4 June 1994
The Nile Basin
By Adel Darwish
As soon as fighting broke in Rwanda in April 1994, operation Crocodile Tail' was the first airlift: The Egyptian airforce quiet speedy and orderly evacuation of large numbers of their anon civilian ' nationals , according to one Cairo press report which was soon to disappear from the late editions.
Although Egyptian officials remain vague about who were those national and what was their mission in Rwanda, they report shed some light about in important issue.
, ``The Egyptian army'' said one retired officer, `` has plans, dating back to last century, to intervene in all eight countries in the Nile basin.'' They have at least one airborne brigade that trains regularly in jungle warfare: there are no jungles in Egypt.
Since Britain decide in 1894 to take a firm stand against French expeditions which lead to confrontation near Fashouda in Central Africa, Anglo-Egyptian policy viewed the Nile Basin as one geo-political unit. In his 1911 Book ` The River War' British imperialist statesman Winston Churchill said the Nile was like a huge palm tree with its roots spread over central Africa -- in Lakes Victoria, Albert and Keoga -- the long trunk in Egypt and Sudan, while the crown is the Delta in Northern Egypt; if the roots were to be reduced, then the rest of the tree will dry and eventually die.
Returning his country to the traditional concern with events in Africa and along the Nile in 1970s, Sadat, whose mother was black, saw him self as an African as well as an Egyptian, and shared the common Egyptian idea that the country was not really part of the Arab world at all. ` We survived as a great nation for over 5000 years without the Arabs,' Sadat said to the late Egyptian journalist Mousa Sabry in Aswan where he held talks with Israel's former Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1978.` But look over there, Mousa,' pointing south as the morning sun sparkled on the Nile. `We cannot survive without Africa.''
This concept is part of the collective Egyptian subconscious from times immemorial.
After signing the peace treaty with Israel in 1979 Egypt's foreign secretary at the time Boutros Boutros-Ghali - later the UN secretary General say that the only matter that would take Egypt to war would be over the Nile.
Within 24 hours of the arrival of Israeli Hydrologists in Ethiopia in 1989 to examine the proposed site of building dams on the Blue Nile the Ethiopian ambassador was called to the Foreign Office in Cairo. He was left in no doubt about Egypt's stern response while moving special forces near Ethiopia was reported in the press.
At the time Ethiopia was under the Marxist regime of Haile Mariam Mengistu and had little chance of getting finance to build dams or little support world wide. The story is now different, which makes the more hawkish trend in the Egyptian military urge for a strategic control of Sudan to be able to carry out military operations, if needed in Ethiopia.
The current strategic thinking of the Egyptian high command , makes a `temporary ' - which could mean years here - occupation of Sudan ` a realistic option' unless the regime is replaced with a more friendly one.
The rational is to carry out vital work to protect the Aswan Dam. (The Egyptians secretly carry out studies to determined how far south into Sudan the accumulation of silt - 130 billion tonnes of it that used to wash into the sea is deposited in front of Aswan Dam in the 60 km wide 500 km long lake Nasser - . It creates barriers occurring every few hundred kilometres. If one collapses the zillions of tonnes gushing could wash the rest and destroy the dam. Engineers study whether engineering and structural work is needed to avert such a disaster. If work is needed, then a military confrontation is inevitable.)
``One cause of the constant friction,'' said one Ethiopian official, is the Egyptian obsession with history.''
Cairo, said the official, is tries to carry out policy which the Anglo-Egyptians applied to the Nile Basin and its nations - Zaire, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya Ethiopia and Sudan. But in the late 20th century Britain is not in control of the African countries concerned while Sudan is no longer a de-facto province from which the Egyptian army can march unopposed southward.
But the situation is also complicated by Geography.
The basin shared among nine riparian states are likely to double their population before 2020; yet the amount of water the Nile brings is no more than it was when Moses was found in the bulrushes. -
The Nile is made of two sub-basins.
The equatorial or the White Nile sub-basin is itself divided into two sub-systems of tributaries known as the lakes terrain contributing 30 bn cubic meters of water annually. It embraces lakes Victoria, Albert, Edward and Keoga. The second group is the Semliki River tributaries mainly flowing Zaire and Uganda contributing 8.5 bn cubic meters annually before they join the other group north of lake Albert to form Bahr el-Jabal which holds 50 bn c meters. From this point it becomes the White Nile. By the time it joins with the second sub-system Blue Nile 2,500 km to the north only about 14 bn C meters are left and the rest is lost to evaporation.
The Egyptians invested heavily in digging up the 267 km long Jonglei Canal to save 50 bn c meters been evaporated in the hot swamps. The Sudanese Muslim Fundamentalist government is engaged into a war against the southern Christian and animists tribes, which stopped the work in the project. Such delays makes Cairo grow impatient.
The main feed to the Nile is the Blue Nile flowing from lake Tana in the Abyssinian highlands, contributing 85 percent of the Nile water and making the Egyptians very sensitive to any development there.
Britain in 1891 signed a protocol with Italy - which was acting on behalf of Ethiopia- forbidding the constructions of any projects that would affect the flow of water in the Atbarah river - which discharges into the Blue Nile - . Another accord ( the border demarcation between Ethiopia, Eritrea and the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan ), was signed in Addis Ababa in 1902 giving Britain and Egypt a veto over the construction of any projects on the Blue Nile, Lake Tana, or Sobat river that would effect the discharge of water to the Nile - this accord was cited by Egyptian officials in 1989 to threaten Ethiopian ambassador with military action..
Then in 1929 the final brick was put in place: an agreement was signed allowing Egypt a right of veto over any work in Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania or Uganda which Cairo might interpret as interfering with its right to the Nile water.
According to this treaty, Egypt has the right to inspect any part of the River Nile, from its distant beginnings before the streams discharge into Central African and Ethiopian mountain lakes all the way to the Mediterranean.
This agreement gave Britain and Egypt a greater say in the construction of the Owen Falls Dam in the early 1950s than Uganda itself. Egypt put up some money for the dam and sent engineers to help, and today an Egyptian engineer is still resident there, with the daily duty of giving permission for the amounts of water to be retained or discharged.
calls by African states like Tanzania, Ethiopia and Kenya, to review the old treaties signed under colonial rules and seen as unjust, to be replaced by new ones, fall on deaf ears in Cairo who made it clear that any violation of the Nile treaties would certainly be a casus belli.
When Khartoum in September 1994 deported some
Egyptian hydrologists there was an outrage in Cairo press. `` This is a
violation of The 1929 treaty,'' wrote influential Egyptian columnists Ibrahim
Sehda,`` what is the Egyptian army waiting for?''
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