Egypt, Ethiopia agree on new chapter in relations

AFP , Saturday 17 Sep 2011

Egypt's Prime Minister Essam Sharaf and his Ethiopian counterpart Meles Zenawi agrees to start from scratch in regards to the Nile basin file after an era of strained relations

Sharaf & Zenawi
Egypt's Prime Minister Essam Sharaf and his Ethiopian counterpart Meles Zenawi

Egypt and Ethiopia have agreed to open a new chapter in relations that were strained under the regime of ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak over disputes on Nile water sharing.

Ethiopian Prime Minsiter Meles Zenawi was in Cairo on his first visit since a popular uprising ousted Mubarak in February. Zenawi thanked Prime Minister Essam Sharaf "for helping in opening a new chapter of relations between Egypt and Ethiopia." "We all agree that the Nile is a bridge, it is not a barrier," he told a news conference.

"The future is a new relationship between Ethiopia and Egypt based on a win-win strategy. The past is a past based on a zero-sum game. That is gone. There is no going back," Zenawi said.

Countries that share the Nile River basin have demanded the revision of colonial-era agreements that allot the bulk of the river's water to Egypt and Sudan and allow Cairo to veto upstream projects.

Egypt did not recognise an agreement among other basin countries that revised the treaties.

The revised agreement, signed by Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, seeks to allow irrigation and hydroelectric projects to go ahead without Cairo's consent.

Under the Mubarak regime, Ethiopia took the lead in the campaign against Egypt -- for whom the Nile is just about the only source of water -- but Sharaf's government has repeatedly stressed its intention to resolve the dispute.

Zenawi said his country had delayed the submission of the treaty for ratification "so that the new Egypt can study in carefully."

"We will wait for the Egyptian side to make its decision in this regard," he said.

In March, Ethiopia announced the construction of the Renaissance Dam, which aims to be the largest hydroelectric plant in Africa.

During their talks in Cairo, the prime ministers agreed that a technical team from Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan would be sent to Ethiopia to look into how the dam would affect downstream countries, Zenawi said.

"It is wrong to deliver a message to our children and grandchildren that establishing a dam is a problem," Sharaf told reporters.

"Our main goal and ultimate goal is to develop an integrated development plan and that it benefits both countries," he said.

Both Zenawi and Sharaf -- who visited Ethiopia for Nile talks in May -- highlighted the positive nature of the talks and said they would be followed by further discussion.

"We have agreed on the establishment of a political dialogue mechanism at the level of foreign ministers to ensure regular meetings," Sharaf said.

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