May 6, 2013
(Ed’s note- The following article is a review by Hallelujah, one of NEVIS editors, on Zerihun Abebe’s article published on Section I of the same edition . In this connection, we would like to remind our readers that article reviews and also book reviews of books dealing with Ethiopian/African issues are most welcome.)
Review of Zerihun Abebe’s ‘The Cooperative Framework Agreement and the Future of the Nile Politics: The Scenarios’
By Hallelujah Lulie
In a CAF Champions League fixture that took place last week, St. George of Ethiopia was able to hold the giant of African club football, the Egyptian Zamalek in Cairo. Commentators predict that the Egyptian side would face a tough return leg in Addis Ababa after the unexpected 1-1 score sheet. Some saw the rise of the Ethiopian football, whose national team made it to the CAF Cup of Nation after three decades, and the unusual absence of the Pharaohs at the same event, and the latest result as a symbol of the decline in soft power of the pyramid nation and increasing visibility and emergence of Ethiopia.
While the two much anticipated game between the two clubs was making headlines, the law makers and politicians at the respective capitals were busy playing politics. As it is known, I am an editor in NEVIS, a promising community of scholars whose work is coordinated by indefatigable and passionate editorial team which I am proud to be part of. Consequently, I got the chance to review, before its publication in NEVIS Review, the article by Zerihun titled ‘The Cooperative Framework Agreement and the Future of the Nile Politics: The Scenarios’. Below are my comments on how what I think about the article.
I read Zerihun’s article in light of two important developments that took place in the past week. The first and the most important one was the news that Ethiopia was one step closer to ratify the Cooperative Framework Agreement of the Nile (CFA) on the one hand, and diplomatic and political attempts by the Egyptian government to halt such moves. The other, unsurprising happening hard to be labeled as news was a statement by the government in Asmara expressing its support for Cairo on the matter of the Nile. Just a little more than a month, the new kid in the block, South Sudan, announced through its Minster that it will not accept the 1929 and 1959 agreements between Cairo and Khartoum and will soon join the camp of Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Kenya. Such developments clearly show us how dynamic and complex the region and its hydro-politics is. In his semi-academic piece, Zerihun attempted to build scenarios for what he called ‘hydropolitical deadlock” facing the Nile Basin. He says: “Technically speaking currently the Nile is in a hydropolitical deadlock. While six upstream states (Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Rwanda) have signed the agreement and South Sudan have notified its decision for accession to the CFA, downstream Egypt and Sudan are still reluctant and have stated that they will not sign the agreement”
He keeps on highlighting how unfair the water regime has been and how Egypt and Sudan have defiantly divided the waters between themselves without the consent of the Upper Riparian states in addition to granting Egypt a veto power on upstream water projects. He then gives a historical background of the negotiations that led to the CFA which he dubs as milestone that changed the dynamics and power relations and ‘the beginning of the end of the status quo’. The CFA aspires to transform the regime and create Nile River Basin Commission (NRBC) as permanent intergovernmental organization ‘to promote and facilitate the implementation of the principles, rights and obligations provided for in the CFA ‘. According to Zerihun the framework is influenced by the 1997 United Convention on the Law of Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses, most visibly by “equitable and reasonable utilization (Article 7) and obligation no significant harm (Article 7).
Looking forward Zerihun predicts that the states who have already signed the CFA could ratify it and realize the NRBC though he found it difficult to tell what reactions will follow from Cairo and Khartoum and the bigger international community. He says that such a scenario would put the donors and international financial organizations between the devil and the deep blue sea to choose between ‘justice and fairness’ and otherwise’. A most favorable second scenario built by the paper envisions concessions from Egypt and Sudan to join the club of the signatories and the issues related to Article 14 (b) will be discussed after 6 months of the establishment of the Nile River Basin Commission. However such situation might not wash away the problem as differences surrounding Article 14 may not be resolved easily. The possibility of Egypt and Sudan joining the CFA after the completion of the grand projects of the upper stream projects around 2017/20 could be a third scenario. Such a situation could also ‘escalate the hydropolitical tension on the Nile Basin as each and every Nile riparian state will run for scramble for water through grand unilateral water projects where the cumulative effect will be violent conflict and an outright mutual destruction’.
Zerihun concludes that the Nile Basin is at the cross-roads where riparian states are to ‘choose either the road to fairness and justice where all riparian states are to win or to a path where there will be lose-lose situation’. It seems that the upper riparian states may continue to have the upper hand and continue with their plan to forward in ratifying the agreement and establishing the NBRC. The paper concludes by emphasizing that the old days characterized by manipulation and threat are long gone and the basin have entered a new era of negotiation and cooperation. Members of the basin may need to learn from the final score sheet of last week’s game, which ended 1-1, no one lost, no one won.