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Opinion: Why internationalize Nile when all that’s required is pragmatism around discussion tables?

“The construction reached 73.7%. We are on active work of installing the two turbines, conveyance systems, bottom outlets & raising the lower blocks. Revised work schedule is being delivered as planned,” Dr. Seleshi Bekele on May 27.

By Nebiyu Tedla Negash @NebiyuTedla

Addis Abeba, June 10/2020 – Water is no doubt one of the essential natural resources states are endowed with to realize sustainable development and to prosper ones nation and remove citizens from the grips of poverty. The Nile River that tied together millions of Africans is one of these vital resources that Ethiopia and other riparian states considered a strategic resource.

Unfortunately due to rapid population growth in the Nile River Basin, the fast urbanization and industrialization, as well as the emerging global warming made water a scarce commodity not only to the basin countries but across the globe. Apparently this insufficiency shrouded hydrological condition is projected to rise in the years to come unless proper mitigation is implemented. Hence at a time of water stress it wouldn’t be a surprise to observe countries scramble to manage their transboundary water resources in a fair and sustainable manner. Managing their resources in line with shared responsibility is absolutely crucial to realize peace, stability and development within state level and beyond.

It is out of this firm conviction that Ethiopia has its focus set with like-minded countries to use transboundary resources, the likes of Nile River as a source of genuine cooperation and partnership between governments and people in the basin. Ethiopia has once again reaffirmed its longstanding political commitment to continue a win-win approach for shared prosperity and overcoming poverty.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has reaffirmed Ethiopia’s political commitment to continue to use transboundary resources like that of the Nile River without causing significant harm to others with a genuine and lasting commitment for shared prosperity. The Prime Minister, in his address to the extra ordinary session of the Ethiopian House of People’s Representatives (HoPR) on June 8 assured that the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) project is equally to benefit the lower riparian countries against the odds that it would jeopardize the livelihoods of those at the lower end of the river and urged all to see the GERD and the scheduled first stage filling positively. He stressed that Ethiopia’s pursuit of the principle of equitable and reasonable utilization of the Nile would not in any way inflict significant harm on downstream countries.

This kind gesture, once again reached out by an Ethiopian official, demonstrates Ethiopia’s conviction to only use Transboundary Rivers as source of cooperation. Of course we have heard similar stances by others in the past in affirming this theory. Of course, saying this is very much easy than carrying out the same in practice. The later necessitates to rise above hurdles and impediments that affect development towards a win-win approach of a realistic partnership accord.

It is for this reason that Ethiopia has been at the forefronts of having dialogue on any qualms over the GERD from the very beginning albeit various challenges on the ground. This is self evident as the Prime Minister made it clear to the parliament how Ethiopia beforehand informed both Egypt and Sudan on the full design and all relevant information pertaining the GERD to develop confidence and leave no one behind.

This evident display of commitment for cooperation by the PM in the credence that the utilization of transboundary waters, including that of the Nile River, is a source of regional cooperation for shared development. A natural endowment which belongs to all riparian states that should lead to strengthening of fraternity and greater understanding between the basin people and political elites.

It was against this background of commitment for cooperation that the unfortunate internationalizing of the Nile was required recently. The mismanagement of talks on transboundary resources other than providing alternative courses of action to the impasse could lead to tension when non affected actors are increasingly present. As long as the solution is not searched elsewhere to kick start stalled consultations with commitment among the parties concerned, it will not yield positive results. Why the need to internationalize Nile when round tables are still available and are broad enough to accommodate all?

The realization of this partnership is not of course an easy task but one that requires wisdom, patience, commitment and spirit of cooperation. It seems this wisdom now has once again led the three eastern Nile countries to resume talks over the practical steps of filling the GERD this week. Ethiopia’s strong conviction on the critical importance of dialogue is born out of past experiences, which used water as an instrument of transforming differences of opinion to that of cooperation and partnership. Creating and building a win-win partnership is indeed as long as states accept that trnasboundary resources can and must be utilized equitably and in a just and reasonable manner.

As long as the appropriate political will and unwavering commitment is there for continued dialogue to iron out any suspicions and differences, which are natural , it will definitely create a favorable condition for peace and economic cooperation and regional integration that can benefit all if we can learn from history. Water experts have continued to assure us by taking lessons from history that no state has gone to unbutton the scabbard to draw its dagger. It is for this reason that Ethiopia has continued to display a consistent position to actively pursue a path of cooperation on regional transboundary water management issue as we have witnessed from the Ethiopian parliament’s recent session. This will no doubt lead to a productive and well functioning mechanism of cooperation than conflict with a negotiated outcome.

Previously the cooperation between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan has resulted in the signing of the Declaration of Principles (DoP) by the leaders of the three countries. Another manifestation of regional cooperation for harmonious utilization of the river was the decade long negotiated Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) that was signed by six of the Nile riparian states and ratified by three. It is natural to hope that Egypt’s and others demand for “historic right” can only be suitably addressed in a broader resource-sharing arrangement through the Nile Basin Commission, once the CFA is ratified. But not at a time leading up to the impounding of the GERD. The people of the three countries sincerely hope that once again when the technical talks resume among Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan officials over the filling of the GERD a way will be charted ahead. The future of the partnership among the three parties stands at a decisive juncture with the chance to reflect on what has so far transpired at the resumption of the three-party talks this week.

As far as the rights of utilizing the water of the Nile is concerned every riparian state is not obliged to seek the permission or blessing of the other to execute development projects. But as PM Abiy indicated in his address to the Ethiopian Parliament each should not be interested in harming the other even though differences exist. The most important step that will take us forward is the commitment to mechanism for dialogue anchored on the twin principles of mutual understanding and respect. Such mechanisms that allowed the respective countries to consolidate gains within their own regional context will help address fundamental issues than internationalizing the matter at hand and complicate matters to undermine efforts exerted by countries affected as seen recently. It is this partnership oriented talks between the parties themselves that can bring concrete solution for the people of the basin and promote durable peace and stability. AS


Editor’s Note: Nebiyu Tedla Negash is Minister Counselor, Deputy Consul General, Consulate of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Jeddah, KSA. He can be reached at

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