Daggers drawn over Nile water

Mzee Joel Newton Were Nyakoyo may not be a known figure in the Kenyan history. But Joel has a vital point to Kenyans, East Africans and citizens of other countries in the upper stream of river Nile that they should listen to.. Mzee Nyakoyo thinks that the 1929 and 1959 Nile River treaty giving Egypt and Sudan express authority and powers to control the water of river Nile and Lake Victoria should be renegotiated and finally, repealed!. The 78 years-old elder from Nyakach location in Nyanza Province wants the treaties signed between the British High Commissioner and Government of Egypt regarding the use Lake Victoria and Nile waters reviewed and interest of all riparian countries be included.

For Mzee Nyakoyo: he invokes the Luo adage “Ludhi ema goyo ni tho!” (Literally, means it’s your stick that paves way for you). The octegerian living at the bed of Lake Victoria near Sango Rota recounts to an elders’ forum organised by Uhai Lake Forum that in 1960’s during the cold war between the West and East bloc, former Soviet Union Prime Minister Nikita Krushchev advised the Arab countries to use their oil as a weapon.

The Arabs, he narrated, conceded the call from the Russian leader and have since then used the oil as a weapon in exchange of their needs both economically and politically..

He then posed: “Why can’t Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania use water from Lake Victoria to bail them out of their economical quagmire?.”

Mzee Nyakoyo recalled the stand taken by two East Africans, Joseph Nyerere, a brother to the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, former President of Tanzania and Mzee Orinda Sibuor, a former member of Kenyan senate when they coined a slogan of ” a barrel of oil for a barrel of water” immediately after independence of the two states. The two were totally opposed to the Nile River Treaty.

Mzee Nyakoyo is not alone. All is not well with the riparian states, which shares Lake Victoria and River Nile waters. The East African countries and other riparian states are caught up in a bitter rivalry of who has more right than the other over Lake Victoria and Nile waters. Egypt and Sudan feel that they have birth right to the Nile River water than anyone else. A Ugandan Senior Lecturer in International Law and Environment Law, Dr John Ntambirweki says there is no treaty as far as he knows barring the other riparian states from using the Lake Victoria and Nile river waters.

“Our people should not face water scarcity because some countries deny them the use of their resources The East Africans should the waters for any purpose as they wish and wait and see who will stop them”, Dr Ntimbirweki told the East Africa legislative Assembly meeting in Kisumu city. The 1929 Nile Treaty between British High Commission in Cairo and the Egyptian government gave Egypt the right to 48 billion cubic metres (bcn) of water a year. In 1959, new agreement set Egypt’s share at 55.5 bcn per year and Sudan 18.5 bcn. The agreement gave the two countries full powers to use the Nile waters and the agreement came into force on December 12, 1959.

However, the other Nile nations were ignored, leading to the current uproar.

During a forum of the East African Legislative Assembly members in Kisumu, Kenyan Minister of Water Resources, Martha Karua said the believed treaties of 1929 and revised in 1959 was “just a note” the Queen of England exchanged with then Egyptian administration allowing the later to freely use the Nile River waters which originates from Lake Victoria.

Said Ms Karua: “I have done thorough research and found that the Queen just wrote a note to the Egyptian administration on May 7. 1929 and there was nothing barring the East Africans from making use of the Lake Victoria waters”. The East African Legislative Assembly members felt that the pact should be looked into expeditiously and reach an agreement with Egypt over the utilisation of Lake Victoria and Nile waters.

Some members feel that the East African is not bound with the agreement which they were never party to in the first place. Prof Charles Okidi of University of Nairobi says the agreements were not binding because the East Africans can only talk of ignoring the pact if they were party to them. “How do we want to come out from what we were not in in the first place?”, he asked.

However, Egypt and Sudan have since insisted that before any negotiations on the use of river Nile waters can be initiated, the earlier treaties of 1929 and 1959 must first be recognised by all the riparian states.

Mzee Nyakoyo says that it is a known fact that Kenyan has the biggest catchment area of Lake Victoria but it’s shameful that despite what the Kenya Government does to save the lake, Kenyans live in abject poverty especially those in the lake basin.

Said he: ” Lake Victoria waters form the source of river Nile, which is the lifeline of the Sudanese and Egyptians. This water is our God given natural resource which should be our oil in the eyes of the Arabs”.

However, Egypt evokes its age-old use of the river’s waters as proof that Almighty ordained river Nile to it. For Sudan, it was the same old claim on historical association with Egypt that was put in place in 1959 by British colonial agreement.

A Cross section of the elders from the lake basin felt that Lake Victoria waters should be apportioned to save the people living along the lake who have to sacrifice a lot to ensure the lake survive. “Kenya and other riparian states should use the lake as a resource because it takes a lot from their Governments and the people to sustain the lake”, the elders stated.

There is a serious feeling that Egypt and Sudanese governments should be called to contribute towards the cleaning of the lake project undertaken by Lake Victoria Environmental Management Project (LVEMP) even to initiate irrigation schemes to improve the living standard of the people around the lake.

Nile River, Mzee Nyakoyo says, is 6,700 kilometers long and its life depends on the river waters draining into the lake of which Kenya contribute majority. Despite the argument that Egypt and Sudan may not concern with nitrate of the lake because it may be useful to its agricultural potentially, there is need for the amount of pollutants to the lake checked. However, some officials in ministry of Water Resources in Kenya thinks otherwise. Some have been on record saying until and unless the data is in place, there was nothing to warrant call for the two countries to support Kenya Government.

Former Director of Water Department, Mr Omwenga once informed World Bank visiting team to Lake Victoria Project that conferences and meetings have been going on over Nile water resources equitable sharing to the ten riparian states.. He says time has come for treaties signed in 1929, and 1959 to be abrogated.

Mr Omwenga said the British colonial Government signed treaties with Egypt and Sudan on behalf of the some East Africans countries before independence to share resources of River Nile without involving the upstream states. “There is a consensus now that these treaties should be re-examined and the dynamics be reviewed”, the Director told the visiting World Bank Mission on LVEMP Project.

There is already a link and mechanisms in place involving Lake Victoria Fisheries Organisation (LVFO), Nile Basin Initiatives (NBI), Lake Victoria Environment Management Project (LVEMP) and Swedish International Cooperation Development Agency (SIDA) trying to come up with how best the use of lake Victoria waters should be maximised and optimised.

“The base flow of the Nile come from Kenya and Ethiopia and the Ethiopian now wants to build hydraulic dams but Kenya ‘s rivers remains the largest rivers draining into lake Victoria followed by Kagera river from Rwanda”, he said.

The East Africa Legislative assembly members say the treaties must be re-negotiated to embrace the needs and shared benefits to all the riparian states without breaching the right of others.

Joseph Ojwang is a free-lance journalist. He contributed above article to Media Monitors Network (MMN) from Kenya, Africa.