Nile Basin Cooperation: A Review of the Literature

By Dahilon Yassin Mohamoda | Go to book overview

6.
TEN RIPARIANS, ONE NILE: DIVERGENT
INTERESTS OF THE NILE BASIN COUNTRIES

6.1. Introduction

The Nile basin riparian states have divergent interests or stakes and have different expectations of Nile basin cooperation. Analysis of the stakes of Nile riparians is provided by Alemu (1995). Dinar and Alemu (2000), on the other hand, focus on examination of the changes in political positions of four key Nile riparians: Egypt, Ethiopia, the Sudan and Uganda, while they also give a summary of major stakes of the ten Nile riparian countries (2000: 339). Waterbury in his 1990 article assesses the varying interests of the Nile riparians with respect to legal accords to guide the future hydraulic development of the basin, and in his recent book he provides an overview of major stakes of the ten Nile riparian states (2002: 4–6).

Literature on utilization and management of the Nile waters overwhelmingly concentrates on three countries considered to be central actors in the basin, namely: Egypt, Ethiopia and the Sudan. Abraham, 1997; Amare, 2000; Arsano, 1997; Erlich, 2000, 2002; Kendie, 1999;Schiffler, 1998; Swain, 1997; Tafesse, 2001; Waterbury, 1990, 1997, 2002; Whittington and McClelland, 1992 are some examples. Five out of the six books published between the years 2000 to 2002 on issues related to the Nile (briefly reviewed in Chapter five) focus mainly on these countries. Egypt and the Sudan look to the Nile waters as their main water source, while there are indications that Ethiopia, from which around 86 per cent of the Nile waters originate, intends to utilize more of the waters in the coming decades. Some writers add Uganda as one of the major players, or the fourth major actor in the Nile basin (Dinar and Alemu, 2000; Waterbury, 2002).

Waterbury, groups the Nile riparians into three categories based on their positions on regime change in the basin: Egypt and Uganda are in favour of the status quo; Ethiopia, the Sudan and Eritrea support the new regime; and Kenya, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi are indifferent (2002: 167– 68). As Waterbury has indicated, the categories are not static and their composition may change over time (ibid: 167).

In the following section, we will first review how the Egyptian and the Ethiopian interests in Nile waters interact. This will be followed by the Sudanese Nile priorities, and finally the stakes of the Great Lake Region Countries will be discussed briefly.


6.2. Egypt, Ethiopia, and the Nile

The Nile River represents and means different things to Egypt and Ethiopia. The two countries, moreover, have divergent views of each other. Details of the Egyptian conception of Ethiopia and vice versa are eloquently elaborated by Erlich in Chapters 8 and 9 of his recent book (2002). Egypt is totally dependent on the Nile waters. Consequently, the Nile is perceived as Egypt's lifeline, and it is thus underlined that Egypt cannot be imaged without the Nile waters. This is described best by the repeatedly quoted statement, “Egypt is the gift of the Nile”, uttered by the Greek Historian Herodotus in 460 BC.

“If the waters of the Nile have meant life for Egypt,” Erlich states, “they have meant something different for the Ethiopians. The part of the river in their own territory gave no life, at least not in the material sense” (2002: 8). This view is better elaborated by Bairu Tafla (2000), in his contribution, “The Father of Rivers: The Nile in Ethiopian Literature”. Tafla assesses the notion and the role of the Blue Nile or Abbay, “our father” in Amharic, in Ethiopian literature. He asserts that the Abbay, both admired and hated, has been central in Ethiopia's culture and history. He further argues that the popular image of the Abbay in Ethiopia in recent decades has changed from a natural might admired as a national symbol, to that of a criminal thief. Tafla concludes, “the lamentation of the new generation is understandable: drought and famine have taken their toll on the Ethiopian population in recent years while the Abbay waters thundered unused down the precipice as always. This contradiction made many Ethiopians restless, and some began to compose challenging poems” (Tafla, 2000: 165). Such bitterness and criticism as Tafla has pointed out, is represented best by Hailu Gabre-Yohannes's poem (in Amharic) entitled, Innatkin Belulgn (1989) translated roughly as “Insult him on my behalf”. Gabre-Yohannes charges the Abbay with betrayal of its county and people by flowing freely to feed people in other remote countries, while millions of its own citizens are starving to death due to the lack of a drop of water.

Egyptian and Ethiopian scholars usually view the utilization and management of the Nile waters from different angles and their perspectives in many cases coincide with their respective countries' policy on the Nile issue. Many Ethiopian

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