Sunday, September 18, 2011

Egypt, Ethiopia look for better water relations

CAIRO: Egypt and Ethiopia are looking to put past disagreements over the use of Nile water behind them after Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi visited Cairo to discuss the two countries’ future relations. Water was a top subject discussed.
It was the first visit to Egypt by Zenawi since a popular uprising toppled the former government of President Hosni Mubarak in February. During Mubarak’s time in office, Cairo and Addis Ababba had long disputed water-sharing along the Nile.
In recent years, Ethiopia has been more willing to go it alone, announcing numerous plans to erect dams along the Nile, which has angered Egyptian officials, who demand a lion’s share of the water under colonial era treaties.
Zenawi thanked Prime Minister Essam Sharaf “for helping in opening a new chapter of relations between Egypt and Ethiopia.”
“We all agree that the Nile is a bridge, it is not a barrier,” he told a news conference.
“The future is a new relationship between Ethiopia and Egypt based on a win-win strategy. The past is a past based on a zero-sum game. That is gone. There is no going back,” Zenawi said.
Still there is tension between Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) countries and Egypt, with the North African country refusing to sign onto a new agreement made by the other members.
The revised agreement, signed by Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, plans to allow irrigation and hydroelectric projects to go ahead without Cairo’s consent.
Zenawi said his country had delayed the submission of the treaty for ratification “so that the new Egypt can study in carefully.”
“We will wait for the Egyptian side to make its decision in this regard,” he said.
In March, Ethiopia announced the construction of the Renaissance Dam, which aims to be the largest hydroelectric plant in Africa.
During their talks in Cairo, the prime ministers agreed that a technical team from Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan would be sent to Ethiopia to look into how the dam would affect downstream countries, Zenawi said.
“It is wrong to deliver a message to our children and grandchildren that establishing a dam is a problem,” Sharaf told reporters.
“Our main goal and ultimate goal is to develop an integrated development plan and that it benefits both countries,” he said.
Both Zenawi and Sharaf — who visited Ethiopia for Nile talks in May — highlighted the positive nature of the talks and said they would be followed by further discussion.
“We have agreed on the establishment of a political dialogue mechanism at the level of foreign ministers to ensure regular meetings,” Sharaf said.