East African Business Week (Kampala)
20 August 2007
Mr John Senteza lives around the Lake Victoria shores of Ggaba, outside Kampala.
He has for close to 20 years been eking out a living from subsistence fishing. It is a trade he learnt from his father who also took it up from Senteza’s grand father. In all this time, the welfare of this middle aged man has not improved. For Senteza, it has been the typical rat race of waking up and jumping onto his wooden boat, casting his net for a few fishes and selling his catch and waiting for the next day.
Developments in the River Nile basin for which Lake Victoria provides a major catchment indicates that the situation is not about to change for Senteza.
The poorer countries downstream sharing the River Nile might just as well continue in their vicious cycle of poverty, eight years after the commencement of negotiations aimed at harmonising the shared use of the river among the nine riparian states. It was hoped that the richer upstream states would give up some of their greater advantages to the poorer downstream states. The Riparian states are Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Sudan, Egypt, Ethiopia and DR Congo. Such a secession of greater advantage to the poorer states would open the possible doors of economic prosperity.
The Nile Council of Ministers (Nile-COM) responsible for Water Affairs concluded its negotiations on the Nile River Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) on June 26, 2007 in Entebbe, Uganda. Yet the June 2007 cooperative framework agreement reached by the water ministers of the nine riparian states falls short of the most fundamental provision that would guarantee a safe passage out of poverty to a large extent.
Eight years after the beginning of negotiations on the equitable use of the Nile River, the single most fundamental issue on the use of the Nile remains unresolved.
Out of 39 Articles that the water ministers have been deliberating upon for the last eight years, Article 14 remains unresolved. It is this unfinished business of Article 14 that talks about water security that indicate that the negotiations may have not yielded much after all in terms of real benefits for the downstream states.
Article 14 states: “Having due regard for the provisions of Articles 4 and 5, Nile Basin States recognize the vital importance of water security to each of them. The States also recognize that cooperative management and development of the waters of the Nile River system will facilitate achievement of water security and benefits. Nile Basin States therefore agree, in a spirit of cooperation, to work together to ensure that all states achieve and sustain water security and (a)not to significantly affect the water security of any other Nile Basin State.”
All the states agreed to this provision except Egypt and Sudan, which would want part (b) to be replaced with the following phrase:
“Not to adversely affect the water security and current uses and rights of any other Nile Basin States”.
This position is not acceptable to Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, DR Congo and Rwanda, as it is seen to entrench rights which were given by existing agreements the above seven riparian states are not party to and guarantees existing uses which are not equitable.
Put another way, the versions desired by Egypt and Sudan according to a credible source at the negotiations reinforces the old colonial legal provisions of 1929 and 1959 signed by the British and Egyptians. This essentially means that if the other seven countries accept this, “nothing changes, everything stays the same”.
It is now apparent that the unresolved Article 14 may mean little even with the agreements reached on the other 38 Articles. It also means that for Senteza and the other poorer citizens of the downstream states, they cannot engage in meaningful economic activities that can change their lives. For instance, these countries cannot build new power dams or use water for irrigation (for it would offset the “Agreed Curve”). Irrigation and hydropower dams are economic activities that are more viable and productive than the subsistence fishing Senteza engages in.
The “Agreed Curve” is the adopted water release policy which ensures that the amount of water released through the former Owen Falls dam in Uganda at the source of the Nile corresponds to the natural flow before the Owen falls dam was constructed in 1954.
The Agreed Curve was adopted by the British and Egyptian governments to guarantee that water is released from Lake Victoria at the Nile source in Uganda for upstream users as was the case without the dam, thereby following a natural trend.
What also remains clear is that the countries (Egypt and Sudan) that have pushed for a maintenance of the status quo are also the biggest beneficiaries of the water. Egypt is guaranteed access to 55.5 billion cubic meters of water, out of a total of 84 billion cubic meters.
Why is Article 14 most paramount?
Industry experts argue that no civilization has emerged without developing her hydrological security. And Article 14 talks about water security. Attaining hydrological security is a clear blue print to attracting progress because water is largely needed to generate energy and energy is used to transport water.
The prolonged conflicts of Lake Victoria and the River Nile have denied the respective countries the opportunity to exploit these resources meaningfully.
Compared to the feuding Nile Riparian states, it is evident that the southern African region long hit the highway of economic progress because the water issues were resolved. The Southern Africa Development Cooperation (SADC) boasts one of the most well defined hydro political complexes in Africa because of a high level of harmonization of water policy and issues.
Infact, the SADC region achieved equitable water usage starting at a time when the Southern African region was still embroiled in conflict mainly in apartheid South Africa.
“South Africa and Zimbabwe are listed among the top twenty countries in the world in terms of power dams built. This is the level of hydrological security which in turn secures economic growth and stability,” said a transboundary water expert.
This is very different from the Nile region.
“In the last meeting on June 24 and 25, the ministers agreed that it was not possible for them to agree and they referred the matter to the heads of state summit,” said Mr. Gordon Mumbo, the Regional Project Manager, Confidence Building and Stakeholder Involvement (CBSI), a project under the Nile Basin Initiative that has intricately been involved in the negotiations.
The decisions now remain with the respective presidents of the riparian states, yet no time frame has been fixed for the presidents to make conclusions on the issue.
The uncertainty and lack of a clear timetable on the dates for the presidents to sit and sort out the unfinished business of Article 14 means that the common man will continue to wallow in the pangs of poverty.
“May be in the next two years, we should have a permanent commission. But none of the water ministers have quick access to their presidents and so they cannot quickly meet and raise the contentious issue of the unresolved Article 14,” said Mumbo. Just recently, the Egyptian ambassador to Uganda, Mr. Reda Bebars told this reporter that 98% of the negotiations were complete, but there remains “2% which is very vital.” It is now more apparent that the 2% embodies the unresolved Article 14.
Economic gap between downstream and upstream states
The Nile basin has a total population of some 300 million people, 160 million of these depend directly on the water, which means more than half of the entire population draw their livelihood from the water. It is projected that by 2025, the Nile Basin population will shoot to 600 million.
The downstream states are some of the poorest regions in the world. Huge swathes of the region have been ravaged by conflict, economic ruin and political instability that have reduced the population to penury and hunger.
Broken down statistics indicate that the GDP per capita of this region range between Uganda ($1,500), Tanzania ($700), Rwanda ($1300) and Burundi ($600).
Compared to the upstream states, Egypt has a GDP per capita of about $4200 and Sudan $1900.
According to sources close to the negotiations, the World Bank had a clear impact on the outcome of the negotiations. The presence of the World Bank in the talks also smacks of the old big brother influences in decision making in the developing world.
Sources say that at one time during the negotiations, one of Uganda’s senior ministers moved a motion that the World Bank representative at the talks “steps out”. The Ugandan minister was “bullied out” and the talks continued.
“But this shows their influence in these talks. There is of course a lot of geopolitics at play here because of Egypt’s influence in the fight against terrorism. But something has to change,” said the source who preferred not to be named.
The Nile negotiations were undertaken alongside the Nile Basin Initiative which was launched in 1999.
The Cooperative Framework negotiations began in 1997 with a panel of experts (POE) analyzing international precedents like drawing on the UN Convention for the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses (1997) and the experience of other basins such as the Mekong River Basin Commission in Asia and the Senegal River Basin Organization in West Africa.
POE discussions were followed by the work of a transitional committee and a negotiation committee prior to approval by the Nile-COM. The complex process of analysis and negotiations was supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), World Bank and numerous bilateral development partners through support to the Nile Basin Initiative.
The Cooperative Framework Agreement must now be adopted by all basin states and then ratified by the respective parliaments before entering into force as an international treaty.
The economic destiny of mostly the downstream states therefore now lies in the hands and good will of the heads of state of the riparian states.
Over to you, Your Excellencies.