Posted on: Sunday, July 18, 2021 – 2:06 PM | Last update: Sunday, July 18, 2021 – 2:06 PM
– London rejected an Ethiopian plan six decades ago to form a front from upstream countries against Egypt and Sudan, according to British documents
Six decades ago, Ethiopia preceded Egypt in searching for alliances in the midst of their protracted disputes over the waters of the Nile, according to British documents.
During the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie, Addis Ababa sought to “form a front that includes the upstream countries in the face of the downstream countries, Egypt and Sudan.”
According to the documents, which I obtained, Ethiopia tried to persuade Britain to join the hoped-for front, but London refused the effort “out of concern for relations with Egypt” and “for fear of harming efforts to reach common ground in dealing with the Nile.”
On November 24, 1961, Petdridis, advisor to the Imperial Government of Ethiopia for water affairs, presented the proposal to the British Embassy in Addis Ababa.
The documents say that the embassy took seriously the offer of Pedrides, a Greek who was considered by Britain as “the only person in the Ethiopian government who had detailed knowledge of the Nile water issue.”
In a report to the Foreign Office in London, the embassy said that Petdrides had told it that he had already prepared a paper for the cabinet and the emperor recommending “the need for the Ethiopian government to cooperate with the government of Her Majesty the Queen (British) and the Nile source countries in general to formulate a common policy.”
During this period, there were discussions taking place in Khartoum, under British auspices, between East African countries, Egypt and Sudan regarding technical issues related to the waters of the Nile. In these discussions Britain, as a colonial power, was speaking on behalf of the three East African countries Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika (now Tanzania) and was seeking to reach an agreement between these countries on the one hand and Sudan on the other hand regarding the waters of the White Nile.
London saw the Ethiopian proposal as an attempt to conclude agreements among the upstream countries on the Nile waters away from the downstream countries.
The British Embassy in Addis Ababa was instructed to inform the Imperial Counsellor that it was “highly unlikely that Her Majesty’s Government, at this point in history, would wish to reach political agreements on behalf of the British colonial territories of East Africa”.
Sorry and surprise
According to a comprehensive report by the British Foreign Office on the problem of the Nile waters, the Chancellor replied saying that he fully appreciates this vision. However, he said that “in light of the Egyptian-Sudanese agreement (in 1959) to adopt a common policy on the waters of the Nile, it seems necessary for the upstream countries to cooperate in the same way.”
In 1959, Egypt and Sudan agreed to divide the waters that reach the two countries through the Blue Nile, the source of about 80 percent of the Nile’s water, amounting to 84 billion cubic meters.
According to the agreement, which Britain supported but was not a party to, it was agreed that Egypt’s share would be 55.5 billion cubic meters annually, Sudan’s share would be 18.5 billion cubic meters, and the remaining 10 billion would be lost at sea.
The Ethiopian offer was carefully studied by the British embassies in Cairo, Khartoum and Addis Ababa, in addition to the British Embassy in Lebanon, which was coordinating the Khartoum negotiations.
After research, the British Foreign Office prepared a detailed note on the offer and its impact not only on the Khartoum talks aimed at reaching a settlement of disputes over the Nile waters, but also on the UK’s relations with both Egypt and Sudan.
Britain considered, according to the memo, that not asking Ethiopia to participate in the Khartoum talks is a “step in the right direction.”
The memorandum, which included the opinion of the Ministry of Colonial Affairs, proceeded from the basic British position that “it is unlikely that the Nile water problem will be resolved until the (eleven) basin countries accept a technical plan based on the assumption that the Nile is a single hydraulic (hydraulic) unit.”
Opinions were unanimous in rejecting the Ethiopian offer, which was described as “unfortunate, if not surprising, for the formation of a front” in the face of Egypt and Sudan, because it “will complicate matters.”
It was also agreed to inform the Ethiopians “in general terms” that the Khartoum talks “led to the establishment of very friendly relations of an informal technical nature between the East African countries and the Egyptians and the Sudanese.”
Therefore, the British Embassy in Ethiopia was asked to “unofficially” inform the Emperor’s advisor that “the Ethiopians should keep in mind that any attempt to form a front with the upstream countries would raise the suspicions of the Egyptians, which in turn might lead to any future negotiations with them being difficult, If it is not impossible, nor is it necessary.”
Despite the validity of this proposal, according to the British vision, the British Embassy in Ethiopia warned that informing the Ethiopians of this is not enough to discourage them from insisting on their plan.
The memo referred to “the embassy’s suspicions that this (British) proposal will not have an impact on the Ethiopians because the relations between them and the Egyptians are very bad and are unlikely to improve.”
The opinion of the British Embassy in Cairo was that by implementing their plan to form the front, or even by including them in the Khartoum talks, “the Ethiopians would not only complicate matters, but would also make any rational discussion virtually impossible.”
The embassy in Ethiopia supported the same assessment, which made the Foreign Ministry adopt, in its memo, the opinion that the Ethiopians’ ideas are unreasonable and cannot be accepted. She said that “objections to an offer to adopt a common policy with the Ethiopians (one front against the Egyptians) would be less if the Ethiopian ideas on the subject (the Nile water problem) were reasonable.”
In evaluating the Ethiopian offer, Britain also feared for the future of its relations with Egypt and not only with East African countries that were defending their water interests.
And the Foreign Ministry’s memorandum concluded that “under these circumstances, any proposal to form a common front between us and the Ethiopians will not only eliminate the possibilities of conducting successful negotiations with the Egyptians regarding the needs of East African (countries) of the Nile waters, but will also completely harm the Anglo-Egyptian relations.”
With a desire to settle the problem of the Nile waters, the Foreign Ministry decided to give the Ethiopians three advice: the first is to “suggest that they negotiate with the Egyptians and Sudanese over the waters of the Blue Nile,” and the second is to “remember the Egyptians sensitivity to the Nile.” The third piece of advice is to be aware of “the dangers involved in making it appear as if there is a mobilization to form a front against the downstream countries.”
The British Embassy in Khartoum drew attention to the fact that Ethiopias plan to form a front from the upstream countries in the face of the downstream countries will negatively affect the position of Sudan, which had very friendly relations with Ethiopia.
In its assessment, the embassy said that “any attempt to form a united (front) policy between the upstream countries will threaten to lose Sudan’s goodwill towards what is beyond the waters of the Nile, and thus will harm, according to the vision of the matter from Khartoum, the public interests of Ethiopia.”
According to this assessment, the British position is that “if the Ethiopian government wishes to enter into discussions regarding the waters of the Nile, the best and clearest way to do so is to contact the Sudanese.” As for making this contact, “it is up to the Ethiopians themselves.”
Half a century later, in 2011, Ethiopia began building the Grand Renaissance Dam, which sparked a major crisis between Ethiopia on the one hand and Egypt and Sudan on the other. Despite their deep fears about the impact of the dam on their lives, on March 23, 2015, Egypt and Sudan signed a declaration of principles agreement with Ethiopia in which Cairo and Khartoum recognized the dam for the first time.
However, the agreement did not contribute, as was hoped, to resolving the crisis, which worsened more than six years after its signing due to Ethiopias proceeding with the second stage of filling the dam’s reservoir.
What are the historical Nile water agreements that Britain was a party to?
1- Anglo-Italian Protocol of 1891
On April 15, 1891, the United Kingdom and Italy agreed that the Italian government would not carry out any irrigation construction on the Atbara River, which originates in the Ethiopian plateau, that would significantly alter the rate of water flow into the Nile. Italy at this time was a colonizer of the region.
2- Addis Ababa Agreement in 1902:
The British government (on behalf of Egypt) signed an agreement with the government of Abyssinia (now Ethiopia), in which the latter recognized the need to obtain prior approval from the United Kingdom and the Sudanese government before commencing any works that might affect the flow of the Blue Nile or the Sobat River, one of the tributaries of the White Nile in Sudan.
However, despite its signature, Ethiopia has not definitively ratified the agreement.
3. The 1906 Agreement:
The agreement was concluded between Britain and the independent state of the Congo on May 9, 1906. And the Congo committed, according to the agreement, not to build any construction on the Semliki River, one of the tributaries of the Nile, or near it that reduced the volume of water flowing into Lake Albert, except in agreement with the Sudanese government. Lake Albert is one of a system of interlocking lakes in the Upper Nile.
4. The 1925 incident between London and Ruma:
Britain and Italy exchanged notes in which the Italian government recognized the “prior hydraulic rights” of Egypt and Sudan. The two countries agreed not to establish any works that might change the flow of the waters of the Ethiopian Nile tributaries.
The agreement was based on another tripartite agreement concluded in 1906, under which Britain recognized that a large area of Ethiopia fell within the sphere of influence of Italy.
5- May 7, 1929 Agreement:
It is the first major agreement related to the use of the Nile waters. Its name is “Exchange of Notes between His Majesty’s Government of the United Kingdom and the Government of Egypt Concerning the Use of the Waters of the Nile River for the Purposes of Irrigation”.
When Britain signed this agreement, it was acting on behalf of all the lands under its administration in the Nile Basin.
Its most important texts:
*Egypt’s “acquired rights” in waters are limited to 48 cubic kilometers, and Sudan, 4 cubic kilometers.
* Egypt maintains the full flow of the Nile during the season that falls from January 20 to July 15.
* A guarantee that no works will be carried out on the river or any of its tributaries that would injure Egyptian interests.
6- British 1959 memoirs:
When Egypt announced in 1954 its intention to build the High Dam, the Egyptian and Sudanese governments entered into negotiations with a view to signing a new agreement on the use of water. While negotiations were continuing, in August 1959 Britain, on behalf of Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika (the largest part of present-day Tanzania), sent memoranda to the United Arab Republic (Egypt), Sudan, Belgium (which controlled the Congo) and Ethiopia regarding the waters of the Nile. The memoranda stipulate that the rights of the three regions represented by Britain will be retained in the event of an agreement between Egypt and Sudan.
What is Ethiopias position on these agreements?
As a member of the League of Nations (now the United Nations), Ethiopia complained about the British-Italian agreement. It refused to recognize Italy’s right to sign the 1925 Agreement.
Also, Addis Ababa did not recognize the Nile Waters Agreement of 1929, nor the memoranda of 1959.
Ethiopia still refuses to accept the issue of “acquired” or “historical” rights for Egypt. In 1956, it declared that it would “reserve the waters of the Nile in its lands for use in the manner it deems appropriate.”