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THE RIVER NILE: A BRIDGE FOR COOPERATION AND UNITY

              
                                     
      KEYNOTE ADDRESS TO THE 4TH NILE BASIN DEVELOPMENT FORUM
                                NAIROBI, KENYA, 6 OCTOBER 2014
PROF. MARK  MWANDOSYA

Let me  at the very outset admit that you have done me honour, inviting me to give a Key Note address on the occasion of 4th Nile Basin Development Forum, an august assembly of policy makers, scholars, researchers, and other stakeholders of the  Nile Basin. We are here because we are bound together by one river, the Nile, to emphasize the ‘benefits of cooperation’. I put emphasis on the word emphasize because we all believe, I hope, that the benefits of cooperation far outweigh the disadvantages, if any. As such you probably could have saved the taxpayers of riparian nations by fielding a question: ‘do you believe in cooperation among riparians of the Nile Basin?’ The answer to that referendum question would be a resounding ‘yes’. That is why I had some reservations when I was initially asked to restrict my remarks to cost – benefit analysis of cooperation among Nile Basin States. Benefits far outweigh and outshine costs that I sought another sub-theme ‘The River Nile: A Bridge for Cooperation and  Unity’. The term “bridge” is perhaps an engineer’s perspective of the economist’s cost-benefit analysis. That being said, we are here because of cooperation, to strengthen cooperation, and to explore other avenues for further cooperation among the riparians and between riparians and non-riparians of the Nile. That we meet here today  testifies to correctness of the vision of those among you and others not present here who initiated and participated in the Nile 2002 series of conferences, of which the Nile Basin Development Forum is the successor. Participants to the fora have approached challenges of cooperation from a bird’s eye view, scientifically and without bias, such that those among us vested with shaping the political and legal framework for cooperation have come to depend on the outcome of your deliberations. You have played a key role as a ‘bridge’ between politics, law and the physical and scientific realities.

Herodotus, a Greek philosopher who lived 5 centuries Before Christ, once described Egypt as ‘A gift of the River Nile.’ The Nile was then, and it continues to be, a source of fascination, curiosity, and myth. The existence of a large corpus of knowledge about the Nile and its Basin, making the Nile Basin the most widely studied transboundary river basin in the world, is such that what could  aptly be termed the Herodotus Dictum, can be paraphrased thus: ‘Africa is a gift of the River Nile’.

Nile Basin countries are home to 437 million people or 41 percent of the population of Africa, this is in accordance with the 2012 estimates. The population of the Nile Basin is 238 million, or 54 percent of all the Nile countries, or a significant 22 percent of the population of the entire continent of Africa. It is estimated that by the year 2030 the population of the Nile Basin countries will have grown to 648 million. Out of these 111 million will be Egyptians and Ethiopia’s population will have grown to 132 million. The scramble for water in the Nile Basin will be far larger than that obtaining now.

The Nile is the longest river in Africa and  in the world. By so observing , I do not belittle the claim by some researchers that a new source of the Amazon River has been discovered, making it the longest river, 6800 km compared to our Nile, 6718 km long, measured from the source of the Nyabarongo River in Rwanda to the Mediterranean Sea. You may wish to recall that prior to the springs which are the source of the Nyabarongo, the source of the Nile was considered to be the Ruvironzo River in Burundi, which gave the length of the Nile 6611 km. Have not we gone a long distance since the area between the first cataract and the Elephantine, was considered to be the source of the Nile? It  seems to me that finding the source of the Nile, and other transboundary rivers is an unfinished business. By whatever  findings, the Nile is a very long river.

All major rivers on earth flow from north to south. The River Nile , in all its splendour and majesty, flows from south to north. As it does so it traverses a diversity of weather and climatic conditions, with rains averaging 1800 mm a year in Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania to a mere 80 mm of annual precipitation  in most areas of Egypt. It connects 11 African nations; Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, The Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan and Egypt. Not much reference is made to the fact that Central African Republic is a riparian state representing a small  area of the Nile Basin.

A physical bridge in the built environment is designed and constructed by engineers. In his infinite wisdom and knowledge almighty God ‘designed’ and  constructed  a subsurface structure, the Nile. Its “traffic” is the everlasting flow of water from the source of the Nyabarongo, from Lake Tana, from the mountains of Ethiopia, from the Mau forest in Kenya, from the source of the Bahr el Arab, from the sources of the Pibor, the Sobat, the Atbara through natural dams (lakes), natural filters (sudd swamps) and cataracts, as natural regulators, concluding its 6700 km plus journey via the Rosetta and the Damietta through the delta into another natural reservoir, the Mediterranean Sea.

The Nile, together with its tributaries can be conceived of as physically connecting eleven nation states (or twelve if the Central African Republic is taken into account). It is a “bridge” of sorts. Engineers construct bridges as means to connect people, to transport goods and to  facilitate trade  just as the River Nile has done over the millenia. The challenge that we face as riparians of the Nile, and as participants to the 4th Nile Basin Development Forum in particular, is how to use God’s gift to Africa, the Nile, as a bridge to facilitate cooperation and eventual  unity of the people of the Nile Basin.

A people united by the river is what can be said of the inhabitants of  Nile Basin from time immemorial, at least  until the Conference of Berlin of 1884- 1885. Convened by the then Imperial Chancellor of Germany, Otto von Bismarck, the conference of 14 states including the United States in order to partition Africa, the conference was to have far reaching consequences on the Nile Basin, as will be seen a little later in the sequel.

The Nile has always been a “bridge” across cultures and religious faiths. From the Egyptian mythology we learn of the existence of many Gods. Much worshipped was Hapi, the God of annual flooding of the Nile, sometimes referred to as the “father of the Gods”. Hapi was revered as the God who maintained the balance of the universe as a harmonious system. Among his many titles were: Lord of the river bringing vegetation, and  Lord of fishes,  birds and marshes. If the environment is defined as encompassing air, land and water; plant and animal life including human life; and other factors that influence the lives of human beings, animals, plants,  and other micro organisms, then clearly this definition is derived from the ancient Egyptians, from their perception of the father of gods, Hapi.

The Nile was and continues to be the bridge across the Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Legend has it that Abraham (Ibrahim) and his wife Sarah left Ur, in present day Iraq, for Haran (present day Turkey), Damascus (present day Syria) and Jerusalem (present day Israel and Palestine), on a directive given by God. He was later to settle in the Nile Valley, in Egypt or Mekka depending on which holy book one reads. The story of Joseph (Yusuf) who was to become number two in the household of Pharaoh, and his father Jacob (Yakobo) and his 11 brothers, is about the Nile Valley and periodic floods and droughts. We are also reminded about the life of Moses (Musa) from the time he was rescued from a basket floating on the River Nile, to leading the exodus from Egypt, receiving  the 10 commandments from God, wandering about the desert for 40 years, and his eventual demise in present day Jordan, after his legendary declaration “I have seen the Promised Land...”. Another encounter between faith and the Nile River is the arrival in the Nile valley of Jesus (Issa bin Mariam) and his parents Joseph (Yusuf) and his  mother Mary (Mariam) as refugees after the declaration by King Herod that all children below the age of two, born in Bethlehem (in present day Palestine) be killed.

The Nile Valley has also been a “bridge” across ages in respect of knowledge and scholarship. The pyramids of lower Egypt built 4 millenia ago are a testimony to a rich, enlightened and powerful civilization. These perfect triangular-sided structures still retain their majesty. The 223 pyramids of ancient Nubia are double the number of pyramids in Egypt. Built during the ancient Nubian Kingdom of Cush, 7 centuries BC, they are a monument to the greatness of a kingdom centered around Meroe, which stretched from  the Sudan to the Delta in Egypt. Excavations by archeologists in the Sudan have discovered one of the world’s oldest civilisations that flourished 3 millenia BC around Kerma and it was Black Africa’s oldest civilisation. In her treatise in the Identity of ancient Egypt (Kemet), Cynthia Perry of Purdue University remarks thus ‘’-----Results of the evidence reviewed suggest that ancient Egyptians were true Africans prior to their intermingling with other races.’’ Contrary to the portrayal by many scholars that the ancient Egyptians were caucasians, Cheick Anta Diop’s claim was that ancient Egyptians were Black. I do not wish to take sides in the scholarly debate that has gone on since Cheick Anta Diop  of Senegal published his famous treatise in the 1950s. My submission is that the Nile has always served as a bridge linking a mix of peoples in the course of history, and it has contributed to rise and fall of kingdoms  and knowledge and knowhow.   
  
The Nile as a “bridge for unity” was also conceived  from a hydrological and engineering perspective when the concept of the Century Storage System was promoted by the British during the early 20th century. Initially proposed by Engineer William Garstin and later refined by Yusuf Simaika,  and Harold Hurst,  among others, the plan was about the management of the entire Nile Basin as one hydrological unit. The plan had a political logic. It did fit very well with the hegemony of Britain, based on the imperative to control  the entire basin, and motivated variously by the cotton crop trade, the control of Suez canal, and to keep at bay the possible influence of the French and Italians, and to ensure the availability of Nile waters to Egypt in accordance with its “natural and historic” rights.

The Century Storage concept was laid to rest with the advent of the Sadd-el Aali project. The Nile Valley Authority which was mooted in the British House of Commons as a last ditch attempt to counter the construction of Aswan High Dam, never came to pass.

Disasters have a way of turning into “silver linings”. The unusually high precipitation of 1960-1961 in the equatorial lakes region led, in 1961 the Governments of Kenya , Uganda, Tanzania, working together under the East African Nile Waters Coordinating Committee to initiate consultations with Sudan, Egypt, the WMO and UNDP in order to conduct hydrometeorological surveys of Lake Victoria, Kyoga and Albert (hydromet). Agreement to this effect was entered into in 1967 by Egypt, Kenya, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda, with the aim to evaluate the water balance of the Lake Victoria catchment in order to control and regulate the lake levels. Later on in 1972, Burundi and Rwanda were to join Hydromet, followed by Zaire(The Democratic Republic of Congo) in 1978. The Hydromet Survey Project was the first initiative of independent riparian states that could truly be described: The River Nile: Bridge for Cooperation and Unity.

The Nile was later to be a bridge that would lead the Kagera Basin states: Burundi, Rwanda, and Tanzania to the formation of the Organization for the Management and Development of the Kagera Basin (KBO), in August 1977. Uganda acceded to the treaty in 1981. For geopolitical reasons an excellent dream was not to be realised. The Rusumo bridge and direct telecommunication between Burundi and Rwanda and Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, however, testify to the modest success of the Akagera, a tributary of the Nile, as a bridge for cooperation among countries that  later  become members of the East African Community.

The Undugu Group was yet another attempt to use the Nile as a bridge for cooperation. It was founded in November 1983 by Egypt, the Sudan, Uganda, Zaire (Democratic Republic of Congo) and The Central African Republic as an informal group to promote political, economic, social and cultural cooperation among the Nile Basin countries, in order to ensure an integrated and harmonious development of natural resources of  the basin. Burundi and Rwanda and Tanzania later joined the Undugu Group. Kenya and Ethiopia decided to remain as observers.   The Group was disbanded in 1993 without achieving its objectives.

At the meeting of Ministers responsible for Water in the Nile Basin, and with oversight over the Hydromet Survey Project, held in Kampala, Uganda, in December 1992, it was decided to strengthen, and make more formal the cooperation built upon the foundation of the Project. The Technical Cooperation for the Promotion of Development and Environmental Protection of the Nile Basin- TECCONILE, was yet another pillar in the bridge for cooperation among the riparians of the River Nile Basin. For, its founder members who met in Kampala included Egypt, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zaire(Democratic Republic of Congo). The rest of riparian states were observers to TECCONILE. Through its Nile River Basin Action Plan, TECCONILE laid the foundation for the inception of the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI). The NBI inherited the administrative format of TECCONILE, its Ministerial Council (COM) and Technical Advisory Body(TAC). NBI also inherited the TECCONILE projects, including the now famous Project D3 whose main objective was to lay the foundation for an agreement for permanent cooperation among the Nile Basin States. TECCONILE lasted until 22 February 1999 when the Council of Ministers transformed TECCONILE into NBI, at its extraordinary meeting that was held in Dar es Salaam. TECCONILE and NBI have been pillars in the bridge for cooperation and hopefully eventual unity to be built upon the formation of the Nile Basin Commission.

We meet here today as a result of the existence of this pillar,the NBI. That it still does exist, 15 years after its inception, is indeed a tribute to the foresight of the Ministers responsible for water who met in Dar es Salaam in  February 1999. It was supposed to be and it is a transitional arrangement  towards a more permanent Nile Basin Commission. That the NBI has survived 15 years is also an illustration of the challenges that face multilateral cooperation regarding transboundary rivers.
Upon its expected demise the NBI will reincarnate as the Nile Basin Commission. That transformation will depend upon 6 member states ratifying or acceding to the Agreement on the  Nile River Cooperative Framework Agreement(CFA). Two member states, Rwanda and Ethiopia have already ratified the CFA.

With regard to the United Republic of Tanzania, the Council of Ministers (Cabinet) has already approved that the CFA be ratified. The last constitutional requirement is for the Parliament to give the final approval. The matter is an item on the agenda of the November 2014 session of the Parliament.

As a pillar in the bridge for cooperation and unity among the Nile Basin states, the CFA is built on a firm foundation. It is a culmination of the aspiration by independent nations to cooperate in the optimal and sustainable use of the Nile waters, an aspiration which began with the Hydromet Survey Project 50 years ago. It is also the closure of almost 10 years of negotiations.

This pillar, CFA, is built upon 14 fundamental principles; three of which are most relevant to the theme of this  Forum: Cooperation among the states of the River Nile Basin on basis of sovereign equality, territorial integrity, mutual benefit and good faith in order to attain optimal utilization and adequate protection and conservation of the River Basin and to promote joint efforts to achieve social and economic development; the principle of equitable but reasonable use of the waters of the Nile; and the principle of preventing the causing of significant  harm to other states of the Nile River Basin.
By concluding the CFA on the basis of the aforementioned principles, among others, Nile Basin states have decided start building a bridge across the Nile.
The right to equitable but reasonable use of water in transboundary river basins is a rejection of the principle of absolute territorial integrity that is usually upheld by lower riparians in order to exercise hegemony over the use of water in a particular basin. It is a legal responsibility that riparians use water in a manner that does not cause significant harm to other riparians in transboundary waters. This responsibility largely falls on upper riparians and is a negation of the principle of absolute territorial sovereignity or the Harmon Doctrine which would otherwise be invoked by upper riparians.

Initially propounded by the International Law Association the right to equitable but reasonable use is enshrined in Article 5 and Article 6 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses (Hereinafter the Convention). The obligation on the riparians of not causing significant harm is the subject of Article 7 of the Convention.
In respect of the River Nile Basin and other transboundary watercourses, the principle of equitable and reasonable use and the obligation to cause no harm are the basis of cooperation among riparians. Once agreed upon and appropriately formulated in the CFA, the rest of the Articles merely elaborate how to achieve these aspirations and  formulate  mechanisms to implement the cooperation. The CFA has gone farther. It has in Article 14 propounded a novel but I am advised not so legal  a principle but  an important concept of Water Security. However emotive the matter may be, it is my contention that the difference among riparians of the Nile Basin on Water Security are more apparent than real. For, on the basis of the doctrine of  Community of Interest, no riparian state can harness or use the waters of the River Nile in a manner that can significantly threaten the Water Security of any other nation. Besides ,the CFA is a Framework Agreement. It is not about the allocation of water rights,a matter to be the subject of a possible protocol to the CFA.

In the spirit of the Nile being a bridge for unity, the riparian states of the Nile Basin have decided to cooperate on the basis of agreement on all the 45 Articles of the CFA with the exception of  Article 14 (b). This  Article however, has not been struck out. It is annexed to the CFA with a declaration that the issue be resolved by the proposed Nile River Commission within six months of its establishment. We had Egypt in mind when we formulated this Annex to Article 14(b) to the CFA.
Article 14(b) of the CFA reads as follows: not to significantly affect the water security of any other Nile Basin State. An alternative formulation has been proposed by Egypt: not to adversely affect the water security and current uses and rights of any other Nile Basin State.
Furthermore, at the closure of the negotiations for the CFA it was observed that from the experience gathered in many multilateral agreements, there is a long time lag between conclusion of negotiations and ratification and or accession by member states. Member states have varying constitutional requirements to effect ratification or accession. It was decided, to the best of my recollection, that the time between the CFA being open for signature and the Framework Agreement enters  into force on the sixtieth day following the date of the deposit of the sixth instrument of ratification or accession, be used by member states to continue consultations regarding Article 14 (b). Should any understanding be reached, it would be taken into account by the Nile River Basin Commission in accordance with the Annex on Article 14 (b) of the CFA. It is incumbent upon the Chairs of the NBI Council of Ministers a position being presently held by H.E. Moatez Moussa Abdallah Salim, Minister of Water Resources and Electricity of The Republic of the Sudan, to spearhead consultations on this important matter.

The CFA is an important foundation or a cornerstone upon which riparians of the River Nile have decided to formalise cooperation. The Nile River Basin Commission will be the tool to implement the legal framework for cooperation. Challenges that face us now and in the future relate to, among many others, the environment of the basin and the response to climate change.

Protection and conservation of the Nile River Basin and its ecosystems, an important principle of the CFA, is made operational specifically by Article 6; and additionally by Article 7, on Regular exchange of data and information; Article 9, on Environmental impact assessment and audits; Article 11, on Prevention and mitigation of harmful conditions; and Article 12, on Emergency situations. In the case of the Nile River Basin, protection of the environment is an obligation for Basin states to protect water sources and catchment areas in order to ensure sustainable flow of the River, for the use of the present generation and for the benefit of future generations. These Articles particularly oblige the Upper Riparians to conserve and protect the Basin for their own benefit but additionally for the benefit of lower riparians. One environmental challenge to the River Nile Basin, the water hyacinth Eichhornia crassipes, an invasive species, is an environmental nightmare. First seen in Egypt in the 1890’s, the water hyacinth spread along the full length of the River Nile Basin such that by 1990’s it had polluted much of the coastline of Lake Victoria. It has had devastating effects on water transport, fish and fishing, biodiversity, fresh water supplies, health, evapotranspiration, hydroelectricity, and tourism. It has affected the social and economic life and lifestyles of the people of the Basin. Knowledge and knowhow acquired over a century by lower riparians,Egypt and Sudan in tackling the menace of the water hyacinth will be invaluable to the Basin states.  In the unlikely event that cooperation in all other areas should fail, cooperation among riparians of the Nile Basin in the protection of the environment of the basin would be absolutely essential.

A specific environmental challenge that requires cooperation among Nile Basin States is that of climate variability and climate change. The atmosphere is a global common. Likewise and in respect of the River Nile Basin, the atmosphere is a Basin common. Carbondioxide emissions are the main anthropogenic cause of global warming and therefore climate change.

Climate change scenarios for the Nile Basin suggest that over the next 50 to 100 years, there will be an increase in temperature of between 10C to 30C. According to the Energy Information Administration of the United States, the 10 Nile Basin states emitted 229.2 million tonnes of carbondioxide in 2009, with Egypt’s emissions being 81.1 percent of this total. The per capita emissions ranged from 2.44 tonnes for Egypt and a low of 0.04 tonnes for Burundi. To make sense of these numbers, emissions of carbondioxide by Basin states are a mere 2.62 percent of global emissions. The per capita emissions are 2.44 tonnes for Egypt and 0.16 tonnes for Tanzania. These numbers have to be compared with 9.18 tonnes for South Africa, 5.83 tonnes for China, and 17.67 tonnes per capita for the US. There is therefore very little scope for the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions by Basin states. Efforts by Nile Basin states should therefore collectively be directed towards adaptation to climate change and  to climate variability.

The Nile discharge has been subject to substantial variability during the last century. For example the maximum discharge of 120 bilion cubic meters occured in 1916 and a minimum yield of 42 bilion cubic meters was observed in 1984. The mean annual discharge between 1900 and 1954 was 84 bilion cubic meters. These variations are an indication of the sensitivity of the Basin to such factors as changes in the orbit of the earth, global ocean temperature anomalies and movement of the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). Basin wide studies will be required and data continually observed, obtained, collated, updated, and assessed in order to strengthen the capacity of the riparians to forecast climate variability and climate change impacts. The vulnerability of the River Nile Basin to the impacts of climate change is increasingly becoming a real concern. The impact is gradually being felt in the water sector as springs and streams dry up and the level of dams and lakes decrease. Floods in some areas and drought in other areas, all water related and climate related events, are becoming even more frequent. The vulnerability is becoming even more severe as impacts are felt in biodiversity, especially to wildlife and changes in their migration patterns and the consequences on the tourism industry and the economy.  The phenomenon is evolving of  large scale migration of livestock keeping communities in search of water sources and suitable grazing land which is also suitable for agriculture. Land use conflicts will become more prevalent  than before.

Even if global emissions are constrained to a 450 ppm pathway and warming contained to 2°C, there will be significant effects from climate change that will require Basin societies to adapt.  The five most notable adaptation challenges include increased droughts, sand encroachments, desertification, increased salinity of coastal, riverine and ground water resources, flood risk, more storms and of higher intensity, soil erosion and increased sedimentation, coastal flooding from sea level rise, and shifts in agricultural patterns.  The impacts will vary greatly country by country. On the whole at levels below 2°C rise, studies give confidence that with sufficient foresight and investment, the adaptation challenges can be met.  In particular the challenges can be met through better planning, investment in climate resilient infrastructure, better disaster response capabilities, and new approaches to risk management and insurance.  However, countries most at risk to climate change in the Nile Basin are among the poorest and least developed and need to plan for increased financial requirements, and scientific (including increased research into local climate impacts) and technical  capacity building.  In addition, changes will be required in such a way that baseline development planning takes into account integrated strategies for climate resilient development.  Failure to invest sufficiently in country adaptation could result in increased regional and Basin security challenges associated with conflict over resources, large-scale migration, and emergence of failed states.
The theme of this address has been The River Nile: A bridge for Cooperation  and Unity. The keywords  are Cooperation and the eventual Unity of the Nile Basin, based on the will to “promote integrated management, and harmonious utilisation of the water resources of the basin”.  Cooperation and unity are an antithesis of conflict and war. Based on the data collected by Oregon State University there have been more agreements on transboundary water use than the occurrence of conflicts. In the last 50 years over 200 treaties have been concluded. In the same time frame only 37 incidences of conflict that have led to war have been recorded. Of these 30 have been in the Middle East. I submit that based on the CFA and the express desire of the people and of the Basin and Nile Basin States to cooperate, the Nile will be a bridge for cooperation and eventual unity  and not a source of conflict and war.

By way of closure, let me thank the organisers of this forum to invite me to address this august assembly. Having had the humble opportunity to coordinate and speak for my colleagues, Ministers responsible for Water  from upper riparian states of the Nile Basin in the negotiations that led to the signing of the CFA, I can confirm the truth of the old adage that “once one drinks the waters of the Nile, he or she will always return to the Nile”. I am also mindful of the contribution of giants of the stature of Engineer Kamal Ali Mohamed of the Sudan and Dr Mahmoud Abu Zaid of Egypt to the process of cooperation in the Nile Basin upon whose shoulders we stood see a little farther, if I may be permitted to paraphrase Isaac Newton.
This address has been about the Nile, the Nile is about water. According to the Holy Book Almighty God said “From Water, We have given life to all creatures (Wajalna Min Almaa Kulu Shayyin Hai (Al-Anbiýa 21:30))”.
May the Grace of God be with us in our deliberations.
Wasalaam Aleykum Wa rehmatullah wa Barkatu.
I thank you

Members of the Nile Basin Council of Ministers.  4th Nile Basin Forum.
 








©Mark Mwandosya

 
   

   
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