Tuesday, 12 August 2008

nile water

Utilization of Nile water still unresolved
The 16th Nile Council of Ministers Meeting of the Countries of the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) was held in Kinshasa , Democratic Republic of Congo, 21 – 22 July. The Meeting was attended by Ministers from Burundi , D.R. Congo, Egypt , Ethiopia , Rwanda , Sudan , Tanzania and Uganda . Kenya was represented by its Nile Technical Advisory Committee (Nile-TAC) member; unusually, Eritrea was an observer. Representatives from various other organizations involved in the Nile Basin also attended including the World Bank, representing NBI Development Partners, Nile-TAC, Nile Basin Discourse, Global Water Partnership Eastern Africa, and NBI staff. The Nile Technical Advisory Committee had earlier held its own meeting, 18 - 19 April, to adopt a whole series of technical matters agreed at previous Nile-TAC and Nile-COM meetings. These included the management and financial report, work plan and budget for 2008/2009 for the NBI, and a proposal on a regional network for climate change in the Nile basin. Maria Mutagamba, Minister for Water and Environment of Uganda, outgoing chair, presented the report of the previous year’s activities, noting that all except one issue in the proposed Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) have been resolved. Ato Asfaw Dingamo, Ethiopia ’s Minister of Water Resources noted NBI achievements in capacity building, including human resources and institutions, but said the NBI has raised expectations among the people of the Nile basin which had yet to be met. He underlined the need to address poverty, environment degradation, and inequities in the utilization of the Nile River , and called on all stakeholders to work together for the realization of NBI objectives while cautioning NBI stakeholders not to make statements raising expectations beyond capacity. Following the election of the Democratic Republic of Congo as chair, substantive discussions were held, among them the Report of the Nile-TAC and endorsement of its various recommendations, as well as administrative matters of the NBI management, implementation of NBI Program and projects, and consideration of the legal status of the NBI in member countries; many countries have yet to accord legal status to the NBI. The Ministers adopted mechanisms for the implementation of the Institutional Strengthening Project and the proposal on a Regional Network for Climate Change in the Nile Basin . An Ethiopian request for the NBI to make a study of the Baro-Akobo basin was agreed. Only one issue in the Nile River Basin Cooperative Framework (with its 39 articles and 66 sub-articles) remains outstanding, Article 14b which involves the utilization of the Nile water on the basis of equity. A majority of the riparian countries have a similar view on this issue, but consultations will now be undertaken at Heads of State level to attempt to bridge the gap in reaching a consensus; a technical advisory committee has been set up, with instructions to reach a resolution within four months. The Ministers appointed Ms Henriette Ndombe as the Executive Director of the NBI Secretariat for a two year term, effective 1st September, 2008. The next Council of Ministers meeting will be held in Egypt .

Dialogue – the only answer
Last month, July 16-18, a World Conference on Dialogue was held in Madrid , organized by the Muslim World League and opened by King Abdullah, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. The conference was largely devoted to a dialogue on civilizations, an inter-faith dialogue, but as a conference built on the need for peaceful dialogue it had far wider application. In a message to the Conference, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted that many conflicts apparently rooted in religion actually have their origins elsewhere: “..political rivalries, territorial ambitions or competition for natural resources are fertile grounds for the emergence of violence”. He said that the conference's own dialogue must lead to commitment and to action: “It must be a dialogue that delivers”. The UN, of course, called for tolerance and the spread of the culture of peace in the Declaration of UN General Assembly in 1994, and declared 1995 as the Year of Tolerance and 2001 as the Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations.

The conference defined its four major themes as: the importance of dialogue in human society; the foundations of religious and civilizational dialogue; common human aspects in dialogue; and evaluation and promotion of dialogue. In its declaration of principles, it classified dialogue one of the essentials of life, identifying it as a vehicle for knowing each other, for cooperation and appreciation of interests and for the realization of truth, “which contributes to the happiness of mankind”. The conference, which thoroughly reviewed the process of dialogue and its obstacles, noted that terrorism was one of the most serious problems confronting dialogue and coexistence. It called for an international agreement to combat terrorism, arguing that terrorism was a universal phenomenon that required unified international efforts to combat it in a serious, responsible and just way. This, the conference argued, also necessitated an international agreement to define terrorism, to address its root causes and to achieve justice and stability in the world.

This raises one of the central facts about the concept of dialogue. An agreement to accept dialogue emphasizes and underlines the commitment to look for solutions. If there is no interest in a solution, there is no commitment or interest in dialogue. A peaceful solution is inconceivable without dialogue. If there is a refusal to hold a dialogue what else is there left on which to build the resolution of a problem? Eritrea ’s refusal to even consider opening a dialogue over its border issue with Ethiopia and the problems that the border communities face over demarcation, illustrates the point very clearly. There is no indication that Eritrea has any interest in actually solving the problem. All the evidence of its actions over the last three or four years underlines its lack of intent or interest in normalizing relations with Ethiopia . A similar pattern has been apparent in the last couple of years over its treatment of UNMEE. It might be recalled that under the UN Charter force can only be used in self-defense or with the approval of the Security Council. It is only then that its use is endorsed by international law. This underlines the importance, indeed the centrality, of dialogue.

Dialogue is the antithesis of violence. Properly defined it is a flow of meaning between parties. It is not one-sided. It is not easy to carry out. Meetings and forums are often referred to as dialogues when they are nothing of the sort, being no more than monologues in which speakers pontificate but seldom listen to each other. Conferences, seminars, consultations all too rarely provide dialogues in the real sense of the word. Even discussions or debates are often anything but a proper dialogue. There is a discipline of dialogue. Participants in a dialogue need to pay attention to its process and to the flow of meaning which can lead on to successful mediation. It is not, of course, something confined to levels of international mediation. It has equal relevance at individual levels as well as within political and internal organizational structures.

Dialogue entails tolerance; respect for the difference of others; awareness of one's own prejudices; preparedness to suspend judgment, the ability to listen actively, to investigate and to accept another party’s needs or requirements; and most of all, the search for a win-win outcome. This is particularly relevant for Ethiopia and Eritrea which face an apparently intractable problem along their border. The Security Council, as again this week, has repeatedly emphasized that we have a shared responsibility for the implementation of the Algiers Agreements. It has repeatedly called on us both to comply with our obligations under the Agreements that we both signed in 2000, and to move towards normalizing relations and laying the foundations for a comprehensive and lasting peace. Nobody can deny this is desirable and necessary. How can this be done without dialogue? It cannot, and it is all too obvious, given recent activities by Eritrea , that the alternative threatens to be violent.

In fact, Eritrea has consistently demonstrated a lack of interest in participating in dialogue. This is the problem Ethiopia faces. It has called again and again for dialogue now, to discuss the difficulties posed by physical demarcation and talk about normalizing relation. Eritrea persists in saying that it will only participate in dialogue after demarcation when much of the reason for dialogue has disappeared. As the Security Council underlined yet again this week, Ethiopia and Eritrea have the primary responsibility for reaching a lasting settlement. No one else can achieve this even the Security Council in its latest resolution has decided that it can do no more than have the Secretary General keep it informed. This highlights the necessity for the two parties to assume their responsibilities. Ethiopia and Eritrea drew up and signed the Algiers Agreements. They alone are the two countries which can produce an end to the impasse. If we fail, there must be a very real danger of a return to violence. Yet it is still very easy to move away from the prospect of conflict. We would repeat: dialogue is the antithesis of violence. It would allow us to demonstrate our common interests and offer the possibility of a win-win solution to the problem of the region.