The Politics of the Nile – Girma Kassa

December 8th, 2010 Print Print Email Email

Some accuse the Zenawi regime of using the Nile issue to divert attention away from its human right records and portray itself as nationalist. As evidence, they site the Ethio-Egyptian 1993 Nile Accord known as the “Framework for General Co-operation between the Arab Republic of Egypt and Ethiopia” which they consider to be a sell-out of Ethiopia’s interests.

“The July 1993 accord signed in Cairo strips Ethiopia of its right to use the Nile River for development schemes. Article 6 of the accord states: ‘The two parties agree on the necessity of the conservation and protection of the Nile Waters. In this regard, they undertake to consult and cooperate in projects that are mutually advantageous, such as projects that would enhance the volume of flow and reduce the loss of Nile Waters through comprehensive and integrated development schemes.’ In other words, Ethiopia must first get approval from Egypt before undertaking any development projects on Nile.”

wrote Ethiopian Review, a popular opposition website.

A careful analysis of the 1993 Accord though, does not support such claims. Nowhere in this accord do we see any clause indicating that Ethiopians must get approval from Egypt before undertaking any Nile-related developments. This 1993 Ethio-Egyptian accord solely highlighted that the two countries would try to address the Nile issue in a dialog conforming to International Law.

“The two Parties agree that the issue of the use of the Nile waters shall be worked out in detail, through discussions by experts from both sides, on the basis of the rules and principles of international law.”

declares Article 4.

From this Accord, we see that the Zenawi regime was successful in bringing Egypt to the negotiating table. No major decisions were made in this Accord that short changed Ethiopian interests. The decision that was made was to put aside any prior agreements Egypt may have signed with other countries and start a new dialog.

Ethiopia and Egypt agreed on the need to resolve their differences based on International Law. That by itself was an indirect admission by Egypt that the 1956 agreement it had with the Sudan would have no impact on Ethiopia. This indeed was the beginning of Ethiopia’s victory.

Since Egypt and Ethiopia have agreed to abide by International law, it would be helpful to understand the main focus of the Law.

Here are two major rules that are often mentioned when it comes to water usage. Article 5 of the United Nations Law of Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses , which is known as the rule of equitable utilization, unambiguously asserts that watercourse nations shall …utilize an international watercourse, in an equitable and reasonable manner.

Per this Article and contrary to the 1956 agreement which states that Egypt assumed the right to veto any construction projects that would affect its interests adversely, Ethiopia, the source of the Nile , does have the full right to use the Nile water for its critical development projects.

Article 7, known as the rule of no-harm, is another UN article that may seem to contradict Article 5. It states that “Watercourse nations shall exercise due diligence to utilize an International watercourse in such a way as not to cause significant harm to other watercourse Nations”.

Egypt may try to use the no-harm rule and put international pressure on Ethiopia to prevent it from using its Nile waters. It may saw confusion and exaggerated claims to mislead the International Community that Ethiopia’s use of the Nile would seriously harm its interests.

However, it would be a hard task for Egypt to sway reasonable minds against Ethiopia’s use of the Nile water, a country from which 85% of the Nile water originates and whose population is often stricken by drought; while at the same time it is irrigating millions of hectares of its arid land.

Though at times Article 7 and Article 5 may be seen as contradictory, the rule of no-harm is subordinate to the equitable utilization rule. Therefore, regardless of the no-harm rule, the right of Ethiopia to use the water is one that is very firm and undisputed.

Looking at the no-harm rule from another angle, one can clearly see that it can be turned around and used by Ethiopia to strengthen its position. By not using the Nile water, Ethiopia is basically letting millions of its people starve and be dependent on foreign food aids. Is that not harming Ethiopia? Couldn’t that be considered a violation of the no-harm rule when one riparian country (Egypt) is using all the waters and harming other riparian countries like Ethiopia?

Per the spirit of dialog displayed in the 1993 Accord, other Nile Basin countries were added and intense discussions continued until May 2010, when Egypt and Sudan took drastic and unfortunate measures that poisoned the spirit of dialog.

Allow me to list some of the major milestones unfolded since 1993 when it comes to the Nile water:

• The year the 1993 Ethio-Egyptian Accord was signed, the Technical Cooperation Committee for the Promotion of the Development and Environment Protection of the Nile basin (TECCONILE) was established.

• In 1995 the NRBAP Nile River Basin Action Plan (NRBAP) was prepared.

• In 1997 the World Bank, and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) began working as “cooperating partners” to facilitate dialog among the riparian states.

• In 1998, all riparian states except Eritrea (Ethiopia, Egypt, Sudan, Burundi, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Democratic Republic of Congo) began discussion

• In 1999 – A transitional mechanism for cooperation was officially launched in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. The Process was named the Nile Basin Initiatives (NBI)

• In 2002 – A secretariat was established in Entebbe, Uganda.

• On May 14, 2020 – The NBI Agreement was finalized for countries to sign. Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya signed the agreement. Burundi and Congo are expected to follow suit. (So will a likely future independent southern Soudan). Sudan and Egypt rejected the Accord and are currently engaged in the politics of intimidation and threat.

The other very important and significant achievement that needs to be stressed is the fact that Ethiopia has brought together many Nations to its side. It is not like the old times where Ethiopia had to deal with Egypt alone. Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, possibly Burundi, Dr Republic of Congo are on the side of Ethiopia. Ethiopia has surely gotten the upper hand diplomatically, legally and of course morally.

Egypt has no choice but to sign the NBI agreement and try to solve any issues it may have in dialog and with the spirit reflected in the 1993 Accord it signed with Ethiopia. The threat of war is not the politics of the 21st century. It does not help Egypt. What is in the best interest of Egypt is to sign this agreement and work with Ethiopia.

Returning back to local Ethiopian issues, I highly stress that it is high time for Ethiopians to set aside their differences and send a clear and unequivocal signal to Egypt that ETHIOPIANS ARE UNITED WHEN IT COMES TO THE NILE. All truly patriotic opposition parties must release statements asserting that ETHIOPIA HAS THE FULL RIGHT TO USE ITS NILE WATERS.

Surely some of the local policies of the Zenawi regime are not helping to unify Ethiopians for a common cause. In view of the unhelpful track record the regime has domestically, the critical and bitter opposition some are exhibiting against the regime is understandable.

However, political differences must not blind us from looking at the long term interests of Ethiopia. Mr. Zenawi will go tomorrow. Ethiopia will be there for generations yet to come.

  1. Samuel
    | #1

    This is a very good analysis of the current state of the Nile impasse. While I completely agree with the role of all Ethiopian opposition groups to show unity on this and other significant national security issues, I would like to add that the Ethiopian government has an equal obligation to reach out to all Ethiopians and gain their support. The role of any opposition party is to criticize or push the sitting government by offering alternative ways of doing things for the betterment of the nation. I am sure Ethiopians are united on this one!!

  2. kush-kush
    | #2

    Dear writer, are you the newly appointed ambassador to the UN by the TPLF/EPLF ethinic junta ? It is a shame your appeal will go to the deaf ears . What happen to the TPLF/EPLF ethinic policy that divide and conquer us? Is it in its final stage and moaning in a morgue or is it already dead?

  3. Good Article
    | #3

    Egypt is exploiting opposition movements and arming them to the teeth to fight Ethiopian government, it doesnt matter who is in power: woyane, derg, kinijit, solomonic dynasty, communists, martians, etc. Egypt will always fund anti government rebels in Ethiopia to destabalize us.

    My advise is to pull ourselves out of poverty, organize raise funds to build dams along the nile river.

    And i suggest purchasing Anti-Aircraft missiles to protect our dams from Egyptian fighter jets: I suggest purchasing S-400, S-500 and Pantsir-S anti aircraft weapons to protect our multi billion dollar dams.

    Iran is a good example of trying to purchase up to date weaponry to defend their investments from air attacks.

    We all know Egypt cannot win by ground as we have destroyed all our enemies there (Adwa, Gundet, Gura)

  4. kahsay
    | #4

    Ethiopian Review( Eritrean Review) is not an oposition web, It is is an Eritrean website,I mean Shabias website , there what can we expect from a snake egg??? we can’t expect chicken.Elias is happy now his Devil president Isayas is shatling between Asmara and Cairo to destablize Sudan and Ethiopia.

  5. ጋሩማ ድንቃ
    | #5

    I strongly agree with the writer of this analysis, no matter how the present government in power is problematic the issue of national intreset should not be for compromise, we all should come together and work for our common intrest. Egyptians are always dig a hole for us, we have to be aware of their strategy. The government has to prepare for war and defeat the Egyptian if the dialoge faild to bear fruit. I am confident of our military.

  6. Drama
    | #6


  7. rezene kadissaba
    | #7

    The article sounds balanced although mentioning Eth Review as a reference is a big mistake. The Cairo pact was infact a great win to Ethiopia resulting two major projects for the first time in Eth history on the Nile. Both Tekeze and Tana Beles projects are within the nile basin ( Ye Abay Tefasesoch ). So, as mentioned well by the author – opposing and supporting the gov without regard does not bring any change at all.

  8. seble
    | #8

    ato girma,

    I have nothing to say to show your cowardiance behavior and your flip flap stand that always hurt the oppostions. You are simply created to attack oppostions by any means possible. and yet this is not your first time that you used a topic to attack oppostions. you are always finger pointing on the victim ones while you are very soft on the criminals like tplf, and as a reuslt, you have bombarded many ethiopians when they show outregeous act against esfna inverted illigal decission of birtukan invitiation you have attacked those ethiopians while you showed a huge support for the gangester memebers of esfna, this is the minimum while you alwyas there to attack oppostion using tiny reasons…..shame on you!

    irrespective of your non-sense mumbo jambo weyane is a criminal and terrosist group who has no stand for ethiopian interst as ethiopians will continue the struggle to get rid of weyane by any means.

    shame on you ato girma!

  9. Ethio
    | #9

    Ato Girma, do you think Melese do benifet for Ethiopia and Ethiopian people? Melese and his ganang’s TPLF are Killed Ethiopia and Ethiopian people. are you the leader of UDj in USA? We Ethiopian need freedom , democracy, justice. after that we will talk about a lot of issue. Melese try to divert our freedom issue. at this time i don’t care about Egiypt, Ertira, sudan and so on,those are not kill my people. i want to rid of Melese and his gaung after that we Ethiopian know what we will do. Ato Girma kkkkkkkkkkkkkk, are you a poltician or jounralist?

  10. Berhan
    | #10

    It is one thing to disagree with an idea and another thing to disaagree with a person regardless of his/her idea. The writer makes a good point – with the exception of referencing Ethiopian Review, which has failed to show leadership on significant national security issues. If you don’t agree with the writer’s comments then please educate us with your views on the ISSUE rather than telling us how much you hate the person with the idea. There are so many things for which the current government will eventually be responsible – from the killing of peaceful demonstrators to the loss of red sea outlet. However, it is foolish to assume and expect other people to believe that any government is the enemey of its own people. The fact that Meles murdered 200 protesters doesn’t equate to not being right on the Nile issue.

  11. Ethiopiawiu
    | #11

    As Ethiopians, we have to learn to understand that our endless national and collective disaster has always been masterminded by Egypt and likes for the sole purpose of weakening us so that they could keep on exploiting the Nile,so far they have succeded by creating Jebeha,eplf(shabia)tplf,olf,onlf,by so doing they are stil on their conspiracy mission to dismantl Ethiopia in order to remain in charge of the Nile.There are two things which has to be done in order to win this battle against Egypt.1,is tplf led by Melese ready to relinguish power by means of creating national reconciliation as peaceful exit strategy so that all pan Ethiopian oppositions could take part in the creation of a government of national unity as prerequistic to help establish true democratic system in Ethiopia?2,How far the pan Ethiopians oppositions both at home and abroad could go with tplf to bring about geniune reconciliation so that both should work for the collective salivation of Ethiopia and all her children meaning all role players and stake holders could help establish true democratic and constitutional system while deffending and protecting Ethiopia’s national security and all her interest.According to me this apporoch will be the best way forward,how ever I am not shure how much ready both the tplf and the pan Ethiopian oppositions are to narrow the gap between them and come togather to defend mother Ethiopia.And what would be the role of the allys of Ethiopia in this whole thing?. God Bless and Protect Ethiopia and her children.

  12. Anonymous
    | #12

    ethiopia never signed an agreement on abay but the regard to the nile it is out of the ethiopian territoril boundary.

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