Egypt was elected to chair the African Union (AU) for the year 2019. Grabbing this opportunity, Egyptians were exhibiting excessive pride on their preparations and aspirations to revitalize the African continent through trade and infrastructure partnership and cooperation. The theme of AU’s summit for the 2019 was focusing on “Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons: Towards Durable Solutions to Forced Displacement in Africa”. The compatibility between the aspiration and the theme of the year was not seriously thought from the Egyptian side and Africa itself was silent on that. But there was one opportunity to fulfill the grand aspiration on infrastructural partnership and cooperation. That was the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and the Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement-CFA. But they missed it.
Egypt still advocates for the maintenance of status quo ante in consideration of the self-legitimatized 1929 and 1959 water agreements that estranged all the other Nile riparian states as sacrosanct. Such an unacceptable strategy left Egypt with individuality in the basin where reciprocity is highly compromised. The Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) provides a genuine legal and institutional platform for hydro-development anchored in hydro-equity. Egypt should primarily be committed to partnership platforms in its very domain (the Nile countries hydropolitical security complex) before embarking on a bigger pan-African platform. If Egypt aspires to play a constructive role through partnership and cooperative means, it should earnestly address this hydropolitical quagmire through interdependence and trust generation.
Egypt’s plan to advance cooperation in terms of infrastructure and security is still an issue to be addressed in the Nile hydropolitical security complex where poverty, underdevelopment, insecurity and climate change issues boldly crop up. Ethiopia and the other Nile riparian states have shown immense commitment for the advancement of hydro-cooperation in the Nile basin countries representing more than forty percent of Africa’s population. Turning a deaf ear to this grand and venerated objective on the one hand and sloganeering “we are back to Africa” is self-contradictory and paradoxical. The Nile riparian states have provided a wider hydro-cooperation space to ensure sustainable development in the security complex. Egypt should politically and realistically ally itself with the Nile basin club where hands are still stretched to embrace a cooperative state of mind.
Does Egypt know the relationship between the theme of the AU summit for 2019 and the real situations in the Nile basin countries? Millions of people get internally displaced because of underdevelopment which can be changed through the wise and equitable use of natural resources. One way to do this would be for Egypt to recognize the very natural rights of the other Nile riparian states to effectuate the fair and equitable entitlement of the Nile waters. Egypt, a hegemonic state in the Nile basin, has been in a state of denial since time immemorial about water sharing with other co-basin states. Ethiopia, as a source of 85% of the Nile, has broken such a trend through the promotion of equitable use of water. Ethiopia did not take its geographic advantage by building grandiose dam projects, as Turkey has done, on its own soil. The country has long sought for the amalgamation of a state of mind for hydro-equity, own source of initiative and financial resources, incremental ideational power and national plan strategies to dilute Egypt’s hegemonic power.
Egypt tried to garner support for its reputation from Africans while excluding the Nile issue from its engagement plan in the 2019 and beyond. Its new concentric circles of Pan-Africanism have a deep black hole at the common center where it doesn’t embrace the uninterrupted call for hydro-cooperation. Leaping forward by skipping the Nile issue doesn’t give it a stronghold in its conglomeration process of back to Africa. What is required from Egypt is principled win-win cooperation over the longest river in the world that is congruent with the universal aspiration of distributive justice in allocating international waters. If Egypt opts for partnership and cooperation, it should unconditionally join the CFA club and strengthen the common hydropolitical security. It is expected to discard its domineering ego. The only pragmatic way that can put an end to the impasse is to reconsider, sign and ratify the CFA that is embedded on the principles of fairness, equitability and win-win results. Undoubtedly, the Nile riparian states recognize the absolute necessity of the Nile waters to Egypt and its total dependence. They also know the rule and principle of ‘no significant harm’ that Egypt calls for now and then. Ethiopia is a unique example here because it has no intention whatsoever of using the Nile water resources unilaterally and in a disproportionate manner by bulldozing the rights of Egypt and other Nile riparian states.
While being stubborn, seeking to maintain the status quo ante of the colonial treaties in the Nile hydropolitical security complex at all costs (a very manageable security complex), Egypt has now appeared in a reformative mood by looking for a fairer partnership and cooperation in Africa which is an aggregation of many security complexes including the Nile Basin. Discouraged by Egypt’s foot-dragging tactics and urged by the level of poverty, unemployment and climate change, Ethiopia has been obliged to take unilateral development action that is anchored in a ‘no significant harm’ mindset. The CFA is an opportunity for Egypt to demonstrate its commitment for sustainable human development in Africa through promoting normative, institutional and cooperative framework in the Nile basin countries.
Egypt has been accused of pursuing a realist approach in the Nile basin countries. It used its diplomatic and political leverages to deprive the other Nile riparian countries, especially Ethiopia, from obtaining loans and financial assistance to undertake hydraulic projects on the courses and sub-basins of the Nile that flow within Ethiopia. Of late, Egypt is employing technical delaying mechanisms especially on arguing on the timeframe for filling-up the reservoirs of the GERD and it also engulfs Ethiopia in the name of military cooperation in its neighborhood and acquiring a vast swathe of land from Djibouti.
The CFA is a legal and institutional framework that helps to forge a cooperative and integrated management and development of the Nile waters. It has also been designed to pave the way in the creation of a permanent institutional mechanism, namely, the Nile River Basin Commission. As a principal riparian state on the Nile and in the Nile basin security complex, Egypt has to sign and ratify the CFA if it seeks long lasting partnership and cooperation. By so doing, it could serve as a catalyst for economic growth, poverty reduction, regional integration and the maintenance of peace and security in the basin and beyond. This is what real partnership and cooperation mean.
As was expressed by its Ambassador in Addis Ababa at the end of 2018, Egypt’s chairmanship would have witnessed great efforts in resolving conflicts in Africa. But Egypt has never mentioned the conflicts over the Nile waters where it mostly confronts with the source country of the Nile, Ethiopia. The Ambassador was also reiterating that Egypt’s readiness to exercise preventive diplomacy that includes, inter alia, the prevention of existing disputes from escalating into conflicts. In reality, unfortunately, Egypt has not exhibited in easing tensions in the Nile bloc but has rather continued to detract, through various political approaches, the maturation of the CFA. As stated earlier on, the CFA is a normative framework that promotes preventive diplomacy. If Egypt accords importance to Africa and if it wants to promote partnership and cooperation, it should embrace the CFA even after its AU chairmanship tenure and contribute for the significant reduction of the sufferings of refugees and internally displaced persons in the Nile basin countries.
Ed.’s Note: Leulseged Girma is a researcher at Institute for Strategic Affairs (ISA). The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter and ISA.