The other day as I flew over Lake Victoria to Kigali, I was prompted to think about the debate on River Nile waters and treaties.
I also reflected on the meandering River Kagera, a river that carries a lot of water from Rwanda and Burundi into Lake Victoria.
This also set me guessing which of the riparian countries puts most water into Lake Victoria/ River Nile water systems
Kagera is probably the largest single river contributing most to the Lake Victoria waters, but Kenya as a country may in total be contributing the most quantity of water into the lake out of its many fairly large rivers, that is Nzoia, Yala, Nyando, Sondu-Miriu, Migori and the Mara river, which enters the lake in Tanzania.
All these Kenyan rivers emanate from the Mau except Nzoia which flows from Cherangany.
Uganda mainly off-takes water from the lake via Victoria Nile, but also puts a lot of water into the Nile system from a network of rivers and lakes.
Tanzania, to my best recollection of geography, has only small streams mostly seasonal going to the lake, if one considers that Mara essentially flows from Kenya.
Before the River Nile finally reaches Egypt, we have huge water inputs from the Southern Sudan equatorial landscape and of course the mighty Blue Nile of Ethiopia.
What strikes many of us as grossly illogical and unfair is the requirement that gives Egypt veto powers when a member of the Nile watershed countries (including Kenya) intends to install a large-scale project that would impact water flows to Egypt.
This is according to an agreement signed in 1929, and which binds Kenya among other riparian countries.
Ongoing regional and basin initiatives among the riparian countries are in the process of negotiating more equitable agreements, though unanimity is far from reached.
Waters of the Victoria/Nile watershed systems have been used differently by various riparian countries.
Whereas there is economic sense in damming rivers for both electricity and irrigation, it is the latter that essentially removes water from the flow.
Uganda has mainly focused on hydropower generation with the Bujagali project expected to yield 250MW while the proposed project at Karuma falls will yield up to 600MW.
Kenya has recently commissioned Sondu Miriu hydro project with a 60MW power output.
Tanzania recently installed a water pipeline from Lake Victoria pumping water to the twin towns of Kahama and Shinyaga mainly for domestic and industrial use for up to half a million people.
Ethiopia is mainly focusing on mega hydro power generation, while Egypt and Sudan have, for many years, engaged in massive irrigation.
Southern Sudan is expected to come up with its own projects on Nile Waters use.
Historically, Kenya has not gone all out to harness the economic potential offered by either the rivers flowing into Lake Victoria or the lake itself.
The Sondu Miriu hydropower project and the recently rehabilitated rice irrigation projects are perhaps the only visible efforts on the Nile Basin water resources, with the fishing sub-sector having declined.
Kenya is putting a lot of resources into environmental rehabilitation of its Mau (and Cherangany) water tower to sustain the flow of the rivers that eventually contribute to the waters of Nile.
Kenya, therefore, has a justifiable right to fetch sufficient economic returns out of the five main rivers from the towers, especially before the water flows into the lake.
There is likely to be less riparian debate if we capture and use the water while it is still flowing within our country than when it is already in the Lake and ready to flow to Egypt.
Kano green fields
It is the irrigated agriculture especially in the low lying lands of Nyanza counties that will make a huge national (and local) economic difference.
It would be fascinating and pleasant to witness in the future most of the Kano Plains covered with large green fields of irrigated rice, cotton, sugar, and horticultural produce.
We would also like to witness aircraft flying from the newly upgraded Kisumu international airport direct to Europe carrying horticultural exports from the irrigated fields.
It would also be quite welcome to witness agricultural surpluses from the irrigated lands of Nyanza counties feeding the rest of the country.
Of course all riparian countries including Egypt must have an equitable share of access to Nile basin waters.
However, it also needs to be appreciated that all states have a right to economic and social development opportunities.
Posted Wednesday, May 11 2011 at 00:00
Most of the upstream countries (including Kenya ) who are playing an economic development catch-up game will need to use more Nile systems water than they have hitherto required.
It will not be easy for Egypt to countenance a shift from the status quo, and that is why we will not be surprised to see the country come up will all manner of diplomatic and economic cooperation gestures to influence the less developed upstream riparian partners.
It will not be easy for all, because going forward there will be fewer waters available as the global warming impacts hit the watersheds resulting in reduced water flows into the Nile Basin.
This is a new reality that must also be fully taken into account in all future treaty negotiations.
Without sounding unfair to Egypt, the economic inequities between Egypt and other riparian states is often played out in the Comesa trade bloc, where the trade imbalances on agricultural produce are very clearly visible.
EAC will be best placed to co-ordinate and advance those cross-border projects that will maximise mutual economic benefits from the basin waters for members.
This can be in the form of environmental protection of the basin, lake transportation, fisheries development, regional hydropower inter-connectivity.
Wachira is director, Petroleum Focus Consultants. firstname.lastname@example.org