Egypt Independent

Agreements and historical rights in the Nile



It is the right of any Egyptian to speak, and write, about the Nile River, because that is his right to life. There is a lot of confusion about our rights regarding the waters of this river, and confusion about why we negotiate; so, as is our right, let us express our anger.

May God help President Sisi, a president who inherited a terrible legacy. History will show that currently Egypt is exposed – due to Ethiopian intransigence – to something it has not been exposed to in its ancient, middle, and modern history.

Everyone is talking about our ‘historical’ rights, and now we must go public with the issue to organizations which will form agreements regulating the use of Nile River waters for all the countries through which it runs.

These rights are known even before the organizations determines regulations setting out rules for using the waters of transboundary rivers. Everyone is talking about them, but no one has unpicked these international agreements, some of which have been adhered to for over a century.

Let us explain our rights which are protected by international law.

In the beginning there were agreements regarding the Eastern Nile, which stems from the Ethiopian highlands – primarily the Blue Nile, to the Abay River, the Atbarah River, and the Gash River.

There are also agreements concerning the uses of the White Nile in all its tributaries: Baḥr al-Jabal (Mountain Nile), Bahr el-Ghazal (Gazelle River), Bahr el-Zaraf (Giraffe River) and others.

We dedicate our article today to Ethiopia’s rivers because of the Renaissance Dam project, as well as projects on the Atbarah River, such as the Tekeze Dam.

We’ll postpone the talk about the agreements organizing the use of the White Nile and its branches that emanate from the Ethiopian Highlands for another time.
This postponement is not because the countries using the White River haven’t complained, but rather because Egypt clinging to its water usage rights in the Blue Nile against Ethiopia would increase friction between eight countries who use the While Nile. The countries along the Blue Nile, however, are just three, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Egypt. It is no secret that the countries who share the White Nile eagerly anticipate the result of our battle with Ethiopia.

Age-old agreements preserve our rights in the rivers flowing from Ethiopia to the Nile River, whether these rivers are the Blue Nile, Atbarah or Sobat. These agreements rightfully do not contest the eternal right of Egypt to the Nile, they are aware the Nile is the river of Egypt.

Perhaps the three military campaigns sent by Khedive Ismael to fight Ethiopia in 1875 mark one of the stages of this conflict on the Nile. Further, we cannot forget Egypt was commissioned to explore the tributaries of the Nile and its branches well over a century ago, in the 1860s and1870s.

Britain, Italy, France, and Congo (under Belgian occupation) prompted Europe to hold an 1884 conference in Berlin to divide the spheres of influence between 15 countries, and agree upon the borders of each country in Africa.

The protocol signed by Britain and Italy in Rome on 15 April 1891 is the first to regulate these water relations, going beyond determining the spheres of influence in Eastern Africa.
In this protocol, Italy – with its influence in Abyssinia (then Ethiopian Empire) – pledged “not to set up any facilities for irrigation on the Atbarah River, which may modify the flow to the Nile River, significantly.” Note that there are projects being established or being studied by Ethiopia on Atbarah River, the Tekeze Dam, to name one.

Following this protocol came Britain and Ethiopia’s agreement on border demarcation between Ethiopia and Sudan, signed on 15 May 1902. In this agreement, the the King of Abyssinia pledged “no instructions be issued, or that the King allows to issue any [instructions] in relation to the work of anything on the Blue Nile or Lake Tana,” without the prior consent of Britain as state power in both Egypt and Sudan. The Blue Nile and Sobat River flow from Lake Tana, and may obstruct the flow of water into the Nile River. This agreement itself was written in Amharic and signed by the King of Ethiopia.

In London on December 13, 1906, an agreement was signed between Britain, France, and Italy. The fourth clause of the agreement was focused on securing the interests of Britain and Egypt in the Nile basin, particularly the arrival of the waters of the Blue Nile and its tributaries to Egypt. The agreement further took into account the local interests of the countries through which the Nile passes – whose development, President al-Sisi said, must not be neglected.

The Organization of African Unity (OAU) came to confirm the stability of these agreements so as not to erupt civil wars between these countries. If Ethiopia now rejects these conventions on the pretext of colonialism, then what it would say about the agreement of the OAU, which is based in Addis Ababa?