By Gladys Fred Kole
South Sudan government is facing fresh headaches over a contentious decade-long water ratio with neighbouring Ethiopia and Egypt.
Both Egypt and Ethiopia are looking for an ally, a friend—preferably a Nile Basin country—that could object to the decision to fully fill the dam in the case of Egypt or back the move to divide the Nile River equally.
However, South Sudan appears to be a perfect fit, as seen from their vested economic interests in recent days.
This propped up after the minister of Water Resources and Irrigation, Pal Mai Deng, briefed the cabinet about the outcome his recent meetings on the contentious issues.
The minister had attended the 13th ordinary session of the global assembly of the African minister’s council on water, held in Egypt.
But before that, he was also, present at the trans-boundary water cooperation conference on the Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement, held in Ethiopia.
After cabinet’s regular meeting on Friday, minister of information, Micheal Makuei said South Sudan is sandwiched by two countries, but they refused until these water deals were reviewed.
“Of course, there is a dispute between Ethiopia and Egypt over the water; Egypt is pressing for the signing of the water basin initiative, and Ethiopia is pressing for the signing of the Nile basin Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA),” Makuei said.
But the government spokesperson said South Sudan should press the hold button until a technical committee is setup to appraise those deals and come up with the government’s position on the water issue.
“Issues of water nowadays are a problem in the world, and as such, the cabinet decided that there should be a technical committee to be headed by the Vice President with membership from all the ministries concerned,” he noted.
South Sudan, according to the information minister, intends to cut a clear line on her position before making any utterances on the matter.
“So that we come up with a very clear position on the issue of water; [and] when our minister goes to any conference or meeting, he must present the stand of the government of South Sudan,” he added.
Mr. Makuei also stated that the cabinet had passed the CFA deal and was currently awaiting the national parliament’s approval to pave the way for the country to join the CFA, which four countries have already signed.
In 1929, the water agreement was signed, giving Egypt almost 85% of the waters of the Nile, and this is what Egypt is pursuing right now.
However, Minister Makuei stated that all riparian countries walked out on that ‘contentious’ water deal that gave Egypt the lion’s share, citing that most of those countries were not independent at that time.
“These countries are saying we will use the water the way we want,” Mr. Makuei stressed.
He claimed that Egypt does not want riparian countries to use the running Nile water for development but to rather use ‘rainwater’ instead.
“They [Egypt] believe that this water running in the Nile is their own, and as such, you cannot use it without their consent,” he lamented.
The Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) is a partnership among the Nile riparian states that “seeks to develop the river in a cooperative manner and share substantial socioeconomic benefits by promoting regional peace.
It was formally launched in February 1999 by the water ministers of nine countries that share the river: Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Eritrea as an observer.
The Nile water dispute stems from the filling of an Ethiopian dam and decades of rising tensions.
Egypt relies on the Nile for more than 90 percent of its water. The region’s population could increase by 25 percent in 30 years, increasing demand at a time when Egypt would expect less water from the Nile.