Sunday, February 23, 2014

Egypt seeks Dar support for its return to AU fold

  Calls for immediate talks on use of Nile waters
Bernard Membe.
Egyptian foreign minister Nabil Fahmy yesterday made a public appeal to the government of Tanzania to support Cairo’s bid to regain membership to the African Union (AU).

Fahmy made the appeal in Dar es Salaam yesterday during diplomatic talks with his Tanzanian opposite number, Mr Bernard Membe.

Briefing the press soon after the meeting, Mr Fahmy said that, because of its loss of stature in the AU, Cairo was keen to seek Tanzania’s support on regaining its membership in the regional bloc, but on how that can happen remains unclear.

Other calls for closer cooperation among the Egyptian and Tanzanian business communities also sounded like riders.

Only the third item on Mr Fahmy’s diplomatic bag -- a call to the riparian countries that are sharing river Nile waters to convene a meeting that would come out “with mutual understanding” on the use of its  waters – could explain why Dar was his key destination of choice.

Seven years before Hosni Mubarak, the country’s longest serving president was deposed in a popular uprising (dateline c. February 11, 2011), a battle for control over the Nile broke out in 2004 between Egypt, which regards the world's longest river as its lifeblood, and the countries of sub-Saharan Africa, which complain that they are denied a fair share of its water.

At the height of that dispute, which some observers believed could lead to a new conflict in east Africa; Tanzania announced plans to build a 105-mile pipeline drawing water from Lake Victoria, which feeds the Nile. Analysts then concluded that the “project flouts a treaty giving Egypt a right of veto over any work which might threaten the flow of the river.”

The Nile Water Agreement of 1929, granting Egypt the lion's share of the Nile waters, has been criticised across east African as a colonial relic. Under the treaty, Egypt is guaranteed access to 55.5bn cubic metres of water, out of a total of 84bn cubic metres.

The then Egyptian water minister, Mahmoud Abu-Zeid, described Kenya's intention to withdraw from the agreement as an "act of war". Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the former UN secretary-general, predicted that “the next war in the region will be over water.”

The Nile treaty, which Britain signed on behalf of its east African colonies, forbids any projects that could threaten the volume of water reaching Egypt. The agreement also gives Cairo the right to inspect the entire length of the Nile.

East African countries have resented the treaty since they won their independence. Kenya and Tanzania suffer recurrent droughts caused by inadequate rainfall, deforestation and soil erosion.

The proposed Lake Victoria pipeline is expected to benefit more than 400,000 people in towns and villages in the arid north-west of Tanzania.

Then water minister, Edward Lowasa defended the project, saying: "These are people with no water," he was quoted saying at the time. "How can we do nothing when we have this lake just sitting there?"

The Nile, which is over 4,000 miles long, is fed by the White Nile, flowing from Lake Victoria, and the Blue Nile, flowing from Ethiopia.

An estimated 160 million people in 10 countries depend on the river and its tributaries for their livelihoods. Within the next 25 years, the population in the Nile basin is expected to double, and there is a growing demand to harness the river for agricultural and industrial development.

Uganda’s celebrated commentator Charles Onyango-Obbo wrote : "Egypt can't enjoy the benefits of having access to the sea, while blocking a landlocked country like Uganda from profiting from the fact that it sits at the source of the Nile."

The AU suspended Egypt from all activities following the overthrow of the government of the then president Mohammed Morsi. The decision of the 54-member bloc came while demonstrations in support of ousted president Mohammed Morsi were underway in Cairo, the Egyptian capital.

"As mandated by the relevant AU instruments, the African Union Peace and Security Council decided to suspend the participation of Egypt in AU activities until the restoration of constitutional order," Admore Kambudzi, Secretary of the Peace and Security Council of AU, said told media practitioners July 06 2013 after a meeting that executed suspension

Suspension of membership is the AU's usual response to any interruption of constitutional rule by a member state; Morsi was removed from the office by the army after mass protests against his government.

The move made history – because the AU was the first international body to punish Egypt following Morsi's overthrow.

Egypt becomes the fourth country to face suspension from the AU in the past four years, after Madagascar, the Central African Republic, Guinea-Bissau and Mali (which has been reinstated).

Almost immediately, Egypt responded to its suspension by expressing "deep regret" in a statement posted on its official Facebook page, but to date, the organization has placed the country in the sidelines.

While the AU's move is customary in the event of the interruption of a member country's constitution, it is still remarkably significant given the international indecision that has lingered following Morsi's removal from power, and fears of such an incident creating a precedent for the continent.

It also means that Egypt has now been suspended from all branches of the AU, reducing its influence over internal African affairs, at a time when the North African giant had been attempting to regain influence in the continent.

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