Ethiopian expert on the Nile Basin, Ambassador Ibrahim Endris has debunked claims that Egypt, one of the downstream countries, solely owns the Nile and has exclusive historical rights over its utilization.
This, he said on Monday September 5, while addressing participants of the first regional high-level conference of the Nile Upper Reparian Countries cooperation Conference taking place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Egypt has since 2011 when Ethiopia broke ground on the $5-billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) expressed discontent about the project.
The power plant, largest in Africa, whose funding is entirely from government of Ethiopia and her nationals both within and outside the country, is considered as a turning point to Ethiopia’s economic problems. On completion, it will produce more than 5,000 megawatts, doubling Ethiopia’s current electricity output.
Egypt is against the project on grounds that it will allegedly endanger Cairo’s water share that it acquired in the 1959 treaty. The treaty, which Ethiopia was not part of, allocated 66% of the river’s flow to Egypt.
Cairo also says GERD is unilaterally constructed – that is, it is being constructed without the permission of Egypt, and that the dam is a threat to Egypt’s safety.
The Nile River, the longest watercourse in the world has 11 reparian countries. The largest volume of the Nile river, amounting to about 85% of the water reaching Egypt originates from the highlands of Ethiopia.
Referring to the Principle of equitable and reasonable utilization of trans-boundary water resources and the Comprehensive Framework Agreement (CFA) signed in Dar es Salaam in 2010, Ambassador Ibrahim Endris, who is also a member of GERD negotiating team, says Ethiopia, just like any other Reparian Countries, has all the rights to use natural resources in its country to improve the lives of the people.
He says that there is no agreement or law that requires Ethiopia to seek permission from Egypt to use the Nile water.
“Under international law, Ethiopia’s right to construct the GERD is fully respected. There is an expression of Ethiopia’s right on equitable and reasonable utilization of common water resources which is not subject to any agreement with Egypt,” Ambassador Endris explains.
“We (Ethiopia) have never gone into any agreement with Egypt in the past on River Nile. There is no international treaty limiting Ethiopia’s right to make use of Nile Water. Any argument against such a right should certainly be based on a treaty and like I said, there is currently no treaty between Ethiopia and Egypt”
“Therefore, the 1959 treaty which Egypt frequently invokes is not applicable to Ethiopia – Ethiopia was not party to it,” he adds.
He says Egypt was party to Declaration of Principles (DOP) thus fully endorsing the dam, explicitly downplaying claims that Ethiopia has not engaged other countries on GERD.
“It endorsed the reality that the dam is in existence including appreciating the safety measures undertaken by Ethiopia which are clearly indicated in Principle 8 of the DOP. So recognition was fully given by Egypt in 2015 when it signed the DOP. Ethiopia has a right to construct the dam, to make use of its water and to develop infrastructure projects in the country. These are rights Egypt is working hard to violate yet there is no treaty or agreement between them and Ethiopia,” explains Ambassador Endris.
Debunking the Egypt’s claims
On safety of the dam, Ambassador Endris says consultations were widely done and found safe, and that the Contractors for the GERD are World Class companies with experience spanning decades in different countries building dams.
“There is no doubt about their expertise and capacity,” he says.
He adds that by signing the DOP in 2015, Egypt acknowledged the safely measures Ethiopia is undertaking since there is a clear provision to that effect in the DOP (Principle 7 paragraph one).
On claims that GERD construction is a unilateral project, Ambassador Ibrahim says, “In the first place there is no treaty limiting Ethiopia’s right to build a water related infrastructure within its territory. The Egyptians have been building their own projects for several years utilizing the water resources and no Reparian country has interfered with it.”
“Also, according to the DOP, the three countries agreed in Principle 5A that the development of guidelines and rules on the filling of the GERD would be taken in parallel with the construction of the dam. So you can not tell the other party to stop the project, it is parallel. It meant that discussions can proceed as the construction also progresses,” he adds.
On claims that GERD endangers the water share that Egypt acquired in 1959, Ambassador Endris noted, “It is a fact that River Nile is a common water resource, it is for everybody in the Nile Basin. All countries in the basin share the Nile. Ethiopia and other upstream countries have an equitable and reasonable share of the Nile water – it is a common property.”
“This fact is also indicated in the DOP signed by Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia in 2015. Principle four of the DOP underscores the equitable and reasonable utilization of River Nile water by the three countries,” he adds.
Is Egypt frustrating negotiations so far despite Ethiopia’s readiness?
According to Ambassador Ibrahim Endris, Egypt is being selfish and only seeking to maintain the status quo of being the dominant Reparian country using the Nile for development projects.
“There is no good faith and cooperation on the part of Egypt. This lack of good will is even provided in its constitution that the Nile River is its historical property and that no one should touch a drop of it. They claim that they will not allow the upstream reparian countries to use even a single drop of water from their share (Share they got in the 1959 treaty),” he reiterates.
“Egypt is not willing to reach a win-win situation because there is an obstacle already in their constitution. The provision in their constitution says that the water belongs to Egypt and Egyptian authorities have the right to defend or protect that Principle”
“This is the reason they are not ready to resolve the problem on the principle of equitable and reasonable utilization of River Nile waters. Egypt therefore wants to maintain the Status quo,” he adds.
He says Ethiopia has expressed its readiness to negotiate, to discuss and to compromise but from the Egyptian side, there is no compromise. Considering the 1959 treaty, Cairo has already indicated that there is ‘a red line’ that should not be exceeded by other Reparian Countries.
“They say the water belongs to Egypt and no drop of water will be touched by upstream countries including Ethiopia,” noted Ambassador Endris.
Spotlight on Ethiopia’s readiness for negotiations
Ethiopia has since 2011 initiated and engaged in rotational trilateral negotiations for a collective gain including but not limited to International Panel of Experts between May 2012 and May 2013, and a Tripartite National Committee between 2013 – 2016 with 4 members from each country established by water Affairs Ministers leading to the DOP.
Ethiopia is not to blame for the delay of the negotiations on GERD, Ethiopia is not an obstacle to negotiations as Egypt frequently alleges, says Ambassador Endris.
“Negotiations require cooperation, goodwill and compromise from all sides in the dispute which we are not seeing from Egypt’s side,” he adds.
He says the Principle of equitable and reasonable utilization of water resource is one that should reconcile the two countries.
“This Principle has become a cornerstone of the UN water convention. It is fundamental doctrine guiding all international water related agreements. The Principle is the best tool for achieving justice in shared water resources and it is the best means of resolving conflicts but Egypt is not ready to accept it,” notes Ambassador Ibrahim.
“All countries in the region including Egypt and Ethiopia have the obligation to work towards the realization of the Principle of equitable and reasonable utilization of River Nile water that is why Ethiopia insists that this is the principle that should guide the negotiations,” he adds.
Egypt’s Foreign policy relating to Nile water
Egypt’s water policy is fundamentally to ensure the status quo in the flow of the Nile water as indicated in the 1959 agreement, according to Ambassador Endris.
Article 44 of Egyptian constitution of 2014 is the case in point. The article provides that the Government of Egypt should protect the historical rights of Nile.
“Ethiopia and Sudan are negotiating with Egypt which has a clear position in its constitution of protection that historical position”
“Therefore, this means other Reparian States could and can not utilize the Nile water without Cairo’s permission. In other words, for Egypt, the use of the Nile water by other countries would endanger its share of the Nile water which it claims under the 1959 treaty,” he says.
According to Ambassador Ibrahim Endris, Egypt is currently engaged in an extensive diplomatic campaign against GERD by claiming that constructing GERD to generate clean energy, with a motive of persuading Ethiopia to subscribe to Egypt’s domination of the Nile water in exchange to Egypt’s approval of the dam.
“In fact Egypt not interested in the dam but they are using it to hold Addis Ababa hostage. It means Egypt would approve the dam if Ethiopia gave in to Cairo’s demands,” Ambassador Endris says.
Also, if Egypt succeeds in failing GERD, he says, it will have achieved its objectives of conveying a message to other Reparian countries River Nile is “a no go area” for them unless if approved by Egypt, it will actually set a precedent for other upstream states.
Meanwhile, the three-day conference on policy dialogue and experience sharing on the optimal utilization of the river Nile, has today continued at Sheraton Hotel, Addis Ababa with participants including officials working on trans-boundary water resource affairs, notable personalities, researchers, academicians, journalists and youth representatives from the Nile riparian countries attending.