Jinja, Uganda from Google Earth

Nile Day 2012 and an unexpected Joint Technical Committee

By Patrick Keys

Nile Day 2012

Recently, the Nile basin riparians celebrated the 2012 Nile Day in Jinja, Uganda. Jinja is located on the shores of Lake Victoria, which is considered the source of the White Nile River.

From Google Earth, 2012

An important characteristic of Nile Day celebration was that the three ‘big fish’ in the basin were in attendance (Sudan, Ethiopia, and Egypt). The participation of Egyptian water minister, Mr Hisham Qandil was particularly striking given Egypt’s previous opposition to the Nile Basin Initiative and its output, the Comprehensive Framework Agreement. For full coverage, check out the following articles:

Cooperation, via the joint technical committee

If you read the series on this blog last year, then you may have seen the three possible scenarios that I outlined (1. War on the Nile, 2. White Nile Coalition, 3. Egyptian & Ethiopian Cooperation).

It appears that reality is mirroring the third scenario most closely, with the recent tripartite joint technical committee, under which Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan coordinate an investigation of the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam. The simple fact that this technical committee is comprised of representatives from all three of the users that would be directly impacted by the Grand Renaissance Dam, suggests that the recommendations and results are more likely to be used than if they were produced by a single state.

The 1959 Treaty is dead, and Egypt should take notice

Although there are water lawyers out there that could certainly argue with me as to whether the 1959 treaty is a useful international law, I find it hard to believe that any court or government outside of Egypt or Sudan would publicly recognize this treaty as legitimate, simply because the other riparians were not party to the treaty.

Do you disagree? Great! Explain to me (politely, please), how it is possible that Ethiopia and the other riparians could realistically fit into an amended 1959 agreement? If there is no realistic (and equitable) way to do this, then the 1959 agreement must be tossed out, in favor of something that integrates the modern Nile Basin riparians.

“2012 Treaty on the Equitable Allocation of Nile River waters”

The joint technical committee has the potential to lay the groundwork for an evidence-based technical agreement that satisfies the three big fish in the Nile Basin – Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan. I should be clear that I think there are enormous benefits for creating stronger regional ties between these three nations. Economic integration is one path that could lead out of a strong technical treaty.

Adapted from CIA

Ethiopia provides between 70 and 80% of the total flow of the Nile and has vast hydroelectric potential, Sudan has very large oil resources, and Egypt has well-established (though volatile) institutions.  Using equitable water allocations as a backdoor for broader integration among these three countries, it is possible that a more stable economically integrated Nile region could emerge.

Wait and see

Above all, the official uptake of the results of the tripartite technical committee will signal how the region plans to proceed; whether they aim for technical cooperation, increased regional trade, and potentially greater stability (through economic integration), or whether they close themselves off, limit dialogue and create upstream blocs (Ethiopia plus White Nile riparians) and the downstream “1959 bloc” (Sudan and Egypt).