Egypt’s control over the Nile waters came to an end last week, paving the way for development projects upstream of the river.
In a ceremony in Kampala last week, six countries ratified the Cooperation Framework Agreement (CFA) that repeals the colonial treaty of 1929.
The World Bank Trust, which manages the Nile Basin resources, had been blocking development projects along the river because the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) lacked legal basis, which the CFA now provides.
“As long as we do not have the CFA, Egypt and Sudan will continue to block development, because NBI has no legal recognition in other countries,” said Dr Callist Tindimugaya, Uganda’s Nile Basin Initiative representative and also Commissioner of Water Resources Regulation at the Ministry of Water and Environment.
The colonial treaty barred other countries from using the water for development purposes that could impact on water flowing to Egypt.
In 1959, however, Egypt and Sudan, renegotiated the treaty and came up with the Full Utilisation of Nile Water Agreement, which allowed the construction of the Aswan High Dam in Egypt for mutual benefit of both countries.
“Without consent of Egypt, no irrigation or hydroelectric works can be established on the tributaries of the Nile or their lakes if such works can cause a drop in water levels harmful to Egypt,” reads the section in the 1929 treaty.
The breakaway group of riparian countries — Burundi, Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania—undertook technical audits that culminated in the CFA last year.
In February this year, Burundi became the sixth nation to sign up to the agreement to alter the historical water-sharing arrangements for the River Nile, thus raising sufficient numbers to move the process towards ratification.
Egypt, Sudan and DRC did not sign, while Eritrea maintains observer status.
The organisation’s name changed from Nile Basin Initiative to Nile Basin Commission with headquarters in Uganda.
The CFA provides for sharing of benefits and costs of maintaining the river.
The Regional Interconnection Project — a $385 million power project expected to be completed in 2014 — is one of the development programmes that are expected to generate cross border electricity for the benefit of all countries.