| IV. Abay
(Nile) in the news.
- Abey Tedla
Mr. Gregory Copley of the Insitute for Strategic Studies writes in an December 1998 assessment of Ethiopias Strategic value in regards to the Nile
"..Viewing the world in grand strategy terms, it can be said that every
state or region has an impact on global affairs; some, obviously, more
than others. But in Ethiopia's case, the impact can be significant:
the country is the source of the Blue Nile which is vital to the
economic and social (and therefore strategic) stability of Sudan
and Egypt. Those countries, in turn, are vital cogs in the regional
security matrix: Sudan is currently a cipher for Islamist radical
proselytization in North and sub-Saharan Africa; Egypt controls the
Suez Canal and is a vital component of Middle Eastern stability. And
so on. .."
With failure of rains resulting in drought conditions in parts of Ethiopia, Ethiopians are now even more keenly aware that water security is an inalienable and integral part of our overall National Security interests.
It is therefore not surprising that the Nile and the sometimes
heated negotiations between Riparian states make the news.
The Death of the
Road Across the Abay Gorge
The Death of the Road Across the Abay Gorge
The Monitor (Addis Ababa)
September 30, 1999
By Ayenew Haileselassie
Addis Ababa - The gorge dominates and overwhelms its viewers. As you enter into it from Dejen you see the twisting road ahead of you.
You lose it when it curves around a hill, and see it as it reappears at a higher level. If you look as far away and as high as your eyes could see, you feel like you lose sight of the road because it has at last penetrated into Heaven.
As your bus carefully snakes through the rocky cliffs you see here and there, suspended between tops of cliffs, the fluffy, milk-white clouds that are so beautiful that you can not take your eyes off them. You do not look up to these clouds, because your bus, like an aircraft is driving above the clouds, but without being airborne.
The tropical vegetation that brave the scorching sun seem to have acclimatized themselves to the uncomfortable topography. You see some plants peeping out through holes in the rocks like a reptile cautiously emerging out of its hideout.
Others are found with their many branched, exposed roots plastered to the sides of giant rocks pushing into any dent, crack or hole on the rocks like a cliff hanger. However, it is not a sight that allows you to freely enjoy and admire the scenery.
Look below you through the window, and you shiver; look above, and you tremble-a steep slope the depth of which you hate to imagine on one side, a vertical precipice the top of which you cannot see on the other. You see all along the declivity huge masses of rock, some of them several times bigger than the bus you are riding in, that are probably chipped off the precipice towering above you, and which seems to threaten to hurl more and bigger chunks at you.
There are more places than one when you move only vertically up or down. Your bus slogs cautiously forward along the spiraling road for minutes.
Then you look out the window and see the spot you passed minutes ago right below you. You have only moved a hundred metres sky ward and not an inch forward.
Amidst feelings of admiration and wonder, the concerns of an environmentalist and a survivor awaken in you. Even before you have reached the gorge you see erosion that is not checked even by trees.
The soil is massively eroded right under the roots of trees, so that many trees are on the verge of falling. Grasses appear to be much better off in protecting the soil.
The situation is aggravated by the ever expanding water courses that are cut by rain and wind. The gorge's characteristic appearance of extreme steepness together with the largely sandy and rocky composition account for the unchecked erosion in this part.
There are many places where you see huge amounts of sand, soil, and rock that came down in an avalanche. At places whole trees have tumbled down the slope.
Some passengers surmise that this was caused by the twelve ton rock that had blocked the road and had to be blasted by dynamite. There are a number of small streams in the gorge, some of which end up as small water falls, the rest you do not see where they end.
But at several places you see that the cliffs are very wet from the middle down, as water seeps out through them. To say that the cliffs are being washed and eroded to their eventual collapse may take a professional.
At one point where the entire declivity seems to be so loose, the road is so narrowed by the continuous sliding of soil and rock that only one bus could pass at a time. It does not look like it will hold for long.
The disintegration of this part of the road alone, which is probably not more than thirty or forty metres, will announce the end of the entire route across the gorge. And for me, lay as I am in matters of road construction, that seems to be an inevitable and soon-to-happen fate.
Allow me the liberty to declare that repairing this part is impossible, and detouring it is tantamount to making an entirely new road. One trip across the gorge shows you how the whole fabric is coming apart.
As you move up and out of the gorge, you look back to see below you the magnificent beauty, the width, the depth, and the raggedness. You also see the large strips of sloppy land where the surfaces have slided down with all the vegetation that had covered them.
And you see the snaking road-that near miraculous workmanship! However, did the original constructors manage to carve such a wondrous road out of such a gorge? Can we repeat it, at least in part? Both repeating it and not repeating it will have immense social and economic impact. I don't know if the concerened authorities have a clear-cut plan for this particular road.
The last time it was announced that the road would be closed for restoration, business people were fast to respond by increasing price of agricultural consumer iteMs. The project was stopped by the administration of the Amhara region-so I heard. In the past, when travellers crossed the gorge, they used to admire the beauty of the place and discuss whether or not the river was full.
That used to be a norm. Now nearly all express their fear at
how fast this road is being lost.
Ethiopia challenges Egypt over Nile water allocation
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, accusing Egypt of
proprietorial attitude over the waters of the Nile River, has called for
a new agreement to be negotiated between all 11 Nile riparian states
which allocates them equitable quotas of the river's waters.
In an interview published Tuesday in pan-Arab al-Hayat, he
warns Egypt that Ethiopian projects on the upper reaches of the Nile
will eventually reduce the amount of water flowing downstream to Sudan
and Egypt, despite a 1993 agreement which Egypt views as obliging
Ethiopia not to reduce the flow. And he argues that rather than trying
to block such schemes by opposing international funding for them, it
would be in Egypt's best interests to agree to a quota system that would
put a ceiling on future Ethiopian water use.
Cairo has traditionally strongly resisted any attempt to
amend the 1959 Egyptian-Sudanese agreement which allocates 55.5 billion
cubic meters (bcm) of Nile water annually to Egypt and 18.5 bcm to
Some 60 percent of the water in the main river is supplied by
Nile which rises in the Ethiopian highlands, as do other major
tributaries such as the Atbara and Sobat rivers.
About 30 percent of the water in the main river originates in
countries which form the basin of the White Nile, namely Zaire, Uganda,
Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and the Central African Republic.
Zenawi rejected the idea of amending the 1959 agreement to
Ethiopia, saying that agreement treated the other riparian states as
non-existent or irrelevant.
"Thus we believe the agreement began with a wrong step,
while what we
need is basically to treat the Nile basin as a single region and a
shared natural resource. If we deal with the issue of the Nile on that
basis, then we can discuss and agree a framework that allows the
countries along the Nile to find the best ways of exploiting its water
to the maximum," he said.
"I believe there is sufficient scope for a solution from
gains and which satisfies all parties. What we want to achieve is not
the amendment of a certain agreement, but a fresh start to the whole
issue based on the rule that it is possible to arrive at a formula in
which none of the parties are losers."
Zenawi went on in effect to renounce the agreement signed by
Ethiopia in July 1993 under which they undertook not to do anything to
the Nile that would do "appreciable harm" to the other side, and to form
a joint technical commission to work out details of future water use.
Egypt -- by far the biggest consumer of Nile water and lacking
sizeable water resources -- sees the agreement as preventing Ethiopia
from constructing major schemes on the Blue Nile or other tributaries
that would significantly reduce the flow in the main river.
Asked why the technical commission had failed to meet, Zenawi
was futile for it to discuss technical matters in the absence of a
political agreement on water-sharing.
And while conceding that Ethiopia had in the past been "part
problem" preventing an agreement from being reached, he charged that
Egypt was trying to maximize its use of Nile water in order to make it
impossible for an equitable quota system to be negotiated.
Zenawi said that when the new regime took power in Ethiopia in
of its main priorities was to "restructure" relations with Egypt and try
to reach agreement with it on the Nile.
"We were the first Ethiopian government to acknowledge
that the waters
of the Nile are not Ethiopia's private property... but a joint resource
which should be dealt with equitably. When we acknowledged that, we
proceeded to talk with the Egyptians on the basis of our new vision of
dealing with the Nile's water as a joint resource. We had hoped there
would be a direct response from the Egyptian side, but the negotiations
which preceded the signing of the memorandum of understanding were more
complex than we imagined," he said.
"Nevertheless we signed the agreement, but after that we
Egyptian side was continuing with its [water] projects in a manner that
was making a solution that satisfies all parties impossible to reach in
He charged that Egypt was preempting a future water-sharing
embarking on "huge projects" such as the Toshka canal -- which is
designed to irrigate 500,000 acres -- without consulting the other
"The Egyptians treated the waters of the Nile as though
they were a
purely Egyptian affair rather than one concerning all states in the
basin," he complained. "And they created facts on the ground that make
matters very difficult for the future. Hence, we felt we had entered
into a game stupidly. We were talking about sharing resources, while the
Egyptians were making that impossible in future. Therefore continuing
with the technical talks became, quite simply, a waste of time. Rather,
we felt we had to tackle a strategic issue."
Zenawi said Cairo and Addis Ababa still occasionally discuss
"and we feel there is greater Egyptian understanding of the Ethiopian
viewpoint than there was a year or more ago. But that does not mean
there is greater agreement. Nevertheless, greater understanding of the
Ethiopian position, even without agreement, is a major step forward."
He said the reason Ethiopia was refusing to discuss the matter
joint technical commission is that "the facts created by the Egyptians
on the ground are not technical, but political and strategic, and it is
impossible for technical teams to deal with them.
"There should have been a joint basis for understanding
that takes into
account first that the waters of the Nile are not Ethiopian, Egyptian or
Sudanese but a joint resource for the region, and secondly that the Nile
water should be allocated in quotas that maximize the benefits to all
states in the Nile basin. Once there is such a broad understanding, then
it would be possible for a technical commission to discuss details
within that framework. But without such a general understanding there
would be nothing for technical experts to discuss. That is what we
discovered after concluding the agreement [with Egypt]."
Zenawi went on to deny that damming projects which Ethiopia is
on violate the 1993 agreement. He said only two of the four dams
Ethiopia is currently building are on the Nile, and they do not reduce
the flow because they are hydroelectric dams that do not divert water
He conceded Ethiopia was working on irrigation schemes on the
but insisted these are small-scale projects "which do not affect the
flow of water in the Nile at the present stage."
However, he said Ethiopia needed to increase its water use in
and warned Egypt that it would not be able to prevent it from doing so
indefinitely by blocking international funding for Ethiopian water
projects as Cairo had done in the past.
"There are certain circles in Egypt which believe they
can prevent the
Ethiopians from benefiting from the Nile's waters by trying to prevent
them from obtaining external loans or funding... We must point out to
these circles that this is not a good bet, because Ethiopia will sooner
or later obtain funding for its projects on the Nile," Zinawi told
He added that the Egyptians should stop assuming Ethiopia
would not be
able to raise funds for schemes that reduce the flow of water
downstream, and instead aim for a solution which ensures that any
additional water it uses is in line with a new quota system to be agreed
by all the riparian states.
"To those of our Egyptian friends who feel the solution
lies in ensuring
Ethiopia is incapable of exploiting the Nile waters, we say this is not
a long-term solution. We must work together to find a fundamental and
successful solution," he said.
SUDAN: Turning to his country's tense relations with Sudan, Zenawi said
they would not improve unless Khartoum extradites the three Islamist
militants accused of involvement in the failed attempt on Egyptian
President Hosni Mubarak's life while he was attending the Organization
of African Unity (OAU) summit in Addis Ababa in 1995.
He rejected Khartoum's protestations of innocence, noting that
of the Sudanese security forces' involvement in the plot was compelling
enough to prompt the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on Sudan.
"The evidence we presented shows that the Sudanese
were involved in facilitating the attempt to assassinate President
Mubarak in cooperation with a group linked to al-Gama'a al-Islamiya.
Regardless of whether Sudan confirms or denies this, the facts are clear
to us, to the Security Council and to the OAU."
Zinawi said if the Sudanese government agreed to extradite the
suspects, that would demonstrate that Sudan is not a haven for
terrorists. "Before such a change occurs in Sudanese policy, we cannot
establish good relations with Sudan."
He went on to charge that the reason the Islamist regime in
facing both strong domestic opposition and hostility from several of its
neighbors is its "hardline political orientation" and ideology. Ideally,
if political reforms currently under way in Sudan remain rooted in the
same ideology "I don't believe this will lead to domestic accord or to
peace in the region."
However, Zinawi adamantly denied Ethiopia was supporting
committed to the overthrow of the regime, or allowing them to operate
out of its territory.
"The Sudanese government knows full well that there are
clashes across the Sudanese-Ethiopian border," he said. "Of course,
there are Sudanese groups which oppose the Sudanese regime and are
fighting inside Sudan, but there is not a single Sudanese dissident or
opposition group or Ethiopian soldiers based in Ethiopia who launch
attacks from it against Sudan. There are no forces of that kind, and the
Sudanese regime knows there are no cross-border operations. We never
planned any such thing, because that would go against our constitution
and we are not allowed to do that."
Copyright 1998 Mideast Mirror
EGYPT: Nilotic Disputation
SUBJECT: The development of water resources in the Nile
SIGNIFICANCE: A strategy coordinated among the ten riparian
states could lead to greater exploitation of water resources
for both consumption and power generation. However, Egypt's
opposition to amending the 1959 Nile Waters Agreement is
ANALYSIS: The Nile has been perceived in Egypt as a vital
resource for over 5,000 years. It provides Egypt -- either
directly from the river or indirectly from groundwater -- with
about 99% of current water supply, but only about 80% of
current needs. Egypt has to import annually a further 10
cubic kilometres (cuk) of 'virtual water' -- the water
embedded in water-intensive commodities such as cereals (see
OADB, February 23, 1998, V). The country uses 40 cuk of Nile
water annually (of which it re-uses a high proportion) in
agriculture and a further 6 cuk in the industrial and domestic
sectors. In addition, the planned South Valley Development
Project (see OADB, February 4, 1997, V) will involve the
diversion of about 5 cuk of water from the river into the new
Toshka canal in order to irrigate reclaimed desert land, when
it is completed in an estimated 20 years; however, due to
shifts in proposed cropping priorities, the impact on overall
water usage may be less.
The Nile is an important economic resource for Egypt, but not
a determining one. It is, however, still perceived by Egypt
to be an essential foundation for national economic and
strategic security, and national policy reflects this belief.
Other East African countries have similar perceptions:
1. Sudan. The Nile is of major economic significance to
Sudan. As yet, however, it uses only about 80% of its 18.5
cuk of river water, which represents 25% of the average annual
flow, as agreed with Egypt in 1959.
3. East African states. The Blue Nile will remain an
important, but potential, economic resource for Ethiopia until
further shifts in riparian and international relations take
place. For Eritrea, the volumes of Nile water available now
and in the future are negligible. However, for the semi-arid
East African riparians -- Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania -- Lake
Victoria and the White Nile and its tributaries are important
potential resources for irrigation. The Owens Falls Dam, at
the exit of the Nile from Lake Victoria, is already a major
source of hydro-power for Uganda.
4. Great Lakes states. Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic
Republic of Congo (DRC) (the former Zaire) have little current
or potential use for the waters from the White Nile
tributaries in their part of the catchment. The DRC is a
potential 'water superpower' because of the high and constant
rainfall over its other equatorial catchments. Its water
resources are being examined with great interest by the
governments of those states in southern Africa which endure
serious water deficits.
Historical factors. Downstream states tend to occupy flat
land, which is easy to irrigate. In the case of Egypt, the
Nile has been used for flood-recession crop production for
over 5,000 years. The sophistication of the irrigation
systems has been progressively improved, especially in this
century. Meanwhile, the population has grown to such an
extent that demand started to exceed the supply required for
self-sufficiency in water and food in the early 1970s.
Nevertheless, most Egyptians believe strongly that if they can
retain their present share of its flow, the Nile will secure
their future and that their pattern of prior use entitles them
to the Nile flow which they have enjoyed to date.
Accordingly, Egyptian negotiators advocate the principles of
'prior use' and 'no harm' which underpin one set of legal
arguments relating to the management of shared international
Typically mountainous upstream countries generate flow and
lend themselves to dam structures for the control of flow and
for the generation of power. Ethiopia is an outstanding case.
It contributes the total flow of the Blue Nile system and
about 10% of White Nile flow. About 85% of the combined flow
of both systems which reaches Khartoum comes from Ethiopia.
Ethiopia's hydropower is at present mainly generated on the
Awash River rather than the Nile, while its use of Nile water
for irrigation is so far negligible.
Hydropolitics. The resulting hydropolitics involve Egypt,
with support from Sudan, arguing for the status quo and
opposing upstream development. Cairo bases its case on the
concept of the 'integrity of the river basin'. The upstream
riparians, particularly Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, argue
strongly for hydropower and consumption-related development
now, deploying the 'no harm' principle as a basis for their
case that their economies have been damaged by the
underdevelopment of the resources in their territory.
The upstream and downstream riparians differ on the key issue
of the 1959 Nile Waters Agreement negotiated by Egypt and the
newly independent Sudan. They agreed to share the average
flow between them, allocating 75% to Egypt and 25% to Sudan.
The other riparians were invited to endorse the agreement, but
declined. Upstream riparians, seeking a share of the water,
regard the renegotiation of the 1959 agreement as the starting-
point of any further substantive discussions on the Nile. By
contrast, Egypt and Sudan regard acceptance of the agreement
as the starting-point. Agreement on this will be facilitated
by the growth and diversification of the Egyptian economy,
which should gradually change the Egyptian perception of the
determining role of the Nile.
International factors. The end of the Cold War has changed
the political and economic context of the arguments, if not
the assumptions of the riparians. The political realignment
of states such as Ethiopia has been accompanied by the removal
from the disputes of the element of superpower rivalry.
Bilateral international support, for example from USAID, is no
longer complicated by interventions by the former Soviet Union
and its allies. The international agencies, led by the World
Bank, recognise the development needs of the upstream
riparians, particularly Ethiopia. The Nile will be an
important economic factor in the overall plan for economic
development in the Horn of Africa.
In the meantime, however, the World Bank and other agencies
are constrained by one of the bank's operating directives --
OD 7.50 -- which states that no grants or loans can be made
for a water project on an international water resource in the
territory of one riparian without the agreement of the other
riparians. The developmental dividends from developing on the
Ethiopian tributaries both power generation and consumptive
use (by storing water in the relatively low evaporative
circumstances of the Ethiopian highlands) are enormous. The 3-
metre depth of water evaporated from the river in the area of
Lake Nasser each year could be reduced significantly if this
reservoir was managed as part of a comprehensive international
approach involving Ethiopia.
Late last year, the World Bank recommended a shift in emphasis
towards projects based on new criteria rather than past
assumptions centred on the 'integrity' of the whole basin.
This approach is viewed with great suspicion by Cairo and
Khartoum. Their continued advocacy of the integrity of the
whole basin implies opposition to any change upstream.
Meanwhile, upstream riparians are adopting subordinate
frameworks of analysis, such as the sub-basin and even the
principle of subsidiarity.
The World Bank is now focusing on trying to bring together
riparian states at sub-basin level, thereby reducing the
number of conflicting interests involved. It is also re-
examining its regulations to see if it can extend loans to
Ethiopia unilaterally for projects which do not affect flow
significantly. However, Cairo remains in a strong position to
defend the status quo for the foreseeable future .
CONCLUSION: While Egypt should be able to solve its own water
deficit problem by continued imports of 'virtual water' for
the foreseeable future, and while economic and environmental
arguments support the development of upstream resources,
Egyptian perceptions are likely to change more slowly.
However, Cairo's stance is unlikely to be sustainable in the
long term, especially if the World Bank and other agencies can
offer sufficient inducements to encourage such a shift.
To Addis Tribune Editor
I am a regular reader of your on-line newspaper and have
enjoyed it very
much for the last year or so. This message is in response to your request
to Ethiopian men and women who live abroad to comment on the current
historical moment. While there will not be enough space to comment on all
aspects of this juncture in our country's history, my message will focus on
what I think is going to be a very strategic issue that will come to the
forefront in few years - the issue of Nile water politics.
The main motivation here is the fact that most of the comments
newspapers are antagonistic and shortsighted towards Ethiopia's main
partner in the Nile water politics, Egypt. The current war in the North
against Shabia has made things much worse with accusations that Egypt has
taken sides against Ethiopia. While there is no conclusive evidence that
proves or disproves Egypt's alleged involvement in this war, the wise thing
for us Ethiopians and the government, in particular, is to engage Egypt and
its leaders in a dialogue that is backed by a strong diplomacy. The
contention here is that Ethiopia's short-term and long-term interests are
better served through a friendly relationship with Egypt rather than that
of confrontation. Historically, Egyptian media has also been notorious in
promoting mistrust and confrontation between the two countries. For
example, Egypt's popular and influential daily, the Al-Ahram is not known
for its sensitivity in its articles and commentaries that deal with the
Nile. That, however, still should not be used as an excuse for backing away
In an act of nature rarely paralleled elsewhere in the Globe,
the fates of
Egypt and Ethiopia are forever intertwined through the mighty Abay. The
Blue Nile supplies 87% of the water of the Nile and millions of tons of
topsoil that Egypt's survival has crucially depended on since the beginning
of time. Egypt's dependence on the Nile River will grow more as its
population reaches the 65 million mark only in a few years time. The
mega-project Egypt is undertaking in carrying the waters of the Nile to the
Sinai desert through a canal ("Peace Canal") to irrigate as much as 600,000
acres is part of its preparation to handle the needs of its ever-growing
population. The $2 billion dollar New Valley project that Egyptian
engineers hope will annually pump about 6.5 billion cubic yards of Nile
water to irrigate Western Egypt is also a major undertaking the Egyptians
are furiously working on. As we prepare for the 21-st century, all
indications are that not only do the Egyptians realize this fact but also
they are taking the necessary measures to safeguard the flow of this source
of life - the Nile River.
Moreover, it is no secret that the Egyptian diplomatic
contingent in Addis
Ababa had always consisted of an expert on the Nile River whose primary job
is to monitor Ethiopia's activities in the Abay basin. It is also
interesting to note that, as reported by a major US paper in 1998 (Wall
Street Journal), the US has also opened a so-called "environmental hub" at
its embassy in Addis Ababa that is staffed by American environmental
scientists monitoring the politics and engineering of the Nile River. This,
of course, reflects the American concern that water politics will be a
major source of regional confrontations and conflicts in the coming 21-st
century in many parts of the world such as ours, the Middle East and parts
Lately, particularly in the past 5-7 years, Egypt has been
pushing for a
re-negotiation of the agreement on the Nile of 1959, which by the way was
never recognized by Ethiopia. All this is an indication that the Egyptians
do recognize that the dramatic increase in population in their country and
the Nile basin countries like Ethiopia will necessitate the change of
arrangement that exists today. From their perspective, a re-negotiation is
not only a necessity but also something that has to come soon. Egyptians
seem to have two options to achieve this objective. The first option is
that of diplomacy backed by ambitious projects like the New Valley and
Peace Canal projects that already demand a huge allocation of the waters of
the Nile. Egypt is poised to argue that its share of the waters of the Nile
should account the demand of these huge projects. The second option Egypt
seems to have is its ability to cause instability in Ethiopia by training
and arming hostile forces in Ethiopia's neighborhood such as Somali
warlords and, of course, the Shabia. While Ethiopia gets bentangled in these
conflicts and its resources are allocated to repel such attacks, Egypt may
have a freehand in the use of the Nile water. At this point, Egypt seems to
pursue, at least publicly, the first option. It is also reasonable to
expect that the pressure from the international bodies such as the World
Bank and the Americans may convince the Egyptians that a fair
re-negotiation rather than confrontation might serve their interests
better. This however shouldn't rule out the possibility of the presence of
radical and shortsighted elements in the Egyptian establishment that may
advocate the second option.
The question for us Ethiopians is, then: what are Ethiopia's
answer is perhaps simple. Just like Egypt, Ethiopia's options are to either
negotiate an equitable arrangement that addresses our needs and also
accommodates Egypt's thirst for its life-line or ignore negotiation and be
ready for a confrontation that will leave us in a much worse position than
we are now today. The choices should not be difficult for the Ethiopian
people and the government. Our population is growing at a faster rate than
most other countries and it will hit the 100 million mark in 15-25 years
time. The waters of the Abay river basin and its tributaries will have to
be used for irrigation and power generation in the very near future if we
are to able to feed our burgeoning population and meet its demand for
energy. It is very much unrealistic to expect Ethiopia not to use the
resources of the Abay river in the coming years.
Our response to this challenge should start with the government undertaking
a major reassessment of the country's short-term and long-term policy on
the Nile river and formulating a working guideline. The country's best
minds in public and government policy-making, geopolitics, hydrology,
food-security, national security etc should form the core of the body that
has to devise these policies. This should be supplemented by a top-notch
world-class diplomatic presence in Cairo. The importance of maintaining an
experienced and professional diplomatic presence in Egypt can not be
overemphasized. Political appointees in such sensitive areas cause more
damage to Ethiopia's interest and the government needs to realize that a
correct and wise decision at this juncture will save Ethiopia and
Ethiopians lots of headache and trauma at a later stage. Many people can
attest to the fact Ethiopia had an able and professional diplomatic
presence in Egypt in the late 80's that engaged Egypt in a fruitful
dialogue that resulted in not only a significant increase in bilateral
trade and business relationships but also helped neutralize Shabia's
presence and influence in Cairo. Shabia was reduced to assuming an obscure
and unofficial presence just with an effective Ethiopian diplomacy. That
period demonstrated that Egypt and Ethiopia have a lot to gain from an
economic and cultural partnership. While Ethiopia can supply Egypt with
coffee, hides and skin and the like, it could at the same time also import
construction material such as rolled steel sections, textile, machinery,
plastics and pharmaceuticals at a very competitive price.
With this, Ethiopia should be able to assert its legitimate
rights on the
river Nile and at the same time deprive its enemies one more source of
support. An added advantage of this forward looking policy, if adopted and
exercised will be the freeing up of the county's resources to tackle the
fundamental bread-and-butter issues such as development of the country and
Samuel Kinde, PhD, PE
The latest in the round of negotiations to arrive at a fair
policy of nile resources
ADDIS ABABA, May 14 (Reuters) - Nine states of the Nile Basin
to cooperate in sharing access to water from the river but remain divided over
who should finance and lead the effort, officials said on Friday.
Water ministers from the nine states ended a two-day meeting
in Ethiopia on
Thursday night without issuing a joint statement.
They agreed to set up a secretariat in Uganda, but diplomatic
they disagreed over who would lead it and how its budget would be financed.
Officials nevertheless played down the differences.
"Despite pitfalls here and there, the group is heading
into a new era of
cooperation based on equitable and sustainable use of the Nile waters,"
Mussa Nkhangaa, Tanzania's water minister and outgoing chairman of the Nile
Basin ministerial council, told Reuters.
"We have agreed on a shared vision. We are now entering
into workable and
practical basin-wide and sub-basin projects that will address real issues
that affect our peoples," he said.
The states aim to renegotiate a controversial 1959 agreement
and Sudan in which the two countries divided the rights to use the bulk of
the Nile's waters between themselves.
The other eight Nile Basin states -- Burundi, the Democratic
Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda -- all want
greater access to the Nile's waters and they hope to draw up a new
Eritrea did not take part in this week's meeting because it is
at war with
the conference host Ethiopia, but the charge d'affaires from its embassy
attended the opening ceremony.
Up to 250 million people from some of the world's poorest
on the waters of the 6,700 km (4,200 mile) Nile River for their livelihood.
The Blue Nile, which contributes up to 86 percent of the Nile's
originates in Ethiopia's Lake Tana, meeting the White Nile in Sudan's
capital Khartoum before continuing to the Mediterranean.
More on the Nile
Radio Ethiopia (May 16) told its listeners that Ethiopia,
Egypt and Sudan
have formed the East Nile Joint Committee through their ministers of water
resources. The joint committee is charged with the task of making strategic
studies and designing the implementation of the joint projects on the
utilization of hydroelectricity, irrigation and other projects by the three
Nile basin states. Subsequent meetings are scheduled to be held soon. The
committee is expected to submit the strategies for the utilization of the
Nile waters at the forthcoming meeting of riparian states and international
Eyes on the Nile
Addis Ababa - Ethiopia's position: equitable utilization: The government daily Addis Zemen (May 13) wrote that Ethiopia has reiterated its position for an equitable utilization of the resources of the Nile for effective and sustainable development of all concerned towards a shared vision amongst the nine basin countries, Ato Werede Wold Wolde, Minister of Justice and Guest of Honor at the 7th ordinary session of the Nile Cooperation Council of Ministers meeting, said.
The two-day meeting deliberated on a report submitted by the Technical Advisory Committee which had earlier been working on various project proposals to be submitted to the council. Ministers of water resources of all the nine Nile riparian states attended the meeting.
Consensus for cooperation
According to Monitor (May 13), the conference opened on May 12 with calls by several speakers for cooperation for an equitable utilization of the resources of the Nile for mutual benefit. The speakers from Ethiopia, Tanzania and Egypt stressed that cooperation among the Nile basin states was essential for achieving sustainable socio-economic development within the region. They stated that this could be attained through an equitable utilization of the Nile water resources. In opening the conference, Ethiopian Minister of Justice Werede Wold Wolde said his country had made its position clear in the past as regards the equitable utilization of the resources of the Nile for effective and sustainable development of all concerned. "We are all on equal footing to resolve all contentious issues regarding this," he said.
Tanzanian minister of water and outgoing chairman of Nile Council of Ministers (COM), Mussa S.K. Nkhangaa, said the objective of the series of such meetings that began in Kampala, Uganda, in 1992, was to foster cooperation for the sustainable and equitable utilization of the nile water resources. He said important tasks have been accomplished since then towards this objective by Nile COM and its technical committee (TECCONILE). "We are now entering into workable and practical basin-wide and sub-regional projects that will address issues that affect our people," Nkhangaa said. He pointed out that the ground has now been reasonably leveled "to justify securing investment for development of water resources for the benefit of all people in the basin."
Egyptian Minister of Works and Water Resources, Mahmoud Abu-Zeid, said the Addis Ababa conference opens a new chapter in the history of cooperation between the Nile basin countries, "who share an invaluable resource between them." He stated that on the eve of the new millennium, it is clear from trends around the globe that regional integration is the way to the future.
Going towards investment projects
At the end of the conference, Radio Ethiopia (May 14) reported that the 7th Nile Cooperation Council of Ministers meeting wound up after adopting important decisions to foster cooperation among the nine Nile basin states. A foreign ministry legal affairs director Seife Selassie Lemma told reporters the meeting took steps towards facilitating investment in irrigation and hydroelectric power utilization projects at the national level for riparian states. Accordingly, the D-3 Water Resource Distribution Project is expected to facilitate ways for a fair and equitable share of the waters of the Nile within a nine-month period.
Copyright (c) 1999 Ethiopia: Seven Days Update.
Let's Use Our
Addis Ababa - The news about drought-caused food crisis in
some parts of the country was a sad one (The Monitor, May 13,
Since the country is fighting to restore its sovereignty over its territories occupied by Eritrea, it can be said that the drought has opened another important front seeking attention and resources. In this respect, one must take note of the fact that the era of 'concealing' disasters for political considerations has passed.
Pertinent authorities have been informing the nation and the world on the magnitude of the problem and the required assistance. But the recurrence of rain failures and the resultant food scarcity forces one to question the adequacy of the current method of agriculture in this country.
Maybe the time is right for putting more emphasis on irrigation. Ethiopia needs to cast its eyes more on its rivers than on the skies, irrespective of the interdependence between the two sources.
Copyright (c) 1999 The Monitor - Addis Ababa.
Ethiopia, Egypt, and the
Nile: An Historical Fantasy,
Addis Ababa - The Portuguese, Ludolf, and Le Grand: The Nile
Shattered We saw last week that many Ethiopian and foreigners of yesteryear
thought that the rulers of Ethiopia could divert the course of the Nile.
Now read on:
Waning Belief in the Practicability of Nile Diversion
The arrival in Ethiopia of the Portuguese diplomatic mission,
in 1520, and
the publication, in 1540, of Alvares's report on it, represented an
important development. It vastly expanded European knowledge of the
country, and led to its steady demystification. European interest in the diversion
of the Nile accordingly began to wane. Speculation tended thereafter to focus
more on Ethiopia's military might, which Alvarez had witnessed, than on the
country's reputed control over the river.
European belief in Ethiopia's supposed ability to divert the
nevertheless died slowly. It was voiced by two notable early seventeenth
century travellers to the East. William Lithgow, a Scotsman, claimed, in
1616, that the Turkish sultan paid the ruler of Ethiopia an annual tax of
50,000 gold coins, "lest he impede and withdraw the course of Nylus, and so
bring Aegypt to desolation". A decade or so later, a Spaniard, Antonio of
Castelon, likewise reiterated that the Ethiopian ruler had control over the
Nile, for which reason his subjects were exempt from taxation in Turkish
The Jesuit "Discovery" of the Source of the Nile
The coming to Ethiopia of the Jesuits, and their "discovery"
of the source
of the Nile, in April 1618, was of major importance. It removed much of the
mystery still surrounding both the Nile, and the land in which it flowed.
This made the difficulty of diverting the river increasingly apparent. The
new, post-medieval, view was stated succinctly by a leading Jesuit writer,
Baltazar Tellez. He declared, emphatically, that the Nile, with its immense
mass of water, could not be re-directed over the vast area suggested,
particularly as it was the site of steep and rugged mountains.
Later in the century, the German scholar Ludolf was greatly
the question "whether it be in the power of the Abyssine Kings to divert
the Course of the Nile, that it should not overflow Egypt?". He discussed the
matter with his Ethiopian friend and informant, Abba Gorgoreyos. Asked if
he knew the story of Patriarch Michael of Alexandria reportedly dispatched to
Ethiopia over half a millennium earlier, Gorgoreyos replied in the
He stated, however, that he had "heard from persons of great Credit" that
"not far from the Cataracts of the Nile, all the Land toward the East" was
"level"; and that, but for a single mountain, the river would "rather flow
that way, than into Egypt".
Gorgoreyos believed that if this mountain were "digg'ed
through, a thing to
be done with pains and difficulty", the river's course might be "turn'd and
carry'd into the Red-Sea". This, he thought, was "well known" to both the
Turks and the Portuguese, and that it was for that reason that the
Ethiopian Emperors had obtained "advantageous Conditions from the Saracens".
Gorgoreyos added that it was said that an Ethiopian emperor had once had
"an intention" to divert the Nile, "and had commanded his Subjects to undertake
the Work", but had been "prevail'd upon to desist at the entreaty of the
Despite his admiration for Gorgoreyos, Ludolf accepted the
on the Nile only reservedly. Doubtless influenced by the Jesuits, he doubted
the country's ability to divert the river. He admitted that the question
had "much perplex'd him", but was inclined to believe that the task of raising
"a Mole or Dam of Stones" required "so much toyl and labour" that it was in
"no way" agreeable to "the nature of the Abessins". He felt moreover that
it was "unlikely that so vast a River, so long accustom'd to a declining and
headlong Course", could be diverted. He argued that, if the Ethiopian
monarch really controlled the Nile, he would "have had all Egypt at his
Devotion", for the Turks would "deny him nothing" Moreover, if the project
had been practicable, he wondered why the Jesuits had not persuaded the
Ethiopians to make use of "that Power which Nature had put into their
hands", and why they had not used "Threats rather than Intreaties and
Bribes" to obtain the facilities they enjoyed at the Red Sea ports by the
favor of their Turkish governor.
"Near the Cataracts"
Despite these reservations, the German scholar felt that the
might be possible, not from the Ethiopian heartland, which lay "many
Leagues distant from the Sea", but rather, as Gorgoreyos had suggested, from
territory "near the Cataracts", i.e. towards Sudan. Such action, he
declared, was, however, no longer politically possible. The Ethiopian
monarch no longer ruled the areas whence the river could be re-directed.
Ludolf therefore concluded that what might have been done in the past was
no longer possible. It was not that "the nature of the place" obstructed the
river's diversion but that the Emperor lacked "the Power" to carry it out,
or had "no inclination" to do so. Were it not for that, Ludolf could not
think it either "absurd" or "improbable" that the Ethiopian rivers might be
conveyed through the sandy lowlands to the north, and thus produce a "vast
diminution of the Egyptian Stream". To do so, it would, however, be
necessary to employ "skilful Artists", to survey the area, and establish
the places "most proper to carry off the Water".
Ludolf was the last serious student of Ethiopia, prior to the
to take the Nile diversion seriously.
The Abbe Joachim Le Grand
By the early eighteenth century the idea that the Ethiopians
the Nile was largely rejected in Europe. This is apparent in the writings
of the French cleric Abbe Joachim Le Grand. Writing in 1726, he declared that
Abyssinia was "most full of mountains", some so high that the Alps were
"mere hills in comparison", while the Nile lay over a hundred leagues from
the Red Sea. After reviewing all available historical data, he declared:
"We do not pretend that a canal cannot be dug from the Nile to the Red-Sea, but
the Abyssinians cannot do it".
Emperor Takla Haymanot, and James BruceBelief in the
diverting the Nile nevertheless lingered on in Ethiopia. Early in the
eighteenth century Emperor Takla Haymanot (1706-1708), infuriated that a
French ambassador, Lenoir du Roule, and Murad, an Armenian trader, had been
detained by the Muslim rulers of Sennar, wrote a strong protest to the
Pasha of Cairo. In it he declared that the detention violated "the law of
nations", and continued:
"We could very soon repay you in kind if we were inclined
to revenge the
insult you have offered to the man Murad on our part; the Nile would be
sufficient to punish you, since God hath put in our power his foundation,
his outlet, and his increase, and that we can dispose of the same to do you
The Egyptian pasha was probably not impressed, for the belief
Ethiopians could divert the Nile had by then evaporated. Bruce was emphatic
about this. Writing a little over half a century later, he declares that
"no sensible man in Abyssinia" believed that the diversion of the Nile was
possible, "and few that it had ever been attempted" Such was the
traveller's final judgement, and that of his generation.
The medieval belief that the rulers of Ethiopia could divert
the waters of
the Nile, and thereby ruin Egypt, exercised a major, and long enduring,
influence over Ethiopians, Egyptians, and Europeans, for half a millennium.
Threats were made, fears expressed, prayers uttered, hopes voiced, and
travellers' tales published. The myth that the Nile had, or could, be re-
directed by the misnamed-named Prester John, became a feature of
Ethio-Egyptian statecraft, a question of direct relevance to the Coptic
Church, an item on the agenda of Christian European diplomacy, and even,
far away, a subject of Italian creative literature.
There is, however, little evidence that the Ethiopians ever
made plans for
the diversion of the Nile, let alone that they executed them. Variations in
the annual flow of water reaching Egypt were the result of erratic rainfall
in the Ethiopian highlands rather than of action on part of their rulers.
One may even doubt whether changing the course of the Nile, however much
desired, or feared, ever lay within the technological possibilities of the