Egypt and Sudan tussle with Nile basin countries over water rights

Egypt and Sudan state opposition to Ugandan-Rwandan-Kenyan-Ethiopian deal on Nile waterway management. South Korea reinvokes definition of North as 'principal enemy'. Shimon Peres denies nuclear weapons deal with apartheid South Africa. Jamaica suffers violent attacks following deal to extradite suspected drugs baron. All this and more in today's briefing.

During a meeting held in Cairo with Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, the Egyptian prime minister, Ahmed Nazif, stated that his country’s annual share over the Nile basin will not be affected by the agreement signed on 14 May by Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Tanzania. Nazif emphasized that the final deal needs to be agreed upon by all ten countries in the Nile basin, whereas the four-country pact contained a tract met with disapproval in Cairo. The Kenyan leader, who previously issued a statement in support of the agreement, regarded as groundless Egypt’s worries about the reduction of its quota on the basis of the four-countries accord. However, he reassured Egypt that the controversial passage of the deal will be amended. By hosting these talks on Monday, Egypt principally aimed at influencing Kenya’s stance, as Nairobi, together with Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, decided to postpone its signature of the deal by twelve months.

Uganda, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Tanzania decided to act autonomously because of Egypt’s determination to maintain both its annual 55.5 billion cubic meters of Nile water and the veto power enjoyed so far over upstream countries’ irrigation projects. These advantages were sanctioned under British colonial rule in 1929 and amended in 1959 in favour of Sudan, which granted it 18.5 billion cubic metres and permission to start building the Rosaries Dam on the Blue Nile. The two countries control approximately 87 percent of the water resources of the Nile. Consequently, Sudan’s negotiator and legal advisor, Ahmed al-Mufti, sided with Egypt, affirming that the new treaty must be ratified by all the Nile basin countries. Meanwhile, Egypt promptly recurred to diplomacy, for instance, seeking support from Italy in dissuading Ethiopian main water projects: during a visit in Rome last Wednesday, Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak obtained pledges from the Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, who promised to influence the Nile water projects coordinated by Italian companies in Ethiopia. Following the same track of conditioning foreign and international projects in the Nile basin, al-Mufti envisaged the suspension of $1mn-worth projects funded by the international community since 1999 if the new treaty were to come into force.

On the other hand, seven of the ten countries along the river’s stream argued that the treaties regulating the water shares were signed when most of the upstream nations remained colonies, and where hence unable to have a say in the agreements. Regarding Egypt-Sudan's joint refusal to recognize the new deal, John Nyoro, director of Kenya’s ministry of Water and Irrigation, warned of the risk of hydro-political conflicts if the region fails to reach a mutual understanding. The Ethiopian prime minister, Meles Zenawi, among the strongest supporters of the new accord, denounced last Thursday how Egyptian opposition seemed dictated by the historical centrality of the Nile to the pharaohnic civilization. The Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi have so far avoided direct confrontation with Egypt, but their leaders are expected to meet with Egyptian officials in Cairo in the forthcoming weeks.

The OpenSecurity verdict: Egypt has the lowest level of annual rainfall of the ten countries of the Nile basin and is unique in having 85 percent of its population concentrated along the river’s edge. Since the Nile accounts for 94 percent of Egyptian water resources, it is obvious that the country is vitally reliant on the river. Throughout the country’s history, ensuring the river’s flow has always been among its political priorities and Egypt’s role as a US regional ally since the time of Sadat made Cairo’s approval crucial to every major Nile water project. However, in the current situation, Egypt needs to develop a new strategy that is less concerned about maintaining regional hegemony and increasingly aware of the fact that the West will not necessarily defend Cairo’s interests against eight other countries. Moreover, even segments of Egyptian public opinion are conscious that a bilateral 51-year- old agreement will not be able to meet the needs of the other riparian countries, too long neglected in the name of a middle eastern orientation. Population growth is affecting all ten countries on the Nile Basin, with Egypt and Sudan claiming they will face hardships even if the current quotas are preserved, and Ethiopia pursuing an enlargement of its share to cope with the pace of demographic boom.

In order to avoid further tensions, there is an urgent need to draft a coherent legal framework. No international law regulates the management of water systems, apart from three non-enforceable documents that provide guidelines for states faced with draining water resources; there is also a lack of monitoring systems for the numerous bilateral water treaties in the region.

The recent quarrels still seem to focus on the repartition of quotas, whereas more efforts should be produced by the states concerned to articulate a better sharing of the benefits derived from the river’s flow. This was the track suggested by the Nile Basin Initiative, started in 1999 under the aegis of the ten countries, the UNESCO programme “From Potential Conflict to Cooperation Potential” (PC-CP) and the non-profit Green Cross International. Since Egypt is the final recipient of the Nile stream, instead of blackmailing the other riparian countries by international pressures, it should consider making concessions in exchange for guarantees.

South Korea redefines North Korea as ‘principal enemy’

South-Korea president Lee Myung-bak reported on Tuesday his intention to re-define North-Korea as the South’s ‘principal enemy’. This hostile label was dropped during the propaganda truce started in 2004 between the two countries in order to facilitate the policies of reconciliation. Meanwhile Seoul and Washington announced joint navy exercises in preparation for a possible North Korean offensive. On Monday, South Korea suspended trading with its neighbour, halted the passage of merchant ships into its territorial waters and appealed to the UN to express its verdict on the sinking of the Cheonan warship, allegedly caused by a North Korean torpedo.

On the other side of the border, according to a website of North Korean defectors called North Korea Intellectual Solidarity, Pyongyang leader Kim Jong-il ordered the preparation of the armed forces, threatening an ‘all-out war’. However, South Korean analysts recalled how there is no certainty on the intention of the communist regime, since the mobilization of popular support through military rallies has always been a feature of North Korean politics.

Peres denies having offered nuclear weapons to Apartheid South Africa

On Tuesday, the Israeli president, Shimon Peres, promptly rejected the findings of an American researcher on the offer of nuclear warheads made by Israel to South Africa in the 1970s. Peres, who at the time was the defence minister, underlined the absence of any Israeli signature on a document related to such an exchange of weapons.

On the other hand, the author of the book revealing the Israeli-South African agreement, Sasha Polakow-Suransky, replied that Peres’ signature is next to that of the South African defence minister, PW Botha, on an agreement about the broad conduct of the military relationship between the two countries. The mutually agreed document makes explicit mention of the necessity of keeping secret the accord.

Steven Friedman, director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy at Rhodes University and the University of Johannesburg, reported that in those years there were intensive contacts with Israeli nuclear scientists and well-established military cooperation, although the above mentioned documents have been disclosed only by the post-apartheid government. The South African opposition praised the Mandela cabinet for resisting Israeli pressures on the disclosure of these files.

Polakow-Suransky argued also that Peres, well-known for the independence with which he conducted foreign policy in the past, could have also approached South Africa without the consent of  Yithzak Rabin, the prime minister. Nevertheless, in the end the deal was not succesful and South Africa pursued an independent nuclear programme, abandoned by the post-apartheid government.

Jamaican police raids for US-wanted drug-lord turn into guerrilla.

Kingston is caught the middle of a warfare between the police and gangs loyal to Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke, a Jamaican boss wanted by the US for transnational smuggling of weapons and drugs. Three people have been killed so far, including a police officer, while Coke remains at large. Numerous airlines cancelled their flights to the island after Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding declared a state of emergency on Sunday.

The outbreak of violence followed Golding’s agreement to extradite Coke after a long wait due to the large influence Coke had on the prime minister’s labour party constituents. The Jamaican prime minister previously rejected US demands for Coke's extradition on controversial grounds of illegal wiretap evidence but he subsequently changed his position after a public outcry.

The drug trade in Jamaica has contributed to its having one of the highest rates of murders, amounting to 1,660 victims out of only 2.8 million people last year.

About the author

Andrea Glioti is a freelance journalist who has been living between Egypt, Lebanon and Syria in recent years, and whose academic background is focused on the Middle East (MA in Near and Middle Eastern Studies, majoring in politics at SOAS).