CAIRO – Egypt's president on Thursday laid out concerns over his country's share of the Nile waters, urging leaders of the river's basin countries to work together toward a more efficient use of their resources.
"The River Nile unites rather than divides us," President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said at a "Nile Summit" hosted by Uganda.
"Our common interest in exploiting our natural and human resources to build and develop our nations is far greater and more important than differences that have for many decades dictated our positions and restrained our energies."
Since el-Sissi took office in 2014, mostly desert Egypt has been going to great lengths to foster better ties with Sub-Saharan Africa and especially fellow Nile basin countries — offering training and know-how in a wide variety of fields and exchanging high-level visits.
More than any of his predecessors, el-Sissi has been diligently attending African Union meetings, visiting Sub-Saharan nations and hosting African heads of state in Cairo. His comments on Thursday appeared to be in the same vein as his African diplomacy — designed to woo fellow Nile basin leaders and reassure them that while Egypt desperately needed its full share of the river's waters, it stood ready to help them develop their nations.
Cairo's diplomatic moves in Africa coincides with growing anxiety over the impact on Egypt's vital share of the Nile waters by the near completion of a giant dam in Ethiopia, whose highlands are the source of the Blue Nile, the waterway's primary tributary that accounts for some 80 percent of the river's volume in Egypt.
Ethiopia says the hydroelectric dam is essential to its development and that it does not intend to hurt Egypt's interests.
However, negotiations between Egypt and Ethiopia over the dam's impact, particularly the timetable for filling the proposed reservoir behind it, appear to have made little progress over the years.
El-Sissi made no mention of Ethiopia or the dam in his Thursday comments, but he reminded participants in the Uganda summit that Egypt depended on the Nile for 97 percent of its water needs. "That's the cause behind the wariness with which Egyptians handle any potentially negative effect on Egypt's water security."
He added: "I urge that we adopt a joint approach rooted in the belief that there are enough water resources between us that we have not fully exploited."