Anglo-Ethiopian Treaty on the Nile and the Tana Dam Concessions: A Script in Legal History of Ethiopia's Diplomatic Confront (1900-1956)

Author:TK Woldetsadik
Position:PhD, Assistant Professor of Law and Human Rights, Addis Ababa University, College of Law and Governance Studies.
Pages:271-298
SUMMARY

In hydro-political context, while Ethiopia had been able to propel its own canoe in the first half of the 20th century, a blend of factors worked in concert to deprive it of any meaningful prospect in the utilization of the Nile water resources within its jurisdiction. I argue that the Anglo- Ethiopian Treaty of 1902 on the Blue Nile and the stream of negotiations conducted in the immediate... (see full summary)

 
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Anglo-Ethiopian Treaty on the Nile and
the Tana Dam Concessions:
A Script in Legal History of Ethiopia’s Diplomatic
Confront (1900-1956)
Tadesse Kassa Woldetsadik
Abstract
In hydro-political context, while Ethiopia had been able to propel its own
canoe in the first half of the 20th century, a blend of factors worked in
concert to deprive it of any meaningful prospect in the utilization of the
Nile water resources within its jurisdiction. I argue that the Anglo-
Ethiopian Treaty of 1902 on the Blue Nile and the stream of negotiations
conducted in the immediate aftermath on the grant of Lake Tana Dam
concessions have engendered deleterious impacts on the legal position and
sovereign interests of Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s imperial vacillation was
vexatious, and British hegemonic designs of the time leaned too heavily
towards Sudan and Egypt. As a result, the post-1950 period witnessed a
waning influence of Ethiopia’s hydro-legal posture and the molding of
deeply engrained perceptions of proprietorship along the downstream Nile.
Key terms
Ethiopia, Great Britain and the Nile Treaty (1902), Sudan, Egypt, the Lake
Tana Dam negotiations, international watercourses law, water diplomacy
on the Nile
DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.4314/mlr.v8i2.1
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Introduction
The Anglo-Ethiopian Treaty of May 1902 on the Blue Nile River, a pact that
intertwined Ethiopian, Sudanese and Egyptian destinies in the first half of
the 20th century, has greatly influenced Ethiopia’s sovereign interests in
transboudary water rights in the subsequent decades. For a long period, the
Treaty remained the single most authoritative instrument in the definition of
water rights of the states of Sudan and Ethiopia. The legal arrangement
represented a key episode at the zenith of Great Britain’s unremitting quest
PhD, Assistant Professor of Law and Human Rights, Addis Ababa University,
College of Law and Governance Studies.
272 MIZAN LAW REVIEW, Vol. 8, No.2 December 2014
for physical and juridical control of the Nile basin region and for securing
the unhindered flow of the Nile river course downstream.
The first section of this article examines the colonial and geo-political
setting under which the 1902 Anglo-Ethiopian Treaty was concluded, and
the second section analyses the factors that impelled Emperor Menelik to
extend the assurances contained in the Treaty. The third section deals with
the implications of the Treaty on Ethiopia’s transboundary water rights. The
fourth section dwells on a closely related subject: the negotiations history of
the Lake Tana Dam concessions conducted in the immediate aftermath of
the 1902 Treaty, and highlights the opportunities presented and challenges
posed in relation to Ethiopia’s hydro-legal and developmental discourse. The
last two sections supplement the discussion by a methodical presentation of
how events unfolded in the pre-1956 epoch, leading to a steady decline of
Ethiopia’s hydro-political influence in the post Tana dam periods, and the
unproductive diplomatic and legal enterprises which Ethiopia staged to
confront British, Sudanese and Egyptian machinations with regard to rights
of utilization of the Nile River.
1. Circumstances of the conclusion of the Anglo-Ethiopian
Treaty of 1902
In the immediate aftermath of the European scramble for the African
continent in the 1880’s, the British colonial empire expanded its African
acquisitions in fierce competition with the French. At the peak of its
imperial power, the British dominion had extended over large territorial
stretches across the East and North African regions situated in the Nile
basin.1 By 1890, London had declared the whole Nile valley as its sphere of
influence.2 Yet, instead of taking control of the entire river and the banks by
itself, Tvedt writes, during the stated period, the principal target of British
imperialism in the eastern Nile (i.e. the Ethiopian Blue Nile) had been to
keep away European powers, and specially France, from acquiring any
foothold in the Nile basin.3 In the negotiations relating to east and north-
eastern Africa which Lord Salisbury had conducted with a series of
1 Tadesse Kassa Woldetsadik (2013), International Watercourses Law in the Nile
Basin: Three States at a Crossroads. New York / Abingdon, Oxon, Routledge
Taylor and Francis Group, p. 50.
2 Terje Tvedt (2004), The River Nile in the Age of the British, Political Ecology and
the Quest for Economic Power. London / New York, I.B.
3 Ibid.

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