world nile day

The following post first appeared  on on February 26, 21015 and on on February 28, 2015

Ministry of Water Resources and Electricity organized on Sunday, February 22, the 2015 Nile Day celebration. The idea of celebration of the Nile Day on this date each year was to mark the tremendous efforts and accomplishments which have been made by the Nile Basin Initiative since 1999. This year’s Khartoum celebration, the Ninth, was a remarkable one that was attended by the water ministers of the Nile Basin states, including Egypt.


It was the first time for the Sudan to organize this celebration, the first one of which was held in 2007, and the first time for Egypt to participate after five years of absence. The delay in the organization and in the participation resulted in a state of confusion in the relationship between the Sudan and Egypt and the Nile Basin Initiative since 2009.


However, the organization by the Sudan of this year’s celebration might be the beginning of the end of the state of confusion and, likewise, it could be argued that the Egyptian participation might indicate that Egypt, like Sudan, is also seeking a way for ending the five-year state of confusion.

In this article we are going to review the background and idea of the Nile Day celebration besides discussing the implications of organization of the celebration by the Sudan as well as Egypt’s participation in it. We are also going to explain how the Sudanese-Egyptian confusion towards the Nile Basin Initiative developed and the outcome that must be reached by this corrective step, though late.

The notion of establishing the Nile Basin Initiative cropped up from meetings in 1997 of the World Bank, UNDP and a group of donors for rallying the Nile Basin states in a single legal organization grouping all countries of the River Nile. Several meetings were held over a span of two years by the Nile Basin states for agreement on the objectives and structures of the Initiative which took its formal shape on February 22, 1999 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, when the water ministers of the Nile Basin states signed the minutes of the meeting which founded the Initiative. In those minutes, the ministers agreed that the objective of the Initiative was to attain a sustainable socio-economic development for the peoples of the Basin through equitable benefits from the common Nile resources. Agreement was also reached on the programme and documents of work in the preparatory stage.
The Initiative succeeded in several aspects, including the establishment of a Secretariat based in Entebbe, Uganda, an office for the eastern Nile based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and an office for the Equatorial Lakes Nile based in Kigali, Rwanda. The accomplishments also included the financing of a number of joint projects by the donors’ fund to which a group of nations contributed. A ministerial council of the Nile Basin member states was formed and continued to convene each year in one of the states alternately in an alphabetic order, to be presided over by the minister of the host country throughout the year, while the Entebbe Secretariat was decided to be chaired by an executive manager to be chosen alternately from one of the countries also in an alphabetic order.
The technical consultative committee was also formed for the Nile Basin while work commenced on the framework agreement for cooperation among the Nile Basin states which thereafter came to be known as Entebbe Agreement.
February 22, 1999, has thus become a major landmark in the Nile Basin history and has become known as the Nile Day that is observed by the Nile Basin states in a celebration held annually since 2007 with the first celebration organized in Kigali, Rwanda, that year. On that occasion, the politicians, technicians, artists and innovators of the Nile Basin got together, celebrated and exchanged speeches and congratulations on the success of the Initiative which brought them together for the first time under one umbrella. The encounter and speeches were punctuated with artistic shows by the youths and children from the Nile Basin states.
The celebrations were then held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 2008, then in Bujumbura, Burundi, in 2009, and Uganda in 2010.
However, this celebratory and cordial atmosphere has drastically reversed with the occurrence and escalation of differences over Entebbe Agreement between Egypt and the Sudan, on one side, and the remaining Nile Basin states, on the other, in 2009. The Sudanese-Egyptian strategy, as a result of those differences, was characterized by an unmistakable confusion towards the Initiative.
This mess began when the Sudanese delegation withdrew from the Nile Basin ministerial meeting in Kinshasa, DRC, in May 2009, during a discussion of the differences over Entebbe Agreement. The Khartoum delegation objected to this discussion on grounds that the differences were submitted to the Nile Basin Heads of State. Upon refusal of this proposal, the Sudanese delegation walked out and this withdrawal constituted a precedent in the Basin meetings and was followed by a series of confused and contradictory statements by the Sudanese delegation.
At the outset, those statements gave the Sudanese people the impression that the Sudan had withdrawn from the Nile Basin Initiative and weeks later they said the Sudan had not withdrawn but had suspended its membership in the Initiative. This was later on followed by a third statement saying that the Sudan had neither withdrawn from, nor suspended its membership in the Initiative but had, in fact, only suspended its participation in the projects of the Nile Basin Initiative.
Those conflicting statements continued despite the fact that the officials who were assigned by the Sudanese government to work in the organizations and projects of the Initiative remained performing their duties. The Sudan continued participation in meetings of the Nile Basin ministers and committees of the Initiative, yet the Sudan continued rejecting the Entebbe Agreement along with Egypt. However, what was puzzling in this connection was that Egypt continued attending the Kinshasa until the end despite the Sudan withdrawal, but it seems that the state of confusion flowed with the Nile current from the Sudan to Egypt a year later when in 2010 Cairo declared its withdrawal from the Nile Basin Initiative in 2010 after the failure of meetings it organized for the Nile Basin ministers in Sharm al-Sheikh and Alexandria for discussion of the differences. Following the failure of the Sharm al-Sheikh and Alexandria negotiations, the Nile source states signed the Entebbe Agreement in May 2010 and subsequently Egypt declared its boycott of the Nile Basin Initiative and suspension of its activity in the Initiative as of that month.
Nonetheless, when it was its turn, according to the alphabetic order, to assign an executive manager, it did not hesitate a moment in naming its representative, despite its declaration of boycotting the Initiative only two months before. Dr. Wael Khairy, from Egypt, was thus appointed executive manager for the Initiative for two years from early September 2010 to late August 2012.
Dr. Khairy continued running the Initiative’s affairs, both minor and major, from the city of Entebbe, taking part in international conferences and speaking on behalf of the Initiative and getting all rights of the executive manager. At the same time Cairo continued repeating that it was boycotting the Nile Basin Initiative and was suspending its activities in it. The confusion in dealing with the Initiative was contracted from Cairo to Khartoum in less than a year.
Nonetheless, the source states continued work with the Nile Basin Initiative in spite of absence by the Sudan and Egypt and continued celebrating the Nile Day in a manner that is more impressive than the previous celebrations. The Nile Day was celebrated in Kinshasa, DRC, in 2011 under the motto “Together for Better Cooperation” and in 2012 it was held in Jinja city, Uganda, the starting point of the flow of the White Nile from Lake Victoria, under the motto of “Towards a Common Future for the Peoples of the Nile Basin”. In 2013, the Nile Day, the Seventh, was observed on February 21-23 in the Ethiopian Bahr Dar city which lies on Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile.
This Bahr Dar celebration was held under the motto “Sustainable Cooperation in the Nile Basin for Confrontation of Common Challenges of Climatic Changes and Soil Erosion”. This motto reflected Ethiopian fears that the Blue Nile, River Atbara and other rivers each year wash away about 120 million tons of its soil which, in turn, causes the loss of more than half of the storage and generation capacity of the Sudanese dams. Bahr Dar constitutes a special importance in the Nile Basin cooperation as it is the starting point of the electric power supply line between Ethiopia and Sudan through which Ethiopia began exportation of power to Sudan in 2013 and hopes to stretch it to the other Nile Basin states.
The 2013 celebration was organized against the backdrop of a resolution by the United Nations General Assembly that was issued on December 18, 2010, designating 2013 as the year for international cooperation in the common water resources. This resolution was aimed at raising awareness of the tremendous challenges that face the humanity in connection with this vitally important resource and calling for exerting maximum efforts for addressing those huge challenges. It also urged the international organizations, governments, civil society organizations, academic institutions and individuals to work hand-in-hand, in sincerity, cooperation and good-will, for achieving this lofty objective.
The Eighth Nile Day celebration was organized by Uganda in 2014 under the motto “Water & Energy National Challenges % Cross-border Solutions”. With this motto, Kampala aimed at emphasizing the grave energy problems facing Uganda and its full reliance on the Nile water in addressing those problems. This as the third time for Uganda to host the Nile Day celebration; the previous two celebrations were in 2010 and 2012, while Ethiopia held the celebrations twice in 2008 and 2013.
The Sudan then decided to return to the Initiative and to play host to the Ninth Nile Day celebration for the first time in Khartoum. The Khartoum celebration was held on Sunday, February 22nd 2015, in the vicinity of the confluence of the White Nile and the Blue Nile, under the motto “Water & Development of the Means of Living, Opportunities of Cooperation in the Nile Basin”. It seems that this motto was chosen to stress the Sudan’s Nile water multiple needs of irrigation, electricity and drinking. It was also meant to underline a new role for the Sudan in facilitation of rapprochement and cooperation among the Basin member states as was manifested by the Sudan’s role in alleviating the Egyptian-Ethiopian dispute over the Renaissance Dam.
The celebrations are regularly attended, from the start, by the ministers of water of the Nile Basin who usually seize the opportunity to get together for discussion of pending issues.
The participants also include senior water officials of the Nile Basin states besides representatives of the three offices of the Nile Basin Initiative in Kigali, Addis Ababa and Entebbe.
The decision by the Sudan to host this year’s celebration reflects the country’s reversal of the hesitant and confused positions it had assumed towards the Nile Basin Initiative since 2009. Just like Egypt, the Sudan either boycotted or attended as observer during the three celebrations in Uganda and the two celebrations in Ethiopia,
Egypt, for its part, also reversed its previous messy decisions of boycotting the Nile Basin Initiative and took part in the Khartoum celebration by a ministerial delegation led by its Irrigation and Water Resources Minister Husam Maghazy. Egypt had previously participated in the first four celebrations between 2007 and 2010 and ceased to take part after the countries of the source signed the Entebbe Agreement in 2010.
It was obvious that the Sudan and have come to the conclusion that the countries of the Nile source would continue with implementation of the programmes of the Nile Basin Initiative with or without participation by the Sudan and Egypt. Those countries of the source made this clear by the signing of Entebbe Agreement and commencement with its ratification and by building projects of their own on the River Nile as Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania have done and are doing now and as the continued construction of the Renaissance Dam by Ethiopia being backed by the source countries.
It also seems that the Sudan and Egypt have sensed isolation from the other states of the Nile Basin and, ultimately, they would be the only losers as a result of the boycott (or the suspension?) and decided to rejoin the Initiative and work from within, as was demonstrated in the Ninth Day celebration.
It was also clear that the Sudan’s support to the Renaissance Dam was yet another strong indication of Egypt’s isolation by losing its traditional Nile ally since 1959 and therefore decided to rejoin. A lot of face-saving was offered to Cairo by organization of the celebration in Khartoum to spare it the embarrassment of participation in such a celebration in one of the countries signatory to Entebbe Agreement which is strongly opposed by Egypt.
The water ministers of Nile Basin states (including Egypt and Sudan) during their meeting on February 22nd 1999 approved and signed a document providing that the main goal of the Nile Basin Initiative was to reach an inclusive agreement of all state members and form a commission to serve as an organizational body encompassing all of those states for administration, development, protection and exploitation of the Basin. The ministers also agreed that the aim of the Initiative was to achieve a sustainable socio-economic development to their peoples through equitable exploitation and benefits from the common Nile water resources.
The Entebbe Agreement interpreted and expanded the agreement of the establishment of the Nile Basin Initiative which was reached in Dar es Salaam in 1999 and included its details. The Entebbe Agreement did not include any sharing or distribution of the Nile water as was being circulated by some people. It was entirely based on the principle of good-will cooperation for realization of equitable and reasonable benefitting by all member states of the Basin (notice the word benefitting rather than division) as stipulated by the Agreement of February 22nd 1999 which was signed by the Sudan and Egypt.
The UN agreement on the international water courses clearly and extensively included these two principles (cooperation and equitable and reasonable benefitting). This UN agreement came into force in August 2014 and was until now ratified by 36 countries, including nine Arab countries which were: Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Libya, Qatar, Tunisia, Morocco and Palestine. This figure also included another nine African nations which were: South Africa, Namibia, Guinea Bissau, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Niger, Benin, Chad and Ivory Coast. Other states are expected to join the UN water-courses agreement this year.
It appears that the Sudan has decided to join the Nile Basin Initiative and end the state of confusion which has characterized its relationship with the Initiative since its undue withdrawal from Kinshasa meeting in 2009. Yet it is important that the Sudan fully returns to the Initiative and support it by joining Entebbe Agreement as well as the UN international water-courses agreement.
A number of Sudanese politicians and technicians were opposed for a long period of time to the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam despite its great benefits to the Sudan and, likewise, they objected to the Entebbe Agreement and the UN international water-courses agreement out of failure to comprehend those agreements and the principles incorporated in each of them. But a patient scientific study showed the huge benefits the Sudan could gain from the Renaissance Dam and the Sudanese opponents to the renaissance Dam have now become absolutely reticent after the tremendous have become obvious (the Ethiopian electricity have now reached a number of Sudanese towns and villages) and after the Sudanese government has declared, as announced by the President of the Republic, its support to the construction of Renaissance Dam. Some of the former opponents even joined the supporters of the Dam after issuance of the presidential decision of backing it.
It is now high time to go all along the road of full cooperation that serves the Sudanese interests by joining Entebbe Agreement which was the legitimate offspring of the Nile Basin Initiative in which the Sudan participated from the outset and contributed and agreed to all of its visions and programmes. This cooperative stance also necessitates joining the UN international water-courses agreement which has come into effect as of last August. Both agreements are based on the principles of cooperation and equitable and reasonable benefits around which the nations of the common basins all over the world rally to rid their peoples from backwardness, poverty, darkness and thirst.