According to the Egyptian weekly online Al-Ahram a delegation of Egypt visited Ethiopian last week successfully delivered a message that they welcome any construction of Dam only if it is not affecting their water Quota and in the mean time managed to froze a signing of the Nile Basin agreement until Egypt elects a new parliament and president.
Meles Zenawi and his officials turned 180 degree (as a member of the delegation said it) to postponed the Nile Basin agreement.
Al-Ahram weekly talks with the delegation members in detail about the Ethiopia visit and Ethiopian official stand on the matter of Nile water and Millennium Dam.
“The visit was a success. We succeeded in what official diplomacy failed in,” said Mustafa El-Guindi, the head and general coordinator of the delegation. “Popular diplomacy managed to discuss and resolve an issue that is important to the people’s lives and security.”
The visit delivered a message to the Ethiopian government that Egypt welcomes any progress in Ethiopia provided it does not affect Egypt’s water quota, said Mohamed Abul-Ghar, a professor of gynaecology and obstetrics at Cairo University and one of the delegation members. “We postponed the ratification of the agreement in addition to getting some information about the dam to be built,” he added.
At the end of the four-day visit, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi announced that his country would postpone signing the Nile Basin agreement until Egypt elects a new parliament and president. He also agreed to form a committee of Ethiopian, Egyptian and Sudanese experts to look into the Millennium Dam project.
“It was such an emotional moment when Zenawi declared the postponement. Many members of the delegations cried,” El-Guindi told Al-Ahram Weekly after his return.
Although Zenawi repeatedly expressed his belief that the dam would not be of any harm to Egypt and other neighbouring countries, he agreed to wait until the project is further examined by a committee in which both Egypt and Sudan are represented. The 180-degree change in the Ethiopian stand, El-Guindi explained, indicated that they had decided to open a new page of cooperation with Cairo.
In order to reach that end, both sides tried to stress points of agreement and possible cooperation in the future in the interest of both states. The delegation members repeated that Ethiopia is entitled to a fair share of the Nile. They also expressed their belief that Ethiopia would not act in a manner that harms the Egyptian people whose livelihood is dependent on Nile waters. Members of the youth coalition who were represented in the delegation said that the majority of the youths who participated in the revolution which overthrew Hosni Mubarak support Ethiopia’s right to develop and exploit the river. Ethiopian officials expressed their understanding that the Nile is the basis of the lives of Egyptians and is essential to Egypt’s development. Both sides appeared to agree on the importance of finding new dimensions for cooperation on the use of the Nile.
“The popular facet of the delegation was shown during our visit to the cathedral when members of the delegation chanted with Ethiopian worshippers after the mass: “Egypt and Ethiopia, one hand,” Abul-Ghar elaborated.
The visit came after Prime Minister Essam Sharaf met Ethiopia’s ambassador to Egypt, during which both sides emphasised their willingness to turn a new page and resolve the Nile Basin saga. Sharaf is also scheduled to visit Ethiopia by the end of next week to hold further discussions on the issue with Ethiopian officials.
Tension erupted between Egypt and Sudan on the one hand and Ethiopia and the other Nile Basin states on the other when they failed to reach an agreement on the fair distribution of Nile waters. Failure to reach an agreement prompted Ethiopia, along with Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya, to sign a new pact in the Ugandan capital Entebbe in May last year. The five signatories gave the other Nile Basin countries one year to join the pact before putting it into action. Sudan and Egypt dismissed the new deal while the Congo and Burundi initially refused to sign; Burundi later signed. The agreement cannot be put into action until at least six states sign it.
The new pact is supposed to substitute the 1929 agreement between Egypt and Great Britain on behalf of Britain’s colonies which gave Egypt the right to most of the more than 100 billion cubic metres of water that reaches the downstream countries annually. It also gave it the right to veto any new projects or dams to be built by the other Nile states.
Tension further flared when Ethiopia announced it plans to build the Millennium Dam, a hydroelectric power dam along the Blue Nile River, despite objections from Egypt and Sudan. Egyptian fear emanates from the fact that a huge dam on the Nile will in all likelihood influence the flow of water volume to Egypt, which depends on the river for 90 per cent of its needs.
The relations deteriorated to such an extent that many, including Ethiopian opposition leaders, feared military action by Egypt.
Popular diplomacy managed to resolve the conflict and ease the tension.
The same delegation visited the Ugandan city Entebbe last month to discuss the Nile with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and other officials.
Another visit, El-Guindi said, would be to the US and France in order to write off Egyptian debts. No date has been set for the two visits.
Please Read the FULL REPORT on Al-Ahram weekly