicated that the DRC planned to sign the Comprehensive Framework Agreement (CFA).  The CFA has been developed by several Nile riparians, and seeks to replace the NBI.  Currently, the CFA has five signatories (Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda), and needs six signatories (and legislative ratifications) to come into effect. With Burundi having having signed the agreement in 2011, and the DRC planning to, Egypt risks falling by the wayside as the upstream riparians unite to exert greater control on the uncooperative downstream riparians.

A Diminished Role?

Egypt’s claim to Nile waters was forcibly (politically speaking) led by Mubarak for the last 30 years.  Despite the dominant role Egypt has played in the past, Egypt’s place at the negotiation table and ability to influence Nile Basin politics may diminish with the departure of Mubarak. In the next few posts we will explore the basics of the physical system, to provide the framework on which we can understand future developments in the basin.

Also, for a broader overview (examining the entire basin), check out Wikipedia’s excellent summary on ‘Water Politics in the Nile Basin.’

NEXT POST: Egyptian Water Security vs. Ethiopian Development

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