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Ambassador Mona Omar: Egypt lacks a cohesive plan to deal with Africa and Nile basin countries

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Presidential envoy discusses Egypt’s historic right to Nile water and its role in the region

Ambassador Mona Omar (Photo from Al-Borsa News)

Ambassador Mona Omar
(Photo from Al-Borsa News)

By Mohammed Abdel Monser

“International crises are not solved by severing ties between states or threatening war,” said Mona Omar, Egyptian presidential envoy to the African Union. “Instead, they are resolved by creating a climate of mutual trust between the two parties and allowing access to compromise and solutions.”

Relations have deteriorated between Egypt and Ethiopia due to the Addis Ababa Declaration, a plan to divert the Nile River for procedures associated with building a dam. Egypt questioned the safety of this measure as well as its impact on the water supply of countries downstream. The declaration came the day after former president Mohammed Morsi left the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa last May.

Egypt was not surprised that a number of Nile basin countries signed the Entebbe agreement, Mona Omar told Al Borsa,as the signatories gave Egypt an opportunity to find a solution in May 2013 but this chance was wasted. Egypt did not seek the permission of Meles Zenawi, Prime Minister of Ethiopia, to delay the agreement until new elections were held, she said.

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Organisation for African Unity, now known as the African Union, former President Mohammed Morsi had come to an agreement with Ethiopian Prime Minister Haile Mariam Disalin,at the Special Summit for the Leaders and Governments of the African Union, to continue coordinating on the issue of the Nile. But hours after leaving Mercy airport in Addis Ababa, the announcement came from Ethiopia.

“Reports written by experts and technocrats about solving the question of the dam are conflicting, despite a full year of research. This makes politicians unable to determine whetherreal harm to Egypt is involved in the issue,” said Omar.

Members of the Technical Egyptian National Committee to Study the Dam have said that studies completed on the Ethiopian side were insufficient to prove that Egypt would not be harmed by construction of the dam. This pushed the tripartite committee to commission extra research.

Omar emphasised that it was impossible for any Egyptian representatives to come to an official agreement on Entebbe unless Egypt’s historic rights to the waters of the Nile are recognized,as international law requires governments to adhere to treaties signed in the era of colonialism. Signatories must adhere to these conventions and agree not to set up any projects on the Nile before getting the approval of Egypt. Any vote must be won by consensus, not majority vote, she said.

Omar explained the circumstances surrounding the agreements on sharing Nile waters. Egypt was under the yoke of colonialism during the signing of the treaty, she said, whereas Ethiopia was the independent state of Abyssinia in 1902. The third king of Abyssinia pledged, along with the British government, not to issue any directivesregarding facilities on the Blue Nile, Lake Tana or the Sobat River that could intercept water from the Nile unless the British government agreed in advance along with the government of Sudan. This treaty was signed in Amharic.

Omar elaborated: “The third article of the 1906 agreement between Great Britain and the Congo states that the last pledge not to undertake or allow the establishment of any projects on the Samliki or Ashanju Rivers that might reduce water flowing into Lake Albert, unless agreed upon with the government of Sudan. The third article of the 1891 treaty between Great Britain and Italy determined influence in each country in East Africa and provided against the establishment of any works on the Atbara River that would modify water flow to the Nile in any way. The Treaty of 1929, signed between Egypt and Great Britain on behalf of Sudan, Kenya, Tanganyika and Uganda, stipulated that any projects on the Nile River, its tributaries or lakes fed by it are only possiblewith Egypt’s consent. This applied especially in cases involving generating electricity or anything that could potentially affect the amount of water obtained by Egypt. It further provided for Egypt’s right to control the course of the river from its source to its mouth as well as efforts to conduct research and monitor implementation of projects that could benefit Egypt.”

According to Omar, Egypt has been keen throughout its history to support development in the Nile basin countries. Egypt contributed to the construction of the Owen dam to generate electricity as part of the agreement between Egypt and Great Britain in 1949, which stipulates cooperation between Egypt and Uganda in constructing the reservoir.

Omar also pointed to an agreement between the Egyptian and Ugandan governments to regulate water flow by Egyptian irrigation engineers in Uganda. The electricity council in Uganda was to handle administration and maintenance of its reservoir, committing not to affect operation on the power plant or the amount of water reaching Egypt. When the agreement was signed by Egypt and Sudan in 1959, Egypt’s population was 20 million. That number has now reached 90 million and,according to Omar,Egypt’s share of the Nile must be agreed and amended through dialogue with the upstream countries.

Omar said the agreement provided for projects established along the river to increase revenue lost in the Mountain, Zaraf, and Ghazal Sea as well as its branches on the Sobat River, its tributaries, and the White Nile Basin. The costs of these projects will be divided up in addition to the water that it brings, an amount which is expected to total up to 18 billion cubic metres.

The fourth article of the convention states that the potential benefits from establishing the dam will be 22 billion cubic metres per year, said Omar. 14.5 of billion cubic metres will be sent to Sudan and just four billion to Egypt, thus Sudan’s share of the Nile water is 18.5 billion cubic metres while Egypt receives 55.5 billion cubic metres. This is built upon the assumption that the Aswan River produces 84 billion cubic metres of water but ten billion cubic metres are lost to evaporation.

According to Omar, Egypt has made progress in the Nile Basin Initiative and participated in a study of electricity projects across the countries as well as projects promoting regional trade and agricultural productivity. This would maximize trade crops for countries located along the southern Nile. Other projects are in place to promote fish production and provide necessary technical support to convert investment opportunities into bankable projects.

Within the previous framework, US$8,000,000 were allocated to carry out technical studies for sub-basins and other initiatives that have almost been completed. Organic farming formed one of these initiatives and demand for produce has increased internationally day after day in global markets, Omar said.

Omar added that the relatively small number of visits by former presidents Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak to African countries led to a lack of media coverage of events taking place there and an overall lackof Egyptian presence in Africa. “During the period of Sadat and Mubarak’s rule, Egypt missed an opportunity to be present on the continent of Africa. All accomplishments were merely a reaction and confined to sending aid in times of disaster. The businessmen who went to Africa were not able to compete with investors from China, India, Turks, and Arabs from the Gulf.”

Egypt has however contributed to development projects in Africa, said Omar. The Technical Cooperation Fund with Africa in the early eighties sent experts all over and funded many scholarships while simultaneously organising several training sessions to build capacity. These efforts, however, have largely not been covered in the media, she explained.


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