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>> The Daily News Egypt


The Daily News Egypt - August 20, 2010


by Tamim Elyan


A sweeping victory for Paul Kagame in Rwanda's presidential elections last week preceded by a similar victory for President Pierre Nkurunziza in Burundi sparked doubts over the future of the water treaty debacle amid intense political activity in the Nile Basin countries.

Along with a major referendum in Kenya over a new constitution implementing radical changes in the political structure of the country toward a decentralized system of governance, the three events were hailed for reinforcing stability in an economically promising region.

In Egypt, however, the outcome of such political activity throughout Nile Basin countries is closely monitored to assess the impact elected policy makers may have on the current feud over water shares.

As Tanzania awaits parliamentary and presidential elections in October followed by Uganda in January 2011, familiar faces are expected to follow Kagambe's footsteps and stay in power for another reign, said Attia Essawy, African affairs expert at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

"What matters for Egypt isn't who is in power but whether he will commit to international treaties or not," Essawy said.

"Ethiopia is the main player since it controls 85 percent of water sources and has been politically stable since 1995 under Prime Minister Meles Zenawi; so the role the other six Nile Basin countries can play is minimal," he added.

Despite criticism over the lack of powerful opposition and exclusion of several dissidents, Kagame earned his second consecutive reign as president of Rwanda winning 93 percent of the votes against three other contenders in what was described as "fair" elections.

In October, 44 million Tanzanians are set to participate in the country's general elections to decide whether the Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) (Party of the Revolution) headed by President Jakaya Kikwete will remain in power.

Pressure mounts on Kikwete ahead of the elections from voices demanding that independent candidates are allowed to run in the elections based on a court ruling that the government appealed against as well as the emergence of the Chama Cha Jamii (CCJ) party formed of former CCM figures who chose to distance themselves from the party.

In Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, in power since 1996, will have to face a coalition of four opposition parties who will each hold primaries to pick a candidate and then contest for the larger Inter-Party Cooperation ticket.

Last June, in boycotted elections by the opposition in Burundi, President Pierre Nkurunziza's party — re-elected in the presidential poll a month earlier — took 81 of the 106 seats being contested.

According to Mahmoud Aboul Enein, dean of the African Studies Institute at Cairo University, old governments are capable more than others of understanding the dimensions of the water problem and the importance of relations with Egypt.

"However, it is an internal affair governed by people's choices and Egypt should support this notion since the stability of these countries is in Egypt's interest," Aboul Enein said.

Rwanda, Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania signed a new treaty on the equitable sharing of the Nile waters despite strong opposition from Egypt and Sudan who called on Nile Basin countries to abide by the 1929 and 1959 treaties regarding water shares.

Electoral propaganda

According to Essawy, although the issue of Nile water was used in electoral campaigns, the aim was to win voters by giving promises of restoring their rights in Nile's water.

"Once elected, governments aren't capable of modifying the treaty or signing new ones without the consent of Egypt and Sudan according to international law," he said.

According to Essawy, three factors control the tempo of the Nile Water issue in these countries and they do not include elected governments' policies. First, the mounting need for electricity and food to face increasing populations, 80 percent of which have no electricity and are in dire need for development projects.

Second, the feeling among Nile Basin countries that water treaties were forced on them during the colonial époque; although, this contradicts with a basic principle in international relations implying that treaties signed during the colonial era must not be changed or modified unless all signing parties agree.

Third, external pressure from Israel convincing these countries that they don't benefit from their own water in order to use them as a political card in its Arab-Israeli conflict.

"Most of these countries depend on other water sources rather than the Nile and the issue doesn't constitute a priority for the publics in these countries," Aboul Enein said.

"They couldn't do anything since their independence 50 years ago because these treaties are protected by international law," Essawy said.

Foreign interference

With various foreign sides involved in the region for political and economic interests, candidates may be supported by foreign governments; however, according to Essawy, neither Egypt nor Israel has the financial ability or capacity to play this game.

"The US is interested in reformulating the regions' politics to serve its corporate businesses operating in the fields of petroleum, uranium and other strategic raw material and they have succeeded in doing this but the Eritrean and Sudanese regimes remain," he said.

The White House National Security Council expressed in an official statement concerns over "a series of disturbing events prior to the election" in Rwanda including the suspension of two newspapers, the expulsion of a human rights researcher, the barring of two opposition parties from taking part in the election, and the arrest of journalists.

"The US created what is called the ‘new African block’ comprising Museveni, Kagambe and Zenawi turning them into trade partners rather than aid recipients and is using them to serve its own interests; however, the US' agenda doesn't include water issues but terrorism and democracy," Aboul Enein said.

However, Aboul Enein warned that although the US is not in favor of a crisis in the Nile Basin, it may use the current feud to its own agenda creating a new role for itself in the region.

Sharing vs allotment

Out of 1,570 billion cubic meters of Nile water, Egypt's share is roughly 87 billion cubic meters; 95 percent of the remaining water is wasted.

"Against pressure from these countries, Egypt responded by showing flexibility in allowing the construction of dams for generating electricity and offering international funding for local projects in return of excessive water they don't need," Essawy said.

"However, the feeling that they have to terminate old water treaties forced on them by the colonial powers remains the biggest hurdle in front of mutual cooperation," he added.

According to Aboul Enein, the current situation isn't in favor of the people of the region since neither Egypt nor Sudan will respond to pressures; in fact, this may lead to international partners in development projects to quit these projects.

"The best solution is the development of water resources rather than adopting equitable sharing policies," he said.

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