Nile Waters A Fake Speech

The Reporter (Addis Ababa)
December 8, 1999
by Abiye Tekelemariam

Addis Ababa - Waking up from deep slumber, Ethiopian scholars are now starting to waffle and wobble about the right of this country regarding the utilization of the Nile waters. With drought and famine repeatedly hitting the country, Ethiopian intellectuals, with the exception of Dr. Hailu Araya, are, at last, understanding the need for the utilization of the world's longest river.

Most of them are calling for the utilization of the river in light of the internationally accepted equitable apportionment doctrine. In a courageous departure from these views, Getachew Aberra, an international law scholar, a couple of weeks ago advocated the absolute non-existence of the right of lower riparian states on the waters of the Nile in Ethiopia. Whatever the arguments raised, the most important point here is that the issue is now getting due attention.

Last week, the Egyptian Ambassador to Ethiopia, in probably a daring attempt to muffle these voices, stated the essentiality of cooperation between the North African country and Ethiopia in the utilization of the Nile waters. The speech made by the honorable Ambassador was taken seriously and parroted by some government media here. I think that for two reasons it was far from a genuine speech to be given any value and worth.

In 1959, Egypt and Sudan concluded an agreement on the apportionment of the waters of the Nile to the exclusion of the other eight sovereign states sharing the water. According to the treaty, Egypt, which had repeatedly maintained the principle of absolute territorial integrity, relinquished its firm position and accepted the right of Sudan to use 18.5 billion cubic meters of water. As a bilateral treaty, it is not, of course, binding on the other basin states without their consent. But the two parties are, without any shadow of doubt, obliged under international law to strictly adhere to their agreement.

In fact, by virtue of this treaty, both parties are under a serious obligation to ''study together'' and ''adopt a unified view'' when other riparian states make a claim to share the waters of the Nile. Article 5 paragraph 2 of the treaty stipulates that "if such studies result in the possibility of allotting an amount of the Nile waters to one or the other of these territories, then the value of this amount as at Aswan shall be conducted in equal shares from the share of each of the two republics."

Pursuant to this sub-article, Egypt and Sudan cannot without consultations with each other conclude any agreement regarding the use of the Nile. This is a fact which I am sure is not hidden from the honorable Ambassador of Egypt. Unless Egypt is ready to defy its treaty commitments towards Sudan against international law, it cannot unilaterally affirm the right of Ethiopia and call for cooperation. Assuming that Egypt as a civilized state would not act contrary to international law at least theoretically, the speech of the Ambassador is a diplomatic effort intended to deceive Ethiopians who have started to take the issue more seriously.

Secondly, high-ranking Egyptian officials have repeatedly tried to evade the Nile issue at many press conferences. They have tried to pretend as if there was no objection in their utilization of the river from other riparian states. In practice, Egypt still continued to embark upon major projects on the Nile without the consultation of riparians. No Egyptian government official has so far recognized our interests. I do not think the Ambassador representing that country in Ethiopia was acting against the interest his country is pursuing but trying to fool us.

In any case, one shouldn't infer from the Ambassador's statements that Egypt is now willing to entertain claims of Ethiopia. That was just one of its tricky diplomatic games.