23 February 2014
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir said he is ready to mediate in the talks once Egypt has elected a new president.
World Bulletin / News Desk
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is waiting for the winner of Egypt’s upcoming presidential polls to launch a mediation initiative aimed at bridging the gap between Egypt and Ethiopia regarding the latter’s Nile dam project, a diplomatic source said Friday.
“Sudan will play a role clearing the air and mitigating the tensions” between the two countries over Ethiopia’s hydroelectric dam project, the source – who serves in the African Union and asked to remain anonymous – told Anadolu Agency.
On Tuesday, al-Bashir met behind closed doors with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn in Ethiopia’s Tigray State.
The meeting, which lasted for over one hour, touched on the political situation in South Sudan and Ethiopia’s Nile dam project, the source said.
The two sides reportedly agreed that Sudanese mediation efforts between Egypt and Ethiopia would begin following Egyptian presidential polls, dates for which have yet to be set.
Relations between Egypt and Ethiopia soured last year over a plan by the latter to build a multibillion-dollar hydroelectric dam on the upper reaches of the Nile River – Egypt’s main source of water.
The controversial project raised alarm bells in Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country, which fears a reduction of its traditional share of Nile water.
Water distribution among Nile Basin states has long been regulated by a colonial-era agreement granting Egypt and Sudan the lion’s share of the river’s water.
Ethiopia, for its part, is determined to build a series of dams on the river in order to generate electricity, both for local consumption and export.
Addis Ababa insists the new dam will benefit downstream states Sudan and Egypt, which will be invited to purchase the electricity thus generated.
Ethiopia Nile dam study ‘not enough’
An Egyptian diplomat on Friday said that a study conducted by an expert committee to ascertain the viability of Ethiopia’s Nile dam project – which Egypt fears could threaten its traditional water supply – was “not enough.”
“The studies weren’t enough; they were missing many facts,” Egyptian Ambassador to Uganda Ahmed Abdul-Aziz Mustafa told Anadolu Agency.
“There’s a need for further scientific studies so as not to lead the region into any dangerous adventures,” he added.
Egypt has also demanded the inclusion of additional representatives on the committee, which was tasked with assessing the dam’s potential environmental impact.
Ethiopia, however, insists there is no need to include more representatives on the panel, which is currently comprised of two members each from Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt, along with four others representing the international community.
According to Mustafa, Cairo has urged Ethiopia to show more flexibility on the issue.
The Nile Basin region covers an area of 3.18 million square kilometers and is shared by 11 countries: Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.
Most of these countries hope to generate electricity via dams built on the Nile River amid predictions that total energy demand among Nile Basin states would rise from 183,711 gigawatts per hour in 2010 to more than a million gigawatts per hour by 2035.
On Friday, Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) member-states marked Nile Day in Kampala under the banner, “National Challenges, Trans-boundary solutions.”
An annual event, Nile Day commemorates the NBI’s establishment in 1999.
Since 2010, Egypt has declined to sign the Entebbe Agreement, which is intended to replace a colonial-era water-sharing treaty that gives the lion’s share of Nile water to Egypt and Sudan.
Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Ethiopia had been the agreement’s original signatories, followed by Burundi in 2011.
“We request everybody to acknowledge Egypt’s right to its current use of the Nile,” Ambassador Mustafa said.
He said the “acceptable” share of water was 1,000 cubic meters per year per citizen, but noted that every Egyptian received only 620 cubic meters per year, which is considered to be below the poverty line.
“So we already have a reason to object to the project,” he said.
Designed to nternational standards
Ethiopian Water Minister Alemayehu Tegenu, however, defended the project, saying it was being designed according to international standards of equitable and reasonable utilization.
“Construction of the dam will not result in any significant harm to downstream countries; what we’re doing… is fair,” he told AA.
As for Egyptian requests for further studies, Tegenu asserted there was no need.
“It [the project] has been carefully studied,” he asserted. “Egypt proposed hiring additional experts to put the project on the shelf [i.e., stall the project] and jeopardize our construction plans.”
Betty Bigombe, Ugandan state minister for water resources, voiced surprise at Egypt’s insistence that other Nile Basin states honor the 1929 water-sharing agreement, which favors Egypt and Sudan at the expense of other riparian states.
“The dynamics have changed,” Bigombe said. “Even the British, who made us all sign that protocol, no longer respect it.”
Jemma Nunu Kumba, chairperson of the Nile Council of Ministers, said Egypt was “still welcome to discuss their concerns.”
Kumba, a South Sudanese national, noted that Juba – which joined the NBI in 2012 and currently serves as its rotating chair – had already approved the Entebbe Agreement, which is now awaiting parliamentary ratification.