Nile Basin Cooperation: A Review of the Literature

By Dahilon Yassin Mohamoda | Go to book overview

8.
CONCLUSION

Literature on the Nile is extensive and covers a wide range of issues (Tvedt, 2000). This literature review has concentrated on Nile cooperation and related issues focusing on more recent publications. The literature in the early 1990s was in general dominated by a debate maintaining that water scarcity would probably lead to armed conflicts. Some writers had predicted the inevitability of war over freshwater. The Nile basin has been at the centre of this discussion and was frequently referred to as a case where conflict over water resources is real.

This changed later because of detailed research on the relationship between water resources and conflict (The Transboundary Freshwater Dispute Database), and because there have been no wars over freshwater despite the predictions and warnings. On the contrary, efforts to cooperate on utilization of water resources have been growing, though the potential of conflict over water resources is not undermined. The Nile Basin Initiative is one of the major examples of such cooperation.

Literature on utilization and management of the Nile waters, which in one way or another is related to basin-wide cooperation efforts, has been growing fast during the last decade. At least seven books (Tvedt, 2000, and the six other books reviewed briefly in Chapter Five) have been published during the last three years. The number of papers presented to conferences or articles in various journals and the Internet is enormous.

Literature on the Great Lake countries during the period of study is very limited, while literature on the Nile waters overwhelmingly concentrates on three countries considered to be the central players of the Nile basin namely: Egypt, Ethiopia and the Sudan. Five out of the six books published during the last three years, for instance, focus on these countries1 Many writers have pointed out that the major conflict in the Nile basin at present involves a contest between Egypt and Ethiopia. The rivalry between the two countries, as we have seen, centres on conflicting visions and interpretations of management and utilization of the Nile waters. Egypt and Ethiopia also have different perceptions of each other. Erlich, who provides an indepth analysis of the relationship between Egypt and Ethiopia, stresses the necessity of enhancing dialogue directed at understanding each other better which, in turn, contributes to understanding themselves. He considers such dialogue the key to the first step towards cooperation on the Nile Waters and notes, “the more Egypt and Ethiopia liberalize their views of themselves, the greater the chance for mutual understanding” (2002: 11–12).

Several writers have emphasised that basinwide cooperation is the way forward in the face of rapidly increasing population, widespread conflicts, environmental degradation, and frequent natural disasters such as drought and famine, which all exacerbate the water shortage in the Nile basin. Taking into account the historically volatile relationship between the central actors in the Nile basin, Flouds (2002) and Khodari (2002) consider it is a significant achievement to get all the basin countries together to discuss the controversial issues, and that the Nile basin countries have peacefully agreed on the shared vision of the NBI. Similarly, Erlich considers the very existence of dialogue on cooperation between Egypt and Ethiopia, key players in the Nile basin, as an achievement in itself as the actual positions of these countries are essentially contradictory (2002: 218).

The UN Watercourse Convention of 1997, in which the Nile basin countries have shown interest through their participation in discussions of its draft, is an important contribution towards the evolving Nile cooperation, as Brunnee and Toope (2002) have noted. The Convention, however, merely provides the fundamental legal principles or framework to help guide negotiations. It is up to the Nile riparian countries to work out details, and reach an agreement on utilization and management of the Nile waters.

The question of allocation of water resources, which is one of the most fundamental principles of the UN Watercourse Convention, thus remains the key issue at the centre of difficulties facing the Nile basin cooperation. This challenge is further complicated by riparian countries' decisions to implement development projects unilaterally or create “facts on the ground”. Such measures, as many scholars have pointed out, can be considered as among the major obstacles of the NBI, which could make future negotiations an even more difficult task and may eventually undermine efforts to enhance cooperation in the Nile basin.

In short, the history of utilization of the Nile River is a history of both conflict and cooperation among the people that share its waters. It is the conflict aspect, however, that has largely been focused upon in both the media and academic dis

____________________
1
Collins' book (2002) is restricted to the Nile River itself.

-33-

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