Politics shouldn’t interfere with sports but sometimes it can’t be helped, especially when your life depends on it. When countries at the source of the Nile decide that it’s time to set new water quotas, then you know it’s time to host the new, ever so friendly Nile Basin Football Tournament.
To recap, countries at the sources of the Nile started clamoring for a new Nile waters agreement, holding that the existing quotas were no longer fair and should be reset in order to meet their developmental needs. These upstream countries protest that the 1929 Nile Waters Agreement, signed between Egypt and the British occupation authority, did not observe the needs of its other colonies. After all those colonies won their independence, they said it was time to revise the principles of the earlier agreement in order to keep those downstream countries like Egypt from monopolizing too much water.
With the exception of Burundi and the DR Congo, the five other upstream states thus signed a new agreement in May last year to redistribute the Nile water resources in a way that would significantly undermine Egypt’s annual share.
Considering Egypt is dependent on the Nile for 95 percent of its water needs, we collectively sang one of our hit favorites: "Uh-oh. We’re in trouble".
Damage control has included the high-level and continuous meetings that President Mubarak is holding with officials of the Nile Basin states. It is a truism of international relations, after all, that the more closely countries work together, the greater the efforts they will bring to bear in ironing out difficulties that do arise between them, and the less likelihood there is of any clash.
Sports have chipped in. We have invited these Nile Basin countries to say to them, in not so many words, that we don’t want problems, and to show them that we care about them while keeping our fingers crossed that a similar sentiment will be reciprocated.
Sports wise, Egypt will not benefit much from the tournament. The six countries who have come — Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania, Kenya, Sudan and DR Congo — are in lowly East Africa, which is nothing compared to soccer powerhouses Ghana, Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Nigeria of the west. As such, our guests stand to benefit more than us.
Egypt’s 5-1 shellacking of Tanzania in the opener was a total mismatch and no indication of how good we really are. Rather, Egypt is using this 12-day tournament to prepare for the crucial 2012 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against South Africa in March.
Meanwhile, another headache is quickly approaching as the Jan. 9 countdown nears for the referendum over the separation of south Sudan, and the expected emergence of yet another Nile Basin country. Once south Sudan becomes independent we’ll be talking about 10, not nine Nile Basin states and we’ll have to address the issue of water shares from an even newer perspective.
Peril looms over our historic water source. After a millennium of certainty that its abundant waters would flow freely to us, we have been jolted awake by a clamoring to alter the laws and treaties which govern the share of Nile water and which stretch back decades.
Clearly, there needs to be a complete revision of our policies towards the Nile Basin countries. We must also examine ourselves before others as we attempt to sort out what happened. Domestic din is often misleading. Only recently, it has misled us twice, once into believing that the Nile Basin countries could not sign an agreement without Egypt’s approval, and to suppose that FIFA would rule in our favor in our dispute with Algeria. We were wrong on both counts. Upriver countries signed an agreement of a different sort to the one we had in mind and FIFA ended up penalizing us, not Algeria.
It has became apparent that if we had only paid more attention to following through and expanding on arrangements for closer cooperation with, and assistance to, our upriver neighbors, we would not be in this current predicament.
Football will not by itself save the day, but it might help a little bit. And every drop counts.