Ethiopian press: Egypt using Burundi Muslims to drum up support on Nile

Egypt is bribing officials of the East African country of Burundi in an effort to gain support on the Nile water issue, according to an Ethiopian newspaper.

The independent Jimma Times daily newspaper quoted anonymous media sources in Burundi as saying that Egypt was paying bribes and putting pressure on both Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) not to sign a new water-sharing treaty.

Nevertheless, Burundi and the DRC said they would sign the agreement by May of next year.

Upstream Nile basin states Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda all signed on to the pact–which they say provides more equitable distribution of Nile water–earlier this year.

According to the Jimma Times, Egypt "has recently used financial incentives and a divide-and-rule approach to weaken Burundi's support for the five nations that signed the new Nile treaty."

On Monday, Burundi expressed support for Egypt’s efforts to defend its historical share of Nile water, as spelled out in two colonial-era agreements.

At a joint press conference with Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif on Monday, Burundian Deputy President Gervais Rovkiri emphasized "the need for continued dialogue and negotiation with Nile Basin countries to reach an agreement that takes their interests into account.” 

"Egypt has lobbied Burundi’s Muslim minority in order to divide the country religiously and politically," the paper reported. “Egyptian newspapers announced this week that Burundi official Mohammed Rokara had declared his support for Egypt's position.”

Under the new treaty’s terms, Addis Ababa hopes to build a series of dams for electricity generation and export power to neighboring countries, while also setting up several irrigation projects. Egypt and Sudan, however, fearing such moves might reduce the flow of the river, have both decried the treaty. 

Egypt and Ethiopia–along with seven other countries through which the river passes–have been locked for more than a decade in contentious talks driven by frustration over the perceived injustice of earlier treaties.

East African countries criticize a 1929 treaty with Britain, which gives Egypt the right to veto all proposed irrigation or hydro-electric projects in upstream countries.

 Relations between Egypt and upstream Nile states came under additional strain last month after Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said that Cairo “could not win a war” with Ethiopia over the river.

Zenawi also accused Cairo of supporting Ethiopian rebel groups in an effort to destabilize the country.

President Hosni Mubarak, for his part, has categorically denied the Ethiopian prime minister’s allegations.

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