Will Egypt succeed in Imposing the Anglo-Egyptian Colonial Legacy?

Filed under: Opinion & Analysis |

Metta-Alem Sinishaw, Washington, DC


·     Egypt maintains hegemony over the Nile River and enjoys exclusive right, including veto power, based on the 1929 Anglo-Egyptian colonial treaty and the 1959 Egypt-Sudanese agreement.

·     Egypt succeeded in depriving Ethiopia of access to development financing and engaged in an indirect war of destabilization by supporting various ethnic liberation fronts and proxy wars.

·     Ethiopian double-digit economy growth is facing sever electricity shortage that required building the renaissance dam with which Ethiopia aspires to advance regional integration.

·     Egypt requested the US and the World Bank for intervention whose proposal appears to corroborate colonial era exploitative deals and profoundly undermines Ethiopian sovereignty.

·     Ethiopia is calling on the African Union and other Africans to bring Egypt back to negotiation based on the Nile Cooperative Agreement and promote regional integration for mutual benefit.

The Afro- Egypt relations:

Egypt played central role in African affairs only during the reign of Gamal Abdel Nassir, one of African best anti-imperial ideologue, leader of non-allied movement, and founding member of the organization of African Unity (OAU). Except establishing little African museum recently, Egypt has never had robust African policy and its public lack knowledge about Africa and Africans.

After the1995 assassination attempt, Hosni Mubarak follows the footsteps of Sadat, abandoned Africa, and never attended any OAU or African Union (AU) summit. Its foreign policy narrative depicts the Nile riparian countries as politically unstable and economically unable to develop their water resources. Following the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) project and the signature of the Nile the Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA), Egypt become nervous and reinvigorate its diplomatic relations anew.

British colonial legacy remains the cause of disagreement:

British government’s desire for secured cotton supply for its textile industry was the pedigree of British colonialism over the Nile River riparian countries. While the 1929 Anglo-Egyptian colonial treaty assigned 4 BCM to Sudan and 48 BCM to Egypt, including veto power over the Nile River, the 1959 Egyptian-Sudanese agreement reassigned 18.5BCM and 55.5 BCM of the Nile water to Sudan and Egypt, respectively.

Although Ethiopia supplies 85 percent of the Nile water, it has never been part of the treaty nor the agreement. Pressurized by demographic shift and economic constraint, Ethiopia and other Riparian countries demand equitable share of the Nile water resources based on shared interest. However, Egypt remains intransigent to the plight of Africans and has not yet become signatory to the decade long negotiated CFA which aims regional integration.

Destabilizing Ethiopia as a strategy to maintain hegemony on Nile:

Since the 1950s, Egypt has been engaged in an indirect war against Ethiopia. Globally, using its proximity to the West and the Arab world, Egypt has succeeded in depriving Ethiopia of access to multilateral financing for development.

Domestically, Ethiopia remains the major target of Egyptian relentless efforts of destabilization. It actively supported the Eritrean war of independence that compromise Ethiopia’s access to the sea. It provided critical and lifeline support for various ethnic base liberation fronts aiming for Ethiopia’s disintegration. It recruited Ethiopian neighbors into the Arab league irrespective of their identity or creed, and supported the Somalian war of irredentist aggression against Ethiopia and paved the way for the emergence of the then Islamic Court and the current al-shebab. Egypt continues arming South Sudan, seeks military base, and allegedly finances ethnic and religious entrepreneurs to mount instability and deter the completion of the GERD project.

Africa raising:

Ethiopia became one of the fastest growing economy and emerged as key Western partner in the war against terrorism and a grantor of regional security. New global powers and regional actors fostered new partnership with Africa, some with unprecedented investments.

As the second most populous African nation, Ethiopia faces demographic Tsunami and its population is expected to double by 2050, creating high- youth unemployment exasperated by environment concern, climate change, and the associated social and political challenges.

Ethiopian economic miracle is constrained by severe shortage of electricity. The $5billion project, exclusively financed by domestic sources, aims to produce 6000MW electricity and electrify the region to advance African integration. The dam project reverses the Anglo-Egyptian exploitative legacy and dismantles colonial era psychological dominance on Africa. Uganda is following suit and undertaking similar project on the White Nile, with Chinese financing.

Egyptian offensive anew:

Ethiopia or riparian countries recognized Egypt’s dependence on the Nile, although most of the wetland and Nile water go to Egyptian military companies and their associates. Similar to the excluded poor Egyptian farmers, Africans are demanding only for a fair share of the Nile water resources by renegotiating colonial era arrangements.  However, Egypt remains intransigence on its hegemony and continues its defiance. It refused to be signatory to the Nile Cooperative Agreement Framework, as it does not perceive immediate challenge to its exclusive control.

Motivated by Ethiopia’s instability, Egypt is engaging with new diplomatic offensive hoping to curb the progress towards GERD. During the last month of his term as head of the AU, president el-Sisi took the Nile agenda to the United States (US) and the World Bank (WB) group without consulting nor inviting the African Union. The US and WB evolved from facilitation to mediation the preliminary proposal of which is tantamount to endorsing the Anglo-Egyptian colonial treaty on Ethiopia and profoundly undermines Ethiopia’s sovereignty.

Ethiopia has rejected the unfair proposal and publicly requested the AU to intervene in the mediation process and reverse the growing tension that entails far-reaching implications. Many believe that the current US administration and WB position compromises US’ long established credibility as a non-colonial power and questions WB’s commitment to African development.

The way forward:

Egypt ought to have either consulted or included the AU to the mediation effort when dealing with the Nile water resources, especially on political matter.  The AU ought assume its symbolic role, work with Ethiopia and the riparian countries, and negotiate based on the Nile initiative cooperative agreement and other applicable laws for a more just outcome. AU should counter the unfolding Egypt-Arab League joint aggressive campaign and defend the Nile community shared interests undermined by Egyptian continued desire to extend the outdated colonial rules.

Except insisting its dependability on the Nile, Egypt has not yet exploited its massive reserve in the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System, never sought alternative technology to utilize salty water,  did not improve on its wasteful usage of the Nile water, and has not shared upper countries expenses on environmental and climate change related costs.

AU should play leadership role in transforming the current confrontation into collaboration among all Nile valley countries and enable to design shared comprehensive development plan for mutual benefit similar to, among others, the Senegal, Gambia, Zambezi, and Chad river basin development projects. Exclusive focus on short-term Egyptian interest undermines the long term and more strategic challenges associated with water security, climate change, environment, and the associated political and social problems.

Nile riparian countries should restrain from standalone transactional relations and should work closely with AU to transform standalone efforts into mutual benefits to mitigate African predicament. AU should encourage Egypt to become signatory to the CFA and riparian countries to accommodate the needs of all member states. There is no shortcut to bypass the adverse impact of age-old colonial legacy except developing genuine regional integration plan based on shared interest. The question of equitable water resources is long overdue and no diplomatic tactic nor war rhetoric will curb African quest for equitable access. The international community should support the AU in resolving the growing tension among members, the failure of which will undoubtedly lead to human tragedy.


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