Ethiopia is used to Egyptians empty rhetoric for many decades over Nile River right of use. The Egyptian’s forceful entitlement has never served a good purpose other than emboldening the upper riparian nations to exercise their rights to use. Ethiopia has never made as much noise as Egypt to use its own river that originates from its heartland. However, Egypt is clinging to old and out dated colonial treaties that gave her exclusive right to use without regards for other Nile basin nations. It’s been over half a century since most African nations got their independence from their colony. Nations have moved on and no longer governed by the rules of the colonies. Ethiopia for that matter has never been colonized and therefore is a nation always governed by its own rule of law. To put things into perspective, it helps to see the highlights of some of the treaties and International trans-boundary River Laws made over a century:
The Anglo-Italian Protocol of April 15, 1891 (on Nile)
Article III states the following: “the Italian government engages not to construct on the Atbara River, in view of irrigation, any work which might sensibly modify its flow into the Nile”. Neither this river flowed in the territory claimed by Italy nor was Italy colonizing a country near the Atbara River, in order to have a claim over the river. The reference to the Atbara River on the part of Britain made some sense as the Sudan and Egypt, through which the Atbara flows within colonial territory. ( Zewdie 1976)
The 1902 Nile treaty (Great Britain and Ethiopia)
One of its articles, number III, related to the use of Nile water. The English version, as reviewed by Britain and later by the Sudan, read: “His Majesty the Emperor Menilik II, King of Kings of Ethiopia, engages himself towards the Government of His Britannic Majesty not to construct or allow to be constructed any work across the Blue Nile, Lake Tana, or the Sobat, which would arrest the flow of their waters except in agreement with His Britannic Majesty’s Government and the Government of Sudan” (Okidi, 1994:324; Tilahun, 1979). The Amharic version, however, gave a different meaning and understanding to Ethiopia (Abebe: 1994) and “was never ratified by this country.”
The Tripartite (Britain-France-Italy) Nile Treaty of December 13, 1906
Article 4 (a) of this treaty dealt with the use of the Nile water in Ethiopia’s sub-basin. It states: “To act together… to safeguard; … the interests of Great Britain and Egypt in the Nile Basin, more especially as regards the regulation of the waters of that river and its tributaries (due consideration being paid to local interests) without prejudice to Italian interests”. This treaty denied “the absolute sovereignty” of Ethiopia over its water resource. It resulted in Ethiopia immediately notifying its rejection of the agreement by indicating that no country had the right to stop it using its own water resource. ( Zewdie 1976).
The Agreement between Egypt and Anglo-Egyptian Sudan of 7th May 1929
According to Whittington and Guariso (1983:41), this agreement included the following:
Egypt and Sudan utilize 48 and 4 billion cubic meters of the Nile flow per year, respectively; The flow of the Nile during January 20 to July 15 (dry season) would be reserved for Egypt; Egypt reserves the right to monitor the Nile flow in the upstream countries; Egypt assumed the right to undertake Nile River related projects without the consent of upper riparian states. Egypt assumed the right to veto any construction projects that would affect her interests adversely.
This agreement stipulated that Egypt would receive on average 48 bcm and the Sudan 4bcm.This meant Egypt was allocated 92.3% and the Sudan 7.7% of the utilizable flow.
Again another right to Egypt and Sudan without any regards for Ethiopia the originator.
The 1959 Nile Agreement between Sudan and Egypt for Full Utilization of Nile waters (Post-colonial agreements on Nile River Basin):
In the 1950s, Egypt was planning the Aswan High Dam project to collect the entire annual flow of the Nile water (Collins, 1993). The Objective of the 1959 Agreement was to gain full control and utilization of the annual Nile flow. According to this bilateral agreement, the basic allocation of the entire discharge was 55.5 bcm for Egypt and 18.5bcm for the Sudan. This is the most controversial bilateral agreement between the two lower riparian Nations
This particular agreement like the previous one, did not take Ethiopia the 85% originator of Nile into consideration at all.
The Sudan – Ethiopia agreement (1991)
The two countries are committed to the principle of equitable utilization of the waters of the Blue Nile and Atbara rivers. Establishment of a technical joint committee to exchange data and to explore co-operation however, Sudan has moved away from the ‘united front’ with Egypt.
Framework for General cooperation, 1993 (Egypt & Ethiopia)
Neither country would do anything with the Nile that causes ‘appreciable harm’ to the other. To consult and co-operate in projects of mutual advantages such as projects that would enhance the volume of flow and decrease the loss of water through a comprehensive and integrated development schemes.
Nile River is arguably the longest river in the world covering a distance of 7000km and an area of 3 million square kilometers or 10% of Africa. The river traverses 10 basin nations: Burundi, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Approximately 160 million people depend on the Nile River for their livelihoods, and about 300 million people live within the 10 basin countries. Water is undeniably one of the most critical of all the resources that humans depend upon for their survival, yet it is a resource under increasing stress because of the growth of population, usage patterns, and environmental changes (global warming). Countries have the right to use water resources in their territory in accordance with the international laws of Trans-boundary Rivers. However, until the end of World War II when UN was created, there wasn’t accepted international law governing trans-boundary Rivers. Besides, due to low population, less water usage, and neighbor countries resolving their differences in a bilateral agreements or treaties; there wasn’t urgent need to have an international governing body. However, with population growth and the rise of industrialization, nations started using water intensively and diverting extensively causing appreciable harm to the downstream nations and hence conflicts among the nations. To resolve water conflict among nations, different International Association of Legal Experts tried to come with codification for shared management of international water resources. Chief among those groups were Asian-African legal Consultative Committee and Inter-American Bar Association. The International Law Association, a well-regarded non-governmental organization of legal experts founded in Brussels in 1873, completed the first comprehensive study of the International trans- boundary water resources law in 1966. The result is known as the Helsinki Rules on the Uses of the Waters of International Rivers. The Helsinki Rules were the first attempt by any international association to codify the entire law of international watercourses.
In 1997, The UN Convention adopted Draft article put together by the General Assembly directed the Sixth Committee. Below are some of the relevant articles to this discussion:
“Equitable and reasonable utilization and participation Watercourse States shall in their respective territories utilize an international watercourse in an equitable and reasonable manner. In particular, an international watercourse shall be used and developed by watercourse States with a view to attaining optimal and sustainable utilization thereof and benefits therefrom, taking into account the interests of the watercourse States concerned, consistent with adequate protection in the watercourse. Watercourse States shall participate in the use, development and protection of an international watercourse in an equitable and reasonable manner. Such participation includes both the right to utilize the watercourse and the duty to cooperate in the protection and development thereof, as provided in the present articles.”
“Obligation not to cause appreciable harm 1 Watercourse States shall, in utilizing an international watercourse in their territories, takes all appropriate measures to prevent the causing of significant harm to other watercourse States. 2 Where significant harm nevertheless is caused to another watercourse State, the States whose use causes such harm shall, in the absence of agreement to such use, take all appropriate measures, having due regard for the provisions of articles 5 and 6, in consultation with the affected State, to eliminate or mitigate such harm, and where appropriate, to discuss the question of compensation.”
Clearly there has been an attempt by international bodies to resolve water resource conflicts in a peaceful manner for a long time. Water resource conflict has becomingly increasing in many countries across Africa, Asia, Latin American, and even in USA among the Colorado River Basin States. Ethiopia and Egypt have been treading treaties, threats, tug of words, and sometimes naive co-operations to resolve their water resource conflicts for a century. Looking back historically, Ethiopia has never attempted to arrest the flow of Nile River without regards for the other downstream nations. The ask is equitable and reasonable utilization in accordance with the International trans-boundary River law; hence the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is one ambitious project that Ethiopia is undertaking to affirm the right of equitable and reasonable utilization. I might have a reservation about the location and the size of the dam but command the Ethiopian government for taking this step which was long overdue. Egypt has been vocal about going to war with Ethiopia to destroy the dam under construction. This is one indication that Egypt is still living in the 17 Century colonial state of mind where the colonial rule is above everything. We are living in 21st Century where conflicts need to be resolved with Civil Discourse and not war. If Egypt calls Nile its bloodlife, Egypt should also acknowledge that Ethiopia is the donor. Therefore, recipient should never go to war to kill the donor only to lose the bloodlife!