Egypt attended for the first time in five years a Nile Basin Initiative meeting which took place in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, Saturday, after receiving an invitation from Sudan.
Egypt had boycotted the initiative after the Basin countries signed the Entebbe Convention, which undermines Egypt’s majority share in Nile River water.
Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Hossam Moghazy said Egypt attended to clarify why it had not been present. Moghazy also said that the country had not cut itself off from the Nile Basin situation, but internal affairs had previously prevented it.
There is an Egyptian desire to return to anything related to the Nile basin, and to Africa in general Moghazy emphasised, according to state-owned news agency MENA.
“Egypt is back with an open mind to any initiative from any country for amendments in the Entebbe agreement in order to overcome obstacles,” Moghazy said.
He added that differences over Entebbe are not an obstacle to the strong Afro-Egyptian relations.
In May 2010, five upstream Nile countries signed the Entebbe Convention, which calls for the re-division of the Nile water quotas, and cancelling the agreements of 1929 and 1959, which Egypt and Sudan refused.
Britain, a coloniser of Egypt at the time, signed the 1929 agreement on Egypt’s behalf, which bars the establishment of projects on the Nile Basin except after consulting with downstream states. The International Court of Justice had ruled in 1989 that the water agreements, like border agreements, shall not be modified.
Ethiopia began constructing the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in 2011. Since then, Egypt and Ethiopia have been locked in a diplomatic dispute, which reached a peak in 2013. Egypt, which utilises more Nile water than any other country, fears the dispute will have a detrimental effect on its share of the river’s water.
As per the 1929 and 1959 agreements, Egypt receives 55.5bn cubic metres of the estimated total 84bn cubic metres of Nile water produced each year, with Sudan receiving 18.5bn cubic metres.
Egypt rejected in early January the GERD’s current high storage capacity, as studies showed it will affect its national water security.
The dam’s storage capacity reaches 74bn cubic metres. Calling such capacity “unjustified and technically unacceptable”, Egypt asked Ethiopia to reduce it to what was agreed before the start of negotiations over the years-of-filling and operation of the dam.
Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia are to hold meetings in Khartoum in March to discuss the dam, Egyptian state media reported.
The Nile Basin covers an area of 3.2m square kilometres and spans 11 nations.
The Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) aims at cooperatively developing the River Nile, sharing substantial socio-economic benefits and promoting regional peace and security.
It was launched on 22 February 1999 by the Ministers in charge of Water Affairs in Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda. Eritrea participates as an observer. NBI provides the aforementioned countries with the first and only all-inclusive regional platform for multi-stakeholder dialogue, information sharing and joint planning, and management of water and related resources in the Nile Basin.
The highest decision and policy-making body of NBI is the Nile Council of Ministers, composed of Ministers in charge of Water Affairs in each NBI member state.
Prior to the emergence of the NBI, there was no common institutionalised and structured mechanism that was all-inclusive, bringing together all riparian countries to address a common agenda.