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Somalia must walk with care on Nile politics


EDITORIAL | President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud on Monday continued his shuttle diplomacy in the region, reaching Egypt to discuss what Villa Somalia described as “wide-ranging” areas such as trade, security, and education.

That is a commendable tour of the region, and we must be proud that each of the doors President Mohamud is knocking on is opening with hosts all out in open arms.

But a statement from Cairo suggested this wasn’t a free lunch. It had to do with Egypt’s desire to gain regional support as far as the Nile politics is concerned. According to the Egyptian Presidential palace, Mohamud and his host, Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, also discussed and “agreed on the danger of unilateral policies when it comes to international rivers.”

For Egypt, the Nile is the most significant source of fresh water, providing nearly 97 percent of all its water needs. So when the Ethiopians decided to put up the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam (GERD). A hydroelectric power project that could provide up to 6.4GW of power, Cairo wasn’t amused. The Blue Nile section of the river is entirely on Ethiopian soil, but Egypt says all projects must have permission, or at least its nod and involvement, before being put up.

Egypt and Ethiopia have lobbied neighbors to support their cause, with each side fronting what it calls a sovereign right to utilize the source.

The danger for Somalia is that taking sides in the dispute could expose Mogadishu to a political storm it can do well to avoid. Somalia needs allies to help it rebuild its tattered institutions, ensure security, and defeat terrorists. But that should not be a condition for taking sides in a dispute that has endured decades.

The dam is only a portion of the actual problem. Egypt has relied on archaic treaties to push for its rightful share of the water. But the riparian countries of the Nile Basin are increasingly facing pressure to provide water and electricity to their rising populations, which makes it insensitive to cling to treaties none of the countries signed (most of the Basin countries weren’t even independent when the 1956 treaty was signed).

It is welcome for Egyptians to provide the needed security and technical education support. But Mohamud should decline conditional offers. It should be up to Somalia to choose who among its foreign partners has stood with it in times of need. Given the historical ties that exist between Somalia and Egypt, perhaps it could be natural that Cairo expects Mogadishu to endorse its argument. But Mogadishu’s immediate interest should be avoiding bad blood with neighbors. It is these neighbors who may harm Somalia’s security standing more. Building trust and ensuring sovereign rights must be Somalia’s goal.

This doesn’t mean Somalia should support Ethiopia. Indeed, many neighboring countries have refused to take sides on the Nile because they believe it is a matter that needs cool heads to resolve. It is up to Ethiopia and Egypt to agree to compromise. And that will not require Somalia to endorse any side.


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