Breaking News – Egypt’s thoughts on the Nile waters laid bare by WikiLeaks


The government of fallen ‘Pharaoh’ Hosni Mubarak has now finally been exposed by more WikiLeaks cables published last week, confirming what East African countries for long suspected and what a Ugandan diplomat a few weeks ago ‘spilled’ – reported here at the time: Egypt did consider the use of force against the ‘water producing countries’ upstream, should push come to shove over what Cairo thought was ‘excessive use of lake and river waters for agri-irrigation, domestic consumption and industrial use’.

The pre-independence agreements signed by a biased Britain with Egypt in 1929 and in 1959 gave the Egyptians literally veto rights over the use of the Nile waters and sources upstream, affecting the ‘producer’ countries of Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Congo DR, Ethiopia – where the so called Blue Nile springs from – and of late even the soon to be independent Republic of South Sudan.

A hydrologist, under diplomatic cover provided by the Egyptian Embassy in Kampala, is permanently based in Jinja to monitor the release volume of water for the present Owen Falls and Kiira power stations and his ‘instructions’ are to be followed or else, the latter never fully explored nor exercised in the past under Mubarak.

Hence, Egyptian and Khartoum regime representatives at the Nile Basin Initiative and the negotiating teams over a new Nile Water Treaty proposed by the Eastern African states, kept their East African counterparts often in near desperation, after refusing to engage in honest negotiations over what East Africa considers a prime natural resource, to be shared with neighbours within reason but not under dictates and threats. In fact Tanzania has for all practical purposes already thrown the old treaties out of the diplomatic windows, saying in unison with her neighbours in East Africa that those were shoved down their throats by the British on independence, are outdated and no longer reflect the grown populations in Eastern Africa nor the changes in climatic conditions since 52 years ago.

Said one regular source: ‘I have told you often what our effort aims for. We wish to renegotiate the old treaties and when Egypt and Khartoum walked off the negotiating table we were compelled to put up the treaty for signature and adoption without their final input. It is a fact that most of the water producers as you call us have signed on to the treaty already and it is now up to the new government in Egypt and the regime in Khartoum to do the same. [Burundi and Congo DR too still have to sign] We believe our position will be endorsed also by the new Republic of South Sudan in full, as they too fall into your producer category while those two downstream are in your words ‘consumer countries’. We believe our new treaty is fair, it recognizes Egypt’s needs for water and guarantees a quota for them. What they also have to do, like the Khartoum government, they have to begin using other sources for their potable water like desalination, better recycling and so forth, but even us here are conserving water now more and more to stand the storm of climate change.’ Responding to another question the same source then added: ‘I know you keep pointing at Boutros Boutros Ghali’s utterance back in the 70’s that Egypts’ next war would be over water, but why would they attack us over water. They cannot think to win a long distance war and are therefore well advised to consider their options very carefully. If they want to be partners we are ready for them to be partners also, if they want to be something else we are ready for that too. The WikiLeaks documents you are referring to I have not seen but we rely on our own assessments, the feedback from  our diplomatic staff in Cairo and Khartoum, private exchanges within the delegations and we can figure out what it is they say and what it is they think. We are not novices in this business, not like on independence when the British almost forced those treaties on us as part of finally giving us independence. Today we operate as Uganda within our East African framework and our fellow member states are also clear in their interpretation as are we. The five member states, plus Congo, South Sudan, we are seeking to use our own resources within our own needs and development programmes. Irrigation for agriculture is almost a must now considering the cycle of droughts parts of East Africa undergo. Increased industrialisation too requires more water and with the population growth in East Africa we must provide more water for domestic uses. Yet we are offering good terms for the use of our water and Egypt in particular, considering their problems right now are only temporary and any new government will have to engage with us, is better off being a friendly partner with us. They are in COMESA, we are in COMESA too, so there are platforms we can use o talk and see a new treaty come through’.

Adds this correspondent that this matter has been pending since the 1999 formation of the Nile Basin Initiative and it is hoped that a final agreement can be reached with a new government in Cairo soon to jointly look forward in the spirit of cooperation and development especially considering the rather generous offer made by the ‘producer countries’ in favour of the ‘consumer countries’ downstream.

Watch this space to learn about yet more twists and turns in this story line.