Uganda’s Museveni asks Egypt to look beyond Nile Water agreements

Uganda's Museveni asks Egypt to look beyond Nile Water agreements
The main bridge just after the source of the Nile in Jinja

Kampala, Uganda | By Michael Wandati | President Yoweri Museveni has called on Egypt to shift its focus toward increasing the quantity of water in the Nile rather than strictly adhering to the Nile Waters Agreements, which have restricted equitable use of the river across the basin.

Represented by Vice President Jessica Alupo, during the 7th Nile Basin Development Forum (NBDF),  Mr Museveni emphasized the importance of prioritizing an increase in the quantity of Nile water, rather than strictly adhering to existing Nile Waters Agreements, which have been a source of contention among basin countries.

Mr Museveni’s proposal centers on the idea of focusing on environmental conservation and protection to bolster the volume of water in the Nile, enabling equitable usage across all basin nations for various purposes, including energy production. This approach could lead to greater electricity production and a reduction in biomass energy usage, while also preserving the biodiversity of the Nile River catchment area.

The Nile River’s waters have long been a point of contention between upstream and downstream countries, leading to the creation of several agreements. The Anglo-Egyptian Agreement of 1929, for instance, allocated 48 billion cubic meters of Nile water annually to Egypt, with Sudan receiving 4 billion cubic meters during the same period.

This agreement also granted Egypt veto powers over construction projects along the river and its tributaries to protect the Nile’s flow. Recent disputes between Egypt and Ethiopia regarding Ethiopia’s dam construction on the Nile highlight the ongoing tensions.

Another significant agreement, the Khartoum Agreement of 1959, increased water allocations to 55.5 billion cubic meters for Egypt and 18.5 cubic meters for Sudan. Collectively, these agreements are known as the “Nile Waters Agreements,” which Egypt has long relied on to assert its rights to Nile waters.

However, upstream countries, including Uganda, argue that these agreements do not adequately represent their interests and needs regarding the river’s waters.

It’s essential to note that the Nile produces an estimated 84 billion cubic meters of water annually, serving a basin population of approximately 487.3 million people.

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Mr Museveni’s comments come at a time when Egypt has scaled back its involvement in the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), an organization it helped establish in 1999. This initiative aimed to enhance cooperation among basin countries for the sustainable use of Nile basin water resources.

To promote cooperation and unity, member states developed the Cooperative Framework Agreement, considered a more inclusive legal and institutional framework for governing the basin and its water resources. However, only six out of the ten NBI member states have signed this agreement.

At the same event, Prof. Patrick Loch Otieno Lumumba, a distinguished Pan-Africanist and scholar, challenged the NBI to move beyond bureaucratic settings and engage with grassroots communities to address issues directly impacting the people in the region.

He emphasized the need for technocrats to collaborate with those affected by the river’s decisions and underscored the importance of a transboundary relationship among basin countries, with each nation considering the effects of its projects on the Nile and its neighbors, in line with the shared responsibility of responsibly utilizing the river’s resources.