26 May 2013

Are Egypt's culture, historic rights, and international treaty grounds for continuation of status-quo in the Nile Basin?

Below is an article from the As-Safir Newspaper that inspires thought. It is a well-researched and presented set of information, but there are major flaws in the argument and some wild speculation. I think we keep forgetting, when engaged in this global discourse, that what we are talking about in the end is poverty and people - humanity deserves dignity, in how it is discussed and how it is treated. The reduction we tend to do of quoting numbers and statistics to describe problems takes away the human face, but that is the very thing the international community says it is concerned with. This is what this author has done by focusing on political and economic realities of the Nile Basin, rather than on the human and environmental realities. 

The author is making a case that if Egypt does not tackle the Grand Renaissance Dam head-on, as well as the appeal of upstream countries to change the current treaty stipulations, war is inevitable. War with Egypt. Okay, interesting idea, not original, but obviously bias and defended, in a way, in this article. I would suggest though, that the author is coming from a place of emotion and one dimensional consideration of reality - history and politics dominating rationale.

The author states that there is a shift in the balance of power, that Ethiopia is now being backed by the US and there is $4 billion USD given annually to development, military, etc. I am sure that this figure is inflated. I am also sure that Egypt is still the darling of the US in all matters political, even if the ongoing revolution makes things uncertain. Ethiopia has a long way to go in global political position - this is not an insult to Ethiopia, but rather a reality of the popularity club that dominates international affairs. 

For years, Egypt has been the 2nd biggest recipient of US foreign aid, only topped by Israel - this has maybe changed due to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Maybe Egypt moved to the 4th position. I do not believe that even if there has been a new focus on Ethiopia, since it is so new, compared with years of capital gains in Egypt, we can see this as some sort of threat. This is not means for considering the insane idea of war between Egypt and Ethiopia. The casualties would be enormous. If you get on the ground and look at the infrastructure in Egypt and the infrastructure in Ethiopia you can understand what I mean. Do not be fooled. 

Never mind American politics: there are key players in Washington DC who are much more focused on keeping a foothold in the Arab world than backing a very poor, but developing, Christian nation of Ethiopia. Ethiopia does pretty well on its own right. And the authors list of 6 possible advantages to Ethiopia can equally be viewed as disadvantage. I could take these one by one here, but I am more interested in the issue of framing water than framing politics.

Proposed ideas from the article about water: 
1) Conflict over water is the default rather than cooperation and collaboration. This is not universally true. In fact, my professor Aaron Wolf's work Basins at Risk challenged this very idea more than 10 years ago - he found in his scientific analysis of global basins that on an international level, cooperation rules the day. There has been one international conflict directly about water in recorded history and it was 4000 years ago. Indirectly is another story. On top of all the other things that Egypt and Ethiopia have to contend with: food security, malnutrition, corruption, revolt, ethnic clashes, poverty, devolving neighbor states, energy shortages, environmental pollution, access to education - I think war is low on the list of desired activities. 

2) Historic use and way of doing things is how things should be in the future. This argument reminds me working in a bureaucracy that is dysfunctional, but employees are more concerned with procedure than with correcting the issue. Yes, I understand that Egypt has had a long history connected to the Nile, but this does not preclude the other riparian countries from using the water of the Nile (as people living there also have probably historically used the water too - maybe not to the national economic extent of Egypt). Furthermore, why does the upstream use somehow threaten Egypt's use of the water? Water uses are not mutually exclusive - you can coordinate uses so that there are "win-win" scenarios in potentially conflicting sectors. Sticking to a this is the way it has always been argument does not allow the possibility for considering an inclusive integrated water management plan. I'd love to head a team of experts to untangle such a puzzle!

3) The changes of Ethiopian water use are due to ambition. This is absurd. The author does acknowledge the increasing demand of population growth. What the author does not mention is that almost 50% of all fresh water in Ethiopia is found in the Blue Nile basin. That there is a huge potential for hydropower generation in the Blue Nile and currently, Ethiopia only has about 42-48% energy coverage in the country and less than 3,000 MW online. In order to develop, and to encourage foreign investment in industry, etc, a place needs to have a reliable energy source. Ethiopia has a keen interest to develop - not because they are ambitious, but because the poverty there breeds this necessity. Many many people do not have access to clean drinking water, do not have a basic level of nutrition throughout the year. Many people do not have permanent or safe dwellings. When I was there in the fall of 2012 there were almost 4 million people on the brink of starvation. And that is a number that represents individual people who are being collectively called the ambition of Ethiopia. I obviously resent this belittling comment.

4) To use the church to gain entree into Ethiopian society is an idea I have heard from other development workers. But in the case of water, I think it more appropriate to use the technical channels of water professionals. Both countries have Ministries of Water filled with engineers and hydrologists who already understand what issues they are contending with regarding the Nile River. A management plan is a great place to discuss how to share the water appropriately, not according to a treaty, but according to what common people need to survive.

Let's work to put a face back on the people in question - the article starts with an image of women from the White Nile, not the part of the Nile in question mind you, but at least this first idea - this image - is considering that in the end, this is people we are concerned with, that the governments of Egypt and Ethiopia are concerned with. That calls for interstate cooperation, not interstate conflict.

Egypt, Ethiopia Headed
For War Over Water

Girls draw water from a well in El-Halaba, on the rural desert outskirts of the White Nile, March 20, 2013. (photo by REUTERS/ Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah)

By: Mustafa al-Labbad Translated from As-Safir (Lebanon).
اقرا المقال الأصلي باللغة العربية
In the coming years, Egypt and Ethiopia may be forced to fight a “water war” because Ethiopia’s ambitions contradict Egypt’s historical and legal rights in the Nile waters. Ethiopia can only be deterred by the regional and international balance of powers, which in recent years has favored Ethiopia.

About This Article

Summary :
In the coming years, the biggest threat for Egypt is a lack of water, and Ethiopia's increasing extraction of water from the Nile may signal a possible "water war," writes Mustafa al-Labbad.
Publisher: As-Safir (Lebanon)
Original Title:
Egypt Is Battling Ethiopia over the Nile Water
Author: Mustafa al-Labbad
First Published: March 18, 2013
Posted on: March 24 2013
Translated by: Rani Geha
Categories :  Egypt  
For any Egyptian government, Egypt’s water share and securing the Nile’s headwaters are the top national security priorities, irrespective of the Egyptian government’s ideology or domestic policies. This fact is dictated by geography. For thousands of years, Egyptian rulers have been aware how important water is for Egypt. Water is the lifeline of Egypt (97.5% of Egypt is barren desert). Egyptian rulers have always used any means to defend their country’s historic rights to the Nile waters. As Greek historian Herodotus said, "Egypt is the gift of the Nile.” Egyptian civilization, which is one of history’s greatest civilizations, depends on the Nile. To illustrate the Nile’s importance, we should remember that Egypt is the largest desert oasis in the world. Life in Egypt is concentrated on the river banks where 90 million people live. In short, any Egyptian government should have one eye on the Horn of Africa — on Ethiopia, where the source of the Nile lies — and another eye on the Sinai Peninsula and the Levant, and the balance of power there. History has shown that most of Egypt’s invaders entered through that door.
Egypt’s sentries against the country’s internal and external foes have been sleeping on the job. Their first eye failed to notice the developments at the Blue Nile’s source in Ethiopia (the Blue Nile constitutes 86% and the White Nile 14% of the Nile water volume. The two tributaries meet in Sudan before flowing to Egypt). Their second eye had lost the ability to distinguish friend from foe. Now, with the worsening economic crisis and the political deterioration between the ruling Muslim Brotherhood and the opposition, the balance of power is more and more tilting toward Ethiopia, which may unilaterally increase its water usage. That will affect Egypt’s historic rights of the Nile water and cause a serious threat.
In the report below, we will try to shed light on the Nile conflict and on why Ethiopia’s negotiating position toward Egypt has improved. We will end with a recommendation.
The conflict over the Nile waters
The two groups fighting over the right waters are as follows: the first group are the downstream countries, it includes Egypt and Sudan. The other group are the upstream countries which includes Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda, Congo, Burundi, Tanzania, Southern Sudan, Rwanda and Kenya.
Egypt depends on the Nile River for 95% of its water needs for drinking, agriculture and electricity generation. The growing Egyptian population is increasingly dependent on Nile water. Egypt has historical rights to these waters under the Nile Water Agreement signed with Britain in 1929. It gave Egypt the right to veto any project in upstream countries affecting Egypt’s share of water flowing to it. It is worth mentioning that the 1929 agreement is binding for the three upstream countries — Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda — on the grounds that Britain, which colonized these countries, was their legal representative and could sign binding international agreements on their behalf.
Egypt codified its legal status in an agreement with Sudan in 1959. The agreement gave Cairo 55.5 billion cubic meters of water (or 66% of the total water flow), which would go to the Aswan Dam, and Sudan received 18.5 billion cubic meters (22%). The remainder, 12%, is lost to evaporation.
The downstream countries argue that they were not a party to those agreements at the time, and therefore do not recognize their legitimacy. The upstream countries want to modify the water-sharing agreement and keep more of the water by building dams, which will directly affect the water share of the downstream states, Egypt and Sudan.
The problem is compounded by the projected large population increase in the Nile basin. The UN projects that the population in the 11 basin states will reach 860 million people by 2050. This is pressuring both sides to try to improve their positions in the conflict over the Nile waters.
In May 2010, Ethiopia drafted the Entebbe Agreement to modify the historical and legal basis for the sharing of water. Most upstream countries supported the agreement but Egypt and Sudan refused it. It is true that the Entebbe Agreement is not legally binding for Egypt and Sudan, but it does show that Ethiopia is aware of the balance of power and its ambition to impose facts on the ground regarding the construction of dams, which will necessarily affect Egypt’s share in the Nile waters and thus represent an existential threat to Egypt. It is true that Ethiopia cannot force Cairo to sign, but the Entebbe Agreement shows that a major crisis between Cairo and Addis Ababa is on the way. What follows is an explanation of the Ethiopian diplomatic attack on Egypt and Sudan.
The geopolitical framework strengthens Ethiopia’s position
In recent years, the geopolitical framework has clearly shifted in Ethiopia’s favor, and it shifted the balance of power between Ethiopia and Egypt. The geopolitical changes that favor Ethiopia can be seen in six key indicators:
First, the disintegration of Somalia, Ethiopia’s traditional rival with which it fought a tough war over the Ogaden region, removed the geopolitical balance facing Ethiopia’s political ambitions in the region. Ethiopia exploited Somalia’s disintegration to strengthen its regional presence in the Horn of Africa. For years, Ethiopia has been “fighting terrorism” emerging from Somalia. Ethiopia has been doing that under an American umbrella from 2006 to 2009 and then again since 2011 until now.
The second indicator is represented by the partition of Sudan into two states: Sudan and South Sudan. That development has weakened Sudan (and thus Egypt) in the Horn of Africa and allowed Ethiopia to participate, since 2012, in the UN peacekeeping forces in the Abyei region, which is disputed between Sudan and South Sudan.
The third indicator is the following: the weakening of Sudan has shifted the balance of power in Ethiopia’s favor. The crisis in Darfur and the international isolation of the Sudanese president (an international arrest warrant was issued against him by the International Court of Justice in The Hague in 2009) has significantly limited Khartoum’s ability to maneuver in the Nile conflict.
The fourth indicator is the improved relationship between Ethiopia and the West in general, and between Ethiopia and the US in particular, after Addis Ababa emerged as a reliable partner in the Horn of Africa. Every year, Ethiopia gets $4 billion in military, development and food assistance. But the matter is not limited to direct aid. The West has started looking at Ethiopia differently in regard to development projects, such as the construction of dams in Ethiopia. The West had opposed such projects for decades because they were considered a threat to regional security.
The fifth indicator is about China. China is Ethiopia’s primary trade partner and Beijing has expressed willingness to finance a dam construction in Ethiopia and offered Chinese expertise in building large dams. China wishes to have a foothold in the region. There is oil in South Sudan and the Congo has mineral resources.
The sixth indicator is the weakening of Egypt’s political weight in the Horn of Africa. Egypt has no role in Somalia and was not even a key party in the negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan. Egypt’s preoccupation with internal matters is weakening its ability to confront regional and international players, such as China. Even though Egypt is the biggest market for Chinese goods among the 11 basin countries, China has favored other considerations over Egyptian priorities and Egypt’s rights in the Nile waters. So much so that China has offered its technological expertise in constructing dams, which is a complete disregard to Egyptian rights. What will Egypt do about all that? Only God knows.
A recommendation
In the coming years, Egypt and Ethiopia may be forced to fight a “water war” because Ethiopia’s ambitions contradict Egypt’s historical and legal rights in river waters. Ethiopia can only be deterred by the regional and international balance of powers, which in recent years has favored Ethiopia.
The government of Hisham Qandil (an irrigation expert, not a diplomat, legal expert or strategist) seems unable to manage such a complex issue with legal, political, economic, military and international aspects. His government is unable to solve everyday problems that are less complex, such as security, traffic, and fuel and food supplies. This portends dire consequences for Egypt.
What is needed is a way to manage the crisis and use Egyptian soft power toward Ethiopia, especially the Coptic Orthodox Church, which is the Ethiopian Church’s mother church. It is necessary to form a fixed Egyptian team to manage this highly sensitive issue. The team should go beyond party affiliation and include leading Egyptian Nile specialists. Ideological or religious affiliation should not be a factor in choosing that Egyptian crisis team. What is important should be the capabilities and competencies of the team members, who will come from the “clay” of the country, not from a particular group, party or political current. Clay, to those who don’t know, is what Egyptians call their country’s soil, which is a fertile soil resulting from the mixing with the Nile water.
Will Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi realize the seriousness of the situation and deal with that issue as a major national matter and quickly implement the required policies and procedures, or will he hesitate, as usual, and go down in history as someone who squandered the historic rights of Egypt and its future generations?

Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/politics/2013/03/egypt-ethiopia-water-war.html#ixzz2UNjlKCuh