Egypt and Sudan have refused to put in place an agreement that would secure the future of the River Nile, which is the backbone of agriculture for nine North African countries, leaving the river’s future in limbo. But there are signs that the new government in Egypt could adopt a more co-operative stance and open the way for countries such as Ethiopia and Kenya to further their economic development using Nile water.
The deadline for the signing of the proposed Nile Basin agreement passed without the signatures of Egypt, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The agreement, more than a decade in making, would secure the waters of the Nile to ensure that dams, hydropower and agriculture can all flourish. Six countries have signed the text: Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda.
One of the main sources of contention is Ethiopia’s proposal to build hydroelectric dams on the river, from which it could export energy to other African nations. Egypt is concerned that the dams would reduce the water flow vital to its agriculture. But the disputes stretch back nearly a century. In 1929, an attempt to secure the Nile for the benefit of Egypt and Britain, as the colonial power, resulted in treaties that still mean surrounding countries effectively have to seek permission from Egypt in order to make use of the Nile’s water. This is now unacceptable to the other countries.
A cruise liner on the River Nile. Although the source of the Nile is in Uganda, colonial masters handed sole power of the river to Egypt where it ends its long journey across several other African countries.
Ana Cascao, project manager at the Stockholm International Water Institute, said: “This would be a historic agreement. Without Egypt and Sudan, we are still in a standby situation. But I am hopeful that the new government later this year will change this.”