Ethiopian Parliament referred the Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) to its Standing committee on Thursday, bringing  the ratification one session away.

Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam reservoir
Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam reservoir

The CFA is the first ever multilateral treaty on Nile which stipulates for the equitable sharing of the Nile waters. It was signed by was signed by Rwanda, Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania on May 2010, and by Kenya and Burundi in early 2011.

Egypt and Sudan are unwilling to sign the treaty as it doesn’t recognize their claims of exclusive “rights” on Nile, which they base on colonial-era treaties of dubious legal status. Congo has not signed the treaty but expected to do so as it was one of those urging for the signing process to commence and actively worked for the settlement of the disputed Article of the CFA.

Though Eritrea and South Sudan are Nile basin countries, they were not involved in the process. While Eritrea”s  contribution to the Nile river’s runoff is very small and South Sudan attained independence in mid-2011. However, South Sudan formally declared last month that it won’t abide by colonial-era treaties and it is sign the CFA.

The CFA was legible for ratification by each country as of February 2011, as it was signed by since 6 of the 9 countries involved.

However, with the Egyptian revolt and ensuing political instability, a public diplomacy” team consisting various sections of Egyptian people came to Addis Ababa on April 2011 to plead that Ethiopia reconsiders its position on the treaty as well as the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam that was launched the same month.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi promised them that the CFA will be put on hold until the end of the year, so that Egypt sorts out its internal matters, elects a parliament and come up with a workable compromise on Nile issues. Meles also offered to establish an International Panel of Experts, involving Egypt and Sudan, to assess the impact of the dam project. Yet, Ethiopia made it clear from the outset that it has no intention to re-negotiate the CFA, not halt the dam project.

The CFA remained on hold, as Egypt couldn’t yet get political stability, nor parliament yet.

Nonetheless, whatever time Cairo’s officials have, they are using it to lobby countries in the region against Ethiopia rather than formulate a sensible Nile policy. Some officials have been publicly entertaining the idea of negotiating with Nile countries in two groups, as a way of undermining their collective voice.

In an indication that Ethiopia’s patience is wearing thin, an official last month said that the government is to go through the ratification of the CFA.

Early last week, the state media reported that:

“The Council of Ministers has referred a draft proclamation on the Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement to the House of People’s Representatives (HPR) for ratification.”

A press release sent from the Office of the Prime Minster added:

“The upper riparian countries that signed the Cooperative Framework Agreement are highly desirous for the Agreement to be ratified and implemented, the statement said.

It said Ethiopia has to be exemplary to other riparian countries by ratifying the agreement.”

Though draft bills normally wait weeks, if not months, to be tabled in the parliament, the draft proclamation to ratify the CFA was tabled in less than 8 working days.

Official website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported last Friday that:

“The House of Peoples’ Representatives on Thursday (April 18th) referred a Proclamation ratifying the Nile Basin Cooperation Framework Agreement to its Natural Resource and Environmental Protection Standing Committee for discussion and approval.”

This means that the draft proclamation has passed the first reading stage. As it is a multilateral treaty, it is unlikely that the Standing Committee will spend time editing the text. Nor is there a need for much deliberation as it is known and supported by most of Ethiopian experts, even ordinary members of the public.

The Standing Committee may table the draft Proclamation for Second Reading and approval any day now.

This curiously coincides with the International Panel of Experts’ report on the Renaissance dam scheduled for next month.

The Report is not expected to recommend a list of matters to be negotiated and worked out by Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan – for which Cairo may not be much helpful – judging by her recent moves.

Recently, President Morsi received high-ranking officials of Eritrean government and indicated, in a press statement, that the later supports Egypt’s “historic rights” on Nile. A reminded of former President Hosini Mubarak’s invitation of President Isaias Afeworki when Ethiopia started the construction Tana Beles dam on a tributary of Nile in 2008.

Ethiopia’s move to the ratify the CFA appears to be an attempt to boost its bargaining position and push Egypt to come up with a compromise. One assumes Egypt would consider the Renaissance dam as a “better evil”, compared to the CFA, which establishes a new legal regime and opens the door wide open for all upstream countries, perhaps also persuade international financiers to lend for projects on Nile.


Check the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam for news and analyses covering the last two years.

Daniel Berhane

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