BY INNOCENT KIIZA
Kiiza is an accomplished environmental investigative journalist with a dedicated focus on matters pertaining to climate change, aquatic resources, and the preservation of wildlife.
In a diplomatic challenge, Uganda’s President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni has extended a hand of cooperation to Egypt, urging the country to abandon its inflexible stance on Nile water resources and embrace a cooperative spirit. The call for collaboration was made during the opening ceremony of the 7th Nile Development Forum held from October 16 to 18, 2023, with Vice President Rtd. Maj. Jessica Alupo delivering President Museveni’s message.
Maj. Alupo conveyed Museveni’s special message to Egypt, emphasizing that the Nile should be harnessed for the development of the country and the empowerment of its people. President Museveni urged Egypt to move away from reliance on colonial-era agreements that grant veto power over Nile projects and instead embrace the Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA), which has been signed by most member countries. This agreement aims to ensure equitable decision-making regarding development projects within the basin.
However, tensions arose during the forum when Egypt’s Minister of Water and Irrigation, Prof. Hani Sewilam, and other delegates walked out of the meetings of Nile basin state delegates. They challenged the agenda of the forum, claiming that it overlooked the principle of consensus among member countries. Prof. Sewilam insisted that Egypt maintained its right to veto projects as per the 1929 and 1959 agreements with the British Government, which other countries like Uganda, Sudan, and Kenya are now violating.
President Museveni’s call came in response to Egypt’s assertion that it should not insist on rules established by the British government many years ago. Instead, Egypt argued that it should utilize Nile waters equally for its economic empowerment. This is in line with the sentiment shared by regional leaders who have consistently rejected the legitimacy of colonial-era agreements. They emphasize the need for a more inclusive and cooperative approach for the benefit of all Nile Basin countries.
Museveni urged Egypt to join efforts in preserving and protecting the environment to rejuvenate the Nile’s water levels. He stressed the importance of concentrating on the appropriate use of Nile waters for hydro-power generation and irrigation, with the goal of creating social and economic benefits for all African people. Museveni highlighted the role of electricity in industrialization, job creation, and environmental mitigation, encouraging Egypt to consider the positive impacts of electricity use, including reforestation through reduced dependence on traditional fuel sources.
At the 31st Nile Council of Ministers Conference, concerns were raised regarding negative publicity and sabotage allegedly originating from an unnamed member state. Egypt was subtly hinted at as the source of obstacles hindering cooperation, including the cancellation of European Union funding for a major project earlier in the year.
The diplomatic tensions observed at the 7th Nile Development Forum underscore the challenges of regional cooperation over the Nile’s resources. Museveni’s call for a shift toward collaboration and the rejection of colonial-era agreements is expected to spark further debate and negotiations among the Nile Basin countries as they work to find common ground for sustainable and equitable water use.
This diplomatic challenge represents a pivotal moment in the ongoing dialogue surrounding the Nile’s resources, potentially setting the stage for a more cooperative and equitable future in the region.