The change in the status quo of the Nile politics was linked to the
convergence of three key factors.
Rapid urbanisation across the region and the expanding demand for
affordable power had created a market for
hydroelectricity. This had given rise to questions
over the means to pay for building the necessary
infrastructure by attracting investment.
This resulted in the need to build hydropower projects that could
generate revenues to repay the investments, thereby
making it no longer necessary to depend on loans
from reluctant international financial institutions
Tired after decades of Egypt’s obstruction of efforts to negotiate an
equitable allocation of Nile waters among the
riparian states, the upstream countries signed a
Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) to
undertake the task.
The inauguration of the Tana Beles Project on the Abay (Blue Nile)
tributary, in May 2010, coincided with the meeting
in Entebbe, Uganda, of the Nile Basin’s ministers of
Water. Egypt and Sudan declined to attend. It also
coincided with the launching by upstream states of
the (CFA) on the equitable sharing of Nile waters.
The game was over.
The recent ceremonies around laying the cornerstone to start the
construction of the Renaissance Dam on the Abay
River near the Sudanese border should serve as a
wakeup call for the downstream states, Egypt and
Sudan. Their capacity to obstruct upstream countries
from utilising the water has been severely
curtailed. The CFA is now in place. It has become
reality and will remain so.
Whether or not they sign the CFA, it will serve as the basis for
allocation of the Nile waters. The new dam will be
built in the Abay Gorge, and will be followed by
others. This is the new reality.
soon to be built dam could be good news for North
Sudan’s food security, as well as for that of
Ethiopia and Egypt. With the imminent separation of
Southern Sudan from the North in three months, North
Sudan stands to lose, not only much of its oil
reserves, but much of its irrigable land as well, as
most of these are in the South.
It could also lose a significant part of the water share it needs to
irrigate its remaining irrigable land. Southern
Sudan is also likely to need its share of the Nile
waters. In practice, this would come from whatever
is allocated for Sudan, unless the South decides to
sign the CFA.
However, in talks with the Egyptian Prime Minister on March 28, 2011,
the president of Southern Sudan agreed it would take
its share of Nile waters within the share of the
entire Sudan, as specified in the 1959
Egypt-Sudanese Agreement, rather than by joining the
CFA, according to the Sudan Tribune in a story
reprinted in Fortune.
It is likely that this could lead to a significant reduction in the
North’s water supply. It also does not help that
this comes at a time of increasing concern over
climate change and desertification across much of
the Sudano-Sahelian region and Nile Basin.
Egypt claims that with its rapidly increasing
population and the threat of climate change, it may
face water shortages as early as 2017.
Under its 1959 agreement on the “Full utilisation of the Nile waters,”
which purported to divide the full flow of the Nile
River between the two downstream states, Egypt was
to utilise 75pc of the 74 billion cubic metres of
water, leaving 25pc for Sudan.
This gave little consideration to the possibility that the upstream
countries from which most of the Nile water comes,
might insist on their rights to use some of it for
There may have been an element of miscalculation, of underestimating
the upstream states which, except for Ethiopia, were
under colonial rule at the time.
sought to cover its interests at the expense of its
“At the time the 1959 agreement was signed, both Egypt and Sudan
recognised that this assumption of zero water use by
the upstream riparian [countries] was not realistic
in the long run, and they made provision for how the
agreement would be revised as upstream riparian
states started to claim rights to use the Nile
waters,” according to John Waterbury and Dale
Whittington, American academics who have written
extensively on the Nile Basin. “Egypt and Sudan
agreed to reduce their water allocations equally to
accommodate increased use by upstream riparian
The time for these countries to make their claims has arrived. The
upstream countries are demanding their rights to an
equitable share of the Nile waters that flow through
their territory. In the event of this requirement of
a large share of the total flow for the use of the
upper riparian states, it could have a severe impact
upon Sudan and its agricultural development
There could also be another miscalculation. While the two downstream
countries have long attempted to link their 1959
bilateral agreement to “international law,” it
remains a bilateral agreement that can only be
legally relevant to the two signatories and the
allocation between them of such Nile water as enters
their territory. It can in no way oblige the
upstream countries to allow Nile waters passing
through their territory to reach the downstream
tried a similar manoeuvre in its 1929 bilateral
agreement with the United Kingdom (UK), giving it
priority over the then British colonies in the upper
Nile Basin. This colonial agreement was rejected by
the former colonies as soon as they became
In each case, the newly independent states offered others a period of
grace during which any concerned country could
renegotiate the terms of the agreement. Egypt
declined the offer, possibly convinced that it was
the stronger state in the region and that its
capacity to intimidate would be enough.
Even if the Anglo-Egyptian agreement had been acceptable to the former
British colonies, it could not have affected the
rights of Ethiopia, the source of 86pc of the Nile
waters, nor those of Burundi, Rwanda, and the
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), none of which
were ever British colonies.
What all of the Nile Basin states must learn to face is that, while the
Nile is a very long river flowing from its origins
in Burundi and Rwanda and onwards through Uganda,
Sudan, and Egypt, to the sea, it is not a very big
one in terms of volume.
Most of its water comes from the Abay River that flows down from the
Ethiopian highlands to meet the White Nile at the
northern edge of the Sudanese capital, Khartoum. The
flow of this not very big river must serve 10
countries and serve them equitably.