Nile Basin Cooperation: A Review of the Literature

By Dahilon Yassin Mohamoda | Go to book overview


This section is mainly meant to provide a broad background to the NBI both in terms of the general literature related to this initiative and what the NBI is about. It is also intended to lay a foundation for the next two sections that will address more specific aspects of the evolving basin-wide cooperation.

5.1. An overview of literature

This brief review of literature is restricted to recent and major books on the Nile, which cover a range of issues including the Nile Basin Initiative. It is confined to books published between the years 2000–2002.

The eighteen contributors to the volume edited by Haggai Erlich and Israel Gershoni (2000), as indicated by its title, present diverse histories, cultures and myths of the Nile River, as one water system. The book focuses mainly on Ethiopia, the Sudan, and Egypt, and the fact that the Nile River both connects and separates the people that share its waters is underlined. The book's central message is summarised by Erlich's introduction, where he identifies two interrelated issues. First, cultural, geographical and historical barriers separated the Nile's major cultures, and this separation not only magnified their distinctive identities, but also hampered sharing experiences, mutual understanding, and cooperation. Secondly, the myths, mysteries, and misconceptions took over where direct communication lagged behind (2000: 2). He then points out the need to address and recognize barriers of all sorts, and calls upon the leaders to turn the diversities into foundation for recognition, cooperation, and mutual enrichment.

Erlich and Gershoni in the last chapter of the book, where they examine historical legacies and present concerns of the Nile states, conclude, “Only by redressing the past, by demystifying its myths, by deciphering its legacies, by deriving inspirations and attaining perspective can humankind better cope with the challenges. Only by recognizing diversity and legitimizing pluralism can regional cooperation and unity of action be achieved” (2000: 271).

Jean Kerisel, who has civil engineering and archaeological background in his book, The Nile and its Masters, (2001) traces relations between the Nile waters and its rulers from the period of the great Pharaohs to the contemporary leaders of Egypt. He analyses how the memory of the Pharaohs has been handed down to the present leaders through pharaonic ambitions. The building of the Suez Canal, the Aswan High Dam, and the planned New Valley and Peace Canal Project are mentioned as examples of such pharaonic ambitions, or projects driven by a dream to construct something that would measure up to the Pharaohs. While the contemporary leaders of Egypt have inherited the dreams and ambitions of the ancient pharaohs, Kerisel argues, they have not matched it with the wisdom of the ancient pharaohs which enabled them to succeed in the management of the Nile waters. He is particularly critical of the current ambitious scheme to open up a new valley, the valley of Tushka. His main point is that considering all the circumstances, it will be quite impossible for the Nile waters to serve two valleys: the main valley and the new valley of Tushka. If Egyptian leaders ignore this fact and carry on with the implementation of the New Valley Project, he warns, a time might come when the Nile will no longer be able to irrigate even the main valley.

John Waterbury's book (2002) is one of the most recent books, which explores the recent attempt to establish cooperation between regimes in the Nile basin. It is thus a very valuable source on the NBI. Waterbury examines the complex legal, political, environmental and economic issues that face the Nile basin and the ten countries that lay claim to its waters, by applying collective action and international relations theory. He proposes a series of steps, like the establishment of accords among groups of states, and the critical participation of third-parties like the World Bank, if the new initiative is to foster cooperation and environmentally sound policy. If there is to be a solution to the dilemmas and challenges of the Nile basin, Waterbury concludes, it must be based upon contractual understandings, brokered by funding third-parties, and based on the national interests of each basin state.

The Cross and the River, by Haggai Erlich (2002) is one of few books that analyses Egyptian– Ethiopian relations from the perspective of the Nile Waters in the light of a broader historical and cultural context, and it provides an excellent scholarly analysis of the centrality of the Nile River in the relationship between the two countries. Erlich, in exploring diverse relationships between the two countries, focuses his analysis on identity; how the two countries define self and the other through such self-definition, keeping the issue of the Nile River at the centre of such examination. One county's conception of the other, he points out, had always been as complex and varied as its


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