When Tanzania launched in February a $85 million project to draw water from Lake Victoria (one of the sources of the 4,160 mile long River Nile) and to lay a 170-kilometre pipe to supply it to Kahama and Shinyanga (plus 54 villages on the route of the pipeline) it set in motion an international furore of considerable proportions. Strong protests came from Egypt, which (with Sudan) is almost totally dependent on the waters of the River Nile for its survival. Egypt accused Tanzania of contravening two treaties colonial Britain had signed with Egypt and Sudan in 1929 and 1959 which restricted riparian countries from initiating projects that would affect the volume of the Nile waters without the permission of Egypt.
Tanzania’s reaction was firm. “Tanzania does not recognise the Nile Basin Agreements” said Minister for Water and Livestock Development, Edward Lowassa, in the National Assembly on March 13th quoted in Nipashe. He added however that Tanzania would continue attending meetings of the Nile basin countries with the intention of reaching an equitable quota of Lake Victoria waters for future use in irrigation. Under the agreements water for home use, as in the proposed project, does not need to be negotiated.
The water will be tapped from Misungwi village near Mwanza and transported to water tanks about 9 kms away, from which the main pipeline will be built. The first phase of the two-phase contract was awarded to the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation, and the project is eventually expected to provide water to up to 940,000 Tanzanians.
The London Times (Thank you Betty Wells for sending this item – Editor) quoted the ‘Inter-Africa Group’ a conflict prevention organisation, as saying that ‘in the absence of an agreement on equitable allocation, there would be a considerable increase in the risk of conflict.’ Since the signing of the two Nile agreements, Egypt and Sudan have used force or the threat of force to emphasise their rights. In June 1980, Egypt nearly went to war with Ethiopia after Addis Ababa threatened to obstruct the Blue Nile. This followed attempts by the late President Anwar Sadat to divert Nile waters into the Sinai Desert. Sadat had promised Israel that he would irrigate the desert after the historical peace agreement made in Camp David, USA.
According to the ‘Al Jazeerah Information Centre’, when Kenya threatened similar action some months ago, the Egyptian Minister of Water Resources said that any threat to unilaterally revoke the 1929 treaty would be a ‘declaration of war.’
A recent UNDP report quoted in the Africa Research Bulletin (February 12) said that ‘water wars’ were likely in the future where rivers and lakes were shared by more than one country.
A ‘Nile Basin Initiative,’ backed by the World Bank, was created in 1999, in an attempt to head off what many regional analysts saw as a potential source of ‘water wars’. “In 10 to 20 years all countries bordering the Nile river, particularly Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia will have much larger populations and face a greater demand for water” Milas Seifulaziz of the Inter – Africa Group said. “In the absence of an agreement on equitable allocation, there will be a considerable increase in the risk of conflict.”
However, East Africa and the White Nile provide only about 10% of the Nile Waters. Most of the water (the Blue Nile) comes from Ethiopia.
There is a precedent for North African involvement in war in East Africa. Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi sent 2,700 troops to Uganda to help Iddi Amin Dada in his war with Tanzania in 1979.
FLURRY OF DIPLOMATIC ACTIVITY
The Tanzanian action seemed to concentrate minds. It was followed by a flurry of tense meetings between all the interested parties – Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Congo – under the auspices of the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), an intergovernmental UN body.
At acrimonious emergency talks held in Entebbe, Uganda which started on March 8 and lasted ten days, Egyptian Irrigation Minister Abdel Abu Zaid said that Egypt would reject any proposal to lower its quota of Nile water and said that the talks would have to focus on initiatives to prevent seepage. Any tampering with the 1929 agreement would be tantamount to an act of war.
This meeting ended without agreement.
The Ministers met again in Nairobi on March 20 but this time, and under great pressure from the other countries, Egypt modified its stand. It finally accepted that the Nile Agreement would have to be amended. Returning from the meeting, Tanzanian Minister Edward Lowassa advised Tanzanians that they could use Lake Victoria water for household supplies and small irrigation schemes, and declared that the dispute on who legitimately controlled the Nile River and its sources had been cleared up. He denounced the treaties but added: “Our colleagues from Egypt have shown a commitment to agreement and were not wishing to cling to ‘those old treaties’.” He said that even the British government, which had signed the treaties, was no longer in favour of them.
PRIME MINSTER ADDRESSES MP’S
As this issue of Tanzanian Affairs went to the printers, Mwananchi reported that Prime Minister Frederick Sumaye, officiating at a one-day seminar for MP’s on the subject of the Nile Basin Waters, had called on them not to waste time discussing ineffective colonial pacts. He said that Arab countries should come forward and unite in demanding a new, more equitable treaty on the use of the Nile Waters. Most MP’s were said to have spoken emotionally on the topic; others suggested that the country should be ready to go to war, just in case.