Egypt attempts to rope in Somalia on Nile waters dispute

Somalia President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and his host Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in Cairo, Egypt, on July 25, 2022. PHOTO | VILLA SOMALIA

Egypt will help rebuild Somalia’s education and support its security apparatus and economic development, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi said when he hosted his Somali counterpart Hassan Sheikh Mohamud on Monday.

The pledge came amid discussions on the Nile waters, specifically the continuing controversy surrounding Ethiopia’s Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam (Gerd) on the Blue Nile.

The Egyptian leader noted that President Mohamud opposes unilateral decisions on the use of the Nile waters.

According to a statement from his palace, he and his guest “stressed the necessity to reach a binding deal on Gerd filling and operation without delay based on the UNSC presidential statement in September 2021 in order to preserve regional security and stability.”

He was referring to the 2021 stand by the United Nations Security Council, which asked Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan to return to the negotiating table and agree on how the mega dam would work without hurting downstream countries.

While the three countries had been sitting, mediated by the African Union, they disagreed on the rate of filling up the dam and how to resolve disputes arising from the dam’s operations. Egypt wants a slower pace of filling the dam, and operations delayed until an agreement is in place. Ethiopia, however, has since filled the dam twice and started partial electricity generation.

Cementing ties

Mr Mohamud’s trip, according to Villa Somalia, was meant to “strengthen the brotherly relations between the two countries and bolster cooperation on wide-ranging areas such as trade, security, health and education.” Villa Somalia did not mention the Nile issues in its dispatch.

It was President Mohamud’s first trip to North Africa since coming to power in May, although it is the fifth trip in Africa as he seeks to cement ties with countries that had fallen off Mogadishu’s radar lately.

Earlier this month, Somalia licenced the Egyptian bank, Banque Misr, becoming one of two foreign lenders to open a branch in Mogadishu since 1970. The other is Turkey’s Ziraat Katli.

A joint statement said they also discussed “our bilateral cooperation projects and agreed on joint work to enhance efforts of economic development in Somalia.” This is besides enhancing cooperation in education, counterterrorism, and fighting extremist ideology.

Nile controversy

President Al-Sisi, however, told the media in Cairo that he and Mr Mohamud had “affirmed the necessity to abide by the principle of cooperation and prior consultation between riparian states to ensure no harm is caused to any of them in accordance with international law.”

“I discussed with Somalian President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam issue, and we have highlighted the danger of unilateral policies when implementing projects on transboundary rivers.”

The Ethiopian-funded hydroelectric power project on the Blue Nile is expected to generate about 6400MW when complete and fully functional. But its erection on the Nile, in the Benshagul-Gumuz region in Ethiopia, near the border with Sudan, has raised controversy. Egypt, which relies almost entirely on the Nile for freshwater, argues that the dam could hurt its water supply, a similar position taken by Sudan. Jointly, the two countries demand a binding agreement on dam operations.

Addis Ababa, on its part, argues the project is a sovereign right but says it would, in fact, save Sudan and Egypt from uncontrolled flooding. Somalia is not in the Nile Basin, but Egypt’s courtship may mean a general desire to gain wider support in the region over the Nile.

The Nile River and its tributaries run through or along the border of 10 countries, namely, Burundi, Tanzania, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt.

Last week, South Sudan halted a swamp dredging project financed by Egypt following local protests. Environmentalists say that draining the swamps could ensure more water flowing to Egypt but could lead to ecological problems in South Sudan. Juba says it paused the project for a feasibility study.