The hard negotiated River Nile Cooperative Framework of Agreement has thus far seen three ratifying countries out of the seven signatories. In the eyes of experts which The Ethiopian Herald approached for comments, the rest signatories ought to reiterate their commitment by expediting the ratification procedure.
The parliaments of three of the signatories –Ethiopia, Rwanda and Tanzania—have already passed the document. But, unless three more countries follow suit and deposit the ratifying instrument with the African Union, the Framework cannot come to effect. Put it another way, the basin-wide institution Nile River Basin Commission (NRBC) would not come to reality. The question is, therefore: How could ratifying countries encourage the remaining signatories to expedite the process?
It goes without saying that establishing a legal framework and common institution is useful to all riparian countries, argues Dr. Yakob Arsano who closely watches developments on the Basin.
For him, all the signatory countries are responsible in having the CFA ratified as per their national (constitutional) procedures. “As friends and co-riparian countries, and having negotiated for over ten years, the signatory countries can encourage one another to move forward on the ratification of CFA instrument. Indeed they can update one another on the progress of ratification in their respective countries.”
Most riparian countries have committed themselves in signing the CFA to benefit the 400 million people living in the basin system through nullifying the old-fashioned water allocation system which based on principle of absolute territorial integrity, where downstream countries discouraged any upstream developmental feats which uses the waters of the Nile.
This commitment materializes when Burundi, Kenya and Uganda complete the ratification procedure by effecting the agreed political commitment, Dr. Yakob indicates, adding that more basin countries should also accede the document.
The document was negotiated and agreed upon to establish trust, promote greater cooperation and enhance sustainable use of the Nile waters within each country as well as among the countries in such a way that the utilization of the water resources is in keeping with the principles and procedures provided in the agreement. Thus, its coming to force is useful to all riparian countries, more so to downstream countries, he adds.
In using the waters, basin states are required: to consider the social and economic needs of parties (CFA, Art.4 (2)b), and the population dependent on the water resources in each basin state— as well as effects of uses or use of the water resources in one Basin State on other Basin state (CFA, Art.4 (2)d).
Besides, Article 4(4) has it that the determination of reasonable and equitable use would be considered together (by signatory parties), while parties would observe the rules and regulations the Commission sets.
This and other provisions which confer the rights to development using the water and ensure the water security of the Basin States have to see six ratifying countries to deposit the ratifying instrument at the African Union. And it seems as time goes by, it puts its daunting impact on the development of the basin system and its millions of people.
Fekeahmed Negash is Eastern Nile Technical Regional Office (ENTRO) Executive Director. For him, the time is not yet over. “The agreement is linked with sovereignty of the states, and needs care.”
“The process is under different level of ratification in the remaining countries.”
It took nearly two decades to conclude the 1997 United Nations’ Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses. The long process had been to get 18 countries, out of 102 signatories, pass the document. “In our case, only six countries are needed to bring the CFA into effect. Now we need only three ratifications,” he points out.
Kenya will, most hopefully, pass the CFA. Its cabinet has already green lighted the document, and referred it to parliament. Likewise, South Sudan and Burundi put the CFA on the right track of ratification despite their domestic problems. Uganda is also expected to follow suit. But, downstream countries are not still part of the CFA. Sudan and Egypt walked out of the negotiation in 2010. The former came back to the cooperation table in 2013. But, the latter demanded to rephrase of Art. 14 (b) which is annexed with the CFA, to be resolved within six months of the Commission’s establishment.
The annexed article reads: “not to significantly affect the water security of any other Nile Basin State.” And Egypt demanded this to be rephrased with deadlock terms like “not adversely harming water security,” and “current uses” and “rights of any other Nile Basin State.”
In this case, Egypt seems to resuscitate the1929 colonial and 1959 bilateral agreements agreement, in one hand. Fekeahmed strongly argues that Egypt should support the document and sign it. “As cooperation has benefits, non-cooperation has also costs particularly to downstream countries.”
Non-cooperation harms downstream countries more than it does to upper. “Countries want Egypt to come to cooperation, Egypt’s absence has impacts on the cooperation, we want to include the interests of Egypt in our works, and we need them not to impede the process and should come back without prerequisite,” Fekeahmed urges.
Dr. Yakob on the other hand pointed out as Egypt or no other country can possibly have the said article or any provision in the signed and ratified agreement changed. It is provided in the CFA that Article 14b can only be considered by the NRBC upon its establishment. “First of all Egypt will have to accede the CFA, and join the NRBC to enjoy the privilege of requesting any revision or amendment to the provisions of CFA.
Asked whether Egypt’s ‘development cooperation’ with countries like Uganda, Burundi, Kenya and South Sudan may slow down the ratification process, Dr. Yakob responded this way: “The countries mentioned will not go against their own hard negotiated and already attained national interests. The governments cannot contradict themselves. The publics of the countries would also not accept compromises against their national interests.”
The experts assert that the CFA ratification procedure is on the right track and it is possible to see the long-sought basin-wide institution, NRBC, to come to view.
BY WORKU BELACHEW