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East Africa: Colonial Treaty On Nile Waters is Finally Scrapped

Source:  Copyright 2006, East African
Date:  December 19, 2006
Byline:  Moses Matthew and Mike Mande
Original URL: Status DEAD

The colonial treaty signed in 1929 giving Egypt control over the waters of the River Nile while preventing other riparian countries from using them is to be repealed.

The formal annulment of the treaty this December will be followed by a new agreement that comes into force in January 2007, giving powers to the riparian countries to make use of the waters of Lake Victoria and the Nile.

Dr Shukuru Kawambwa, Tanzania's Minister for Water, last week told The EastAfrican that the agenda of a forthcoming meeting in Cairo in January 2007 will be to discourage Uganda from utilising water from the lake basin as its primary source of electrical power, with all the attendant detrimental effects on the Nile.

"The Egyptian government has agreed to host 10 countries in a meeting in January 2007, to discuss and sign the new Treaty on River Nile and Lake Victoria Basin Water Utilisation," he said.

The meeting will repeal the colonial agreement of 1929, which benefited Egypt while preventing other countries from using water from Lake Victoria or the Nile for irrigation, electricity and other major uses.

According to Dr Kawambwa, the move to prevent Uganda from drawing water from Lake Victoria aims at controlling the decline in the lake's water levels, a problem that has worsened in recent years. It is expected that the review of the treaty will be overall beneficial to East African countries.

In 2001, Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya raised serious concerns over two colonial agreements that gave Egypt and Sudan exclusive rights to Lake Victoria's waters. The agreements were made in 1929 and 1959 between Britain and Egypt.

The East African countries disagreed with the colonial arrangements, but Egypt and Sudan maintained that the agreements should not be changed and at one time even threatened to wage war against any country that insisted on reviewing them.

The colonial treaties themselves did not allow African countries neighbouring the Nile and Lake Victoria basin to discuss or amend them.

The founding president of Tanzania, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, denounced all agreements entered into by the colonialists regarding the waters of the Nile and Lake Victoria as null and void.

The two agreements meant that Tanzania's current plans to tap Lake Victoria's water for irrigation projects in the cotton growing areas of Mwanza and Shinyanga could not be undertaken without permission from Egypt and Sudan, although the two countries have irrigation schemes of their own.

"Tanzania will attend the meeting in Egypt next year ,at which proposals on laws relating to the use of lake water will be discussed," Dr Kawambwa said.

The existing treaty also prevents countries with rivers that flow into Lake Victoria from using their waters. Countries of the Lake Victoria and Nile basins are Egypt, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Congo, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Burundi and Eritrea.

The Tanzania parliament has of late been pushing the other East African governments to persuade Egypt and Sudan to review the treaty and start fresh negotiations, threatening to block tributary rivers that flow into the Nile and Lake Victoria.

Negotiations have been going on among the 10 countries under the aegis of the River Nile Basin Initiative.

Although there have been agreements on certain aspects of the use of Lake Victoria and Nile waters at a political level, many issues remain outstanding at the level of the Technical Advisory Committee (Nile TAC).

Meanwhile, Tanzania is going on with its $225 million project of tapping water from the lake aimed at supplying water to Mwanza, Shinyanga and central Tanzania upon completion in October 2007.

So far, $131 million has been spent on the project. The remaining $94 million will be spent in the next phase of the project, which begins next year.

The water project will also support irrigation schemes in the neighbouring regions, which have suffered from drought for many years.

The project, which has five contractors from China and Saudi Arabia, will supply water and power to Shinyanga, Mwanza and Dodoma.

Dr Kawambwa said the China Civil Engineering Company has completed 98 per cent of its part of the project at a cost of $27 million.

Contract No 2, under the Sinohydro company, also of China, has already been completed and was handed over to the government in October. Sinohydro was contracted to lay pipes from Mabale intake to Solwa and Shinyanga.

In Contracts Nos 3 and 4, pipes will be laid from Shinyanga to Kahama at a cost of $63 million and $ 2.6 million for the project supervision.

Contract No 5 for the supply of power by the National Corporation Power Supply from Saudi Arabia will cost $6.3 million.

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