The Clash of Pax Britannica and Pax Africana over the Nile River (Part 2)

The main goal of Egypt’s strategy in destabilizing Ethiopia as well as subverting its efforts to get funds for development of the Nile or indeed other projects has been to sustain the colonial treaties of Pax Britannica and its ‘water imperialism’. This meant that the strategy is also directed against any efforts by other upstream countries to develop and use the Nile waters as part of the decolonization process and their own development.

The result is a major fault line between Egypt, acting as promoter of the unjust use of the Nile River originally implanted by the British Empire, and Ethiopia and other riparian countries, the promoters of the Pax Africana’s view of equal and fair utilization of the Nile under which all the peoples of Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, and all other upstream countries can find discuss and find solutions to any disagreements over the use of the river.

It is particularly disheartening for upstream countries and for Ethiopia, of course, that Egypt persists in its outdated political and diplomatic efforts to try to internationalize water development projects. It stands in vivid contradiction to the concept of the Pax Africana that aims to promote and assist in the full engagement of Africans, all Africans, in the development of Africa’s strategic efforts to maintain peace, stability, security and prosperity.

As Ethiopia has persistently demonstrated, it believes in the pivotal role of ‘genuine’ dialogue and discussion to address the concerns of lower riparian countries over the GERDP. It immediately and unconditionally accepted implementation of all the recommendations of the International Panel of Experts’ report, including the suggested studies for a hydropower model and on trans-boundary environment and socio-economic impact issues.

At the same time, it is pushing ahead with the construction of the dam in a spirit of mutual development and mutual help based upon trust. The essence of Ethiopia’s position is firmly established in a way that any disagreement over sharing of usage of the Nile River should be worked out and resolved by Africans themselves rather than by others from lands far beyond the Nile Basin. Ethiopia indeed is implementing the concept of ‘African solutions to African problems.’

What has also proved disappointing to Ethiopia and other upper riparian countries is Egypt’s continued conceptualization of the term ‘security’. Egyptian politicians and intellectuals seem content to view ‘security’ as a matter of their own self-interest and ‘right’, for Egypt, and Egypt alone, to exploit the waters of the Nile solely and eternally. There is no room in this view for any upstream country to share in usage of the river.

This characterization of the concept of ‘security’ hardly conforms to contemporary views of global interdependence. No nation today is sufficient to itself. Interdependence is the norm in the present world affairs. According to a book called China Comes to Africa, Dr. Kinfe Abrham quoted the former Chinese President’s identification of the concept of ‘security’ with shared visions, interests and benefits of countries. Mr. Jiang Zemin emphasized that the new and emerging security concept of the 21st century was something cemented by ‘mutual benefit, equality and coordination.’ Such a new security vista rightly places collective benefits and joint developments higher in a century in which, to quote Dr. Kinfe Abraham “‘mutual trust is the basis; mutual benefit is the objective; equality is the guarantee; and coordination is the means”. Unhappily Egypt appears determined to reject this new approach, consistently returning to the old colonial agreements which claim to uphold the exclusive vision, interest and benefit of the Nile Waters for Egypt.

This underlines the fault line between the Pax Britannica and Pax Africana, a fault line with seriously detrimental social, environmental, economic and security repercussions for all the peoples of the Nile Basin. Egypt’s strategy, indeed, can only encourage further inequality, exclusion, state fragility, socio-economic malaise, depletion of water resources and other problems for the region and the whole of the Nile Basin.

Water security as defined by Egypt remains in opposition to Ethiopia’s right to development, negating fundamental human rights and the sanctity and dignity of the lives of Ethiopians and of millions of East Africans residing along the banks of the Nile River. It infringes Ethiopia’s sovereign rights to develop, utilize and use its resources within its own territories, resources that including the Blue Nile, Tekezze and Baro-Akobo rivers – as long as these do not have any adverse impact on lower riparian countries.

Ethiopia’s current aim is to terminate the current unjust, unequal and colonial status of water development along the Nile within the framework of mutual benefit and mutual trust and of fair share and usage. It is a desire shared all the other riparian states without exception. Even British imperialists eventually began to question the full ownership of the Nile that they had given to Egypt, raising questions in the 1950s about the future of British East Africa’s future water supply and equal entitlement of Nile usage. One of the questions was: what would be the future of the British East Africa with the increasing water demand and equal entitlement of the Nile for their development?

Egypt’s historical rights have been thoroughly questioned with sound reason by Poet Laureate Tsegaye Gebre-Medhin, who poetically identifies the Nile River as “the blood of Ethiopia, the mother of the Cush, the introducer of civilization to the world [born] from the rays of the ancient creature born of the womb of Cush.” Ethiopia, the cradle of humanity, developed its first civilizations along the waters of the Nile and its tributaries.

Other examples multiplied: the Nubians of Meroe in the Sudan, the Aksumites in Ethiopia, the Pharaonic empires of Egypt, the Makondes of Tanzania and many others erected their temples of African civilization along the river, recognizing the River’s sustenance and fertility and its provision of mutual interdependence, human dignity and love for future peoples.

What Egypt, above all, as one of the oldest civilizations in Africa and the World, should remember from its historic experience is the importance of genuine shared vision, of the interests and benefits of present and future generations. It should draw the lesson that its own water security must encompass the security and interests of upper riparian countries, not dwell on short-term political or supposed diplomatic gains.

Now is the most critical time for the countries of the Nile Basin. According to recent security studies, African states are threatened by continuing high levels of poverty, increasing youth population, unemployment, over-rapid urbanization, inequality, exclusion, conflicts, climate disruption, environmental degradation and other dangers. There is almost universal agreement that greater integration and enhanced partnership are the imperative necessities to enable Africa to resolve these challenges in the years ahead.

The Nile Basin is no exception to this reality. It is home to 20 per cent of the people of Africa. There is no alternative. Egypt , like Sudan and all the other upstream countries must realize genuine cooperation and continuous discussion, based on the priorities of African Renaissance including development of comparative advantage, development of infrastructure, bridging the technological divide, human development and consolidation of the peace, security and stability of Africa, is the way to resolve disagreement.

The result will provide for greater economic, social, political and cultural integration with a myriad of benefits as well as create a win-win atmosphere in the Nile Basin. Forging partnerships, encouraging mutual benefit, equality, coordination, and a shared vision is the way to heal and replace outdated water imperialism, replace the Pax Britannica with a Pax Africana, and finally erase the unnecessary though deep-rooted fear, suspicion and mistrust still existing in Egypt.


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