The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) topic is back to remind us of, and affirm, what we had said five years ago, which is basically that the core problem is neither governed by emotion nor ministerial aids with a little help from diplomacy, but it is governed by political rules, international law, and international conventions.
By reviewing these international agreements, we can see how the Nile issue reached the stage we are currently facing, and why Ethiopia is not much affected by Egyptian anger.
Treaties affecting Nile water use:
- The Anglo-Italian Protocol, 15 April, 1891: the English and Italians determined their areas of influence in the Nile basin countries of East Africa all the way to the outskirts of the Red Sea. Article III states that, “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.”
- Treaty between Great Britain and Ethiopia, 15 May, 1902: Article III of the Treaty between Great Britain and Ethiopia states, “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.”
- Agreement between Britain and the Government of the Independent State of the Congo, 9 May, 1906: Article III of this treaty states, “The Government of the independent state of the Congo undertakes not to construct, or allow to be constructed, any work over or near the Semliki or Isango river which would diminish the volume of water entering Lake Albert except in agreement with the Sudanese Government.” Belgium signed this agreement on behalf of the Congo despite the agreement favouring only the downstream Nile countries and restricting the people of the Congo from accessing their share of the Nile’s water.
- Tripartite Treaty (Britain-France-Italy), 13 December, 1906: Article 4(a) concerns the three countries’ interests in denying Ethiopia its sovereign right over the use of its own water. Ethiopia rejected the treaty, but its military and political power was not sufficient to regain its use of the Nile’s water.
- 1925 treaty: The 1925 exchange of notes between Britain and Italy concerning Lake Tana states, “…Italy recognizes the prior hydraulic rights of Egypt and the Sudan… not to construct on the head waters of the Blue Nile and the White Nile (the Sobat) and their tributaries and effluents any work which might sensibly modify their flow into the main river.”
- The Agreement between Egypt and Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, 7 May, 1929: This agreement gave Egypt complete control over the Nile during the dry season when water is most needed for agricultural irrigation. It also severely limits the amount of water allotted to Sudan and provides no water to any of the other riparian states.
- The Anglo-Belgian agreement November 1934: the treaty modified the water boundaries of Ruanda-Urundi.
- The 1953 Convention: an agreement between Egypt and Britain on behalf of Uganda regarding the establishment of the Owen Reservoir at the exit of Lake Victoria, a series of exchanged letters between 1949 and 1953 between the Government of Egypt and Britain.
- 1959 Convention: Signed between Egypt and Sudan to distribute the Nile water for Egypt’s share to be 55 billion cubic metres and Sudan’s 18.5 billion cubic meters.
- 1991 Convention: Signed between Egypt and Uganda, in which Uganda confirmed its respect for the 1953 Convention signed by Britain on its behalf, which was implicit recognition of the 1929 Convention.
- Nile Basin Initiative 1999: was an agreement between Egypt, Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Tanzania, Rwanda, Kenya, Eritrea, and the Republic of Southern Sudan, and was signed with a view to strengthen the regional social cooperation between these countries through the equal exploitation of the Nile Basin.
- Cooperative Framework Agreement 2010: Signed by the upstream countries and based on the principle of equitable and reasonable utilisation. The dispute between the downstream and upstream countries in the Nile basin was based on three items: “historical rights acquired, prior notification of downstream countries, and voting method”.
- Principles of the Renaissance Dam 2015 document: Signed in March 2015, the document outlined the principles of the Renaissance Dam by the three countries, “Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia”, in Khartoum, the agreement includes a paper containing 10 principles committed to by the three countries on the GERD and includes a package of basic principles that preserve the rights and interests of the Nile Basin countries.
Perhaps the most dangerous of them, in political and legal terms, are the principles of the Renaissance 2015 document because this is tantamount to recognition by Egypt of Ethiopia’s right to build the dam, but differences concern the water stored, in terms of quantity and storage time, whether it is 5 years or more. Regardless of the Egyptian political scene, we have forgotten how strong Egyptian negotiators are, from the legal and political points of view, such as what happened in Taba years ago.
Let me remind you that the biggest danger is coming when Ethiopia sees Egypt unable to defend its water rights for its people, which is a matter of life or death. This encourages many Nile Basin countries to build many dams, which are in violation of international agreements, under the pretext that they were under foreign colonialism. Of course, this is viewed by Egypt as invalid, as many border, and other, agreements were established and signed by the occupying powers of African countries and are still in force, which is consistent with the principles and provisions of international law; Egypt must pressure Ethiopia and Sudan through all means to return to the negotiating table or risk allowing a small state like Qatar to tamper with its affairs.
Everyone must know, without exception, that we are able to defend our national security in any region of the world, in defence of our legitimate rights.
Abdallah Moghazi is a professor of constitutional law, and former parliamentarian