The River Nile in the Post-Colonial Age: Conflict and Cooperation in the Nile Basin Countries

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The former has been exerting a quasi hegemonic influence over the riparian states of the whole basin and strenuously defended its acquired rights over the Nile waters, 8 while the latter has been fighting for the recognition to an increased share of the flows supplied by a river that has never been exploited by the Ethiopians at its full potential.

Despite there have not been military confrontations between the two countries since the Egyptian invasion of present Eritrea in Yohannes , the disputes between Ethiopia and Egypt over the allocation and use of the Nile waters have not only historically affected their relationships in creating an environment of reciprocal mistrust throughout the twentieth century, but they are also likely to induce a state of uncertainty for most of the twenty-first century. The reasons of current tensions on the Nile are not to be searched in elusive changes suddenly occurred in recent years, such as the building of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam GERD , but rather they have to be considered as outcomes of historical processes that have shaped the broader political context in the Nile in the past centuries.

According to Lautze and Giordano , the very cause of present stiff confrontation between upstream and downstream states lies in the agreements signed in colonial era, which since then have contributed to influence successive negotiations over the control of the Nile flows. According to this interpretation, the exclusion of Ethiopia from the pivotal water agreement of between Britain and Egypt, and from the treaty between Egypt and newly independent Sudan in addition to the failed Anglo-Ethiopia agreement , has provoked the emergence of the Ethiopian resentment toward the Egyptians and decisively contributed to the creation of an hostile environment for successive negotiations between the two countries Rahman Their determination to be fully recognized as legitimate actors for fair agreements over the allocation, use, and management of the Nile waters has been made explicit during the long-lasting negotiation process that set up institutions such as Hydromet, Undungu, the Tecco Nile, the Nile Basin Initiative NBI , and the projected Nile Basin Commission NBC.

The negotiation process aimed at the creation of the NBI at the beginning of the s has seen progressive Ethiopian attempts to influence the rules of the game Arsano and Tamrat and to set control over its agenda. As a result, all the riparian states were included into the negotiations, 10 and, even more importantly, the legal determinants for a new inclusive agreement that could supplant the previous and treaties on the allocation of the Nile waters have been raised at the core of the NBI agenda.

Egypt has traditionally represented the largest economy in the region, which has maintained a formidable military sector strictly interconnected with political authorities. Indeed, with the purpose to pursue its national interests, Egypt has been successful in consolidating its role as regional hegemon, either co-opting or silencing the alternatives advanced by the other Nile riparian states. The deployment of consent-inducing strategies has allowed Egypt to benefit from compliance-producing mechanisms, which have contributed to undermine the claims of upstream states and to strengthen the Egyptian supremacy over the regional agenda.

The same strategy has been recently put in place by Ethiopia, as a countermove to Egyptian hegemony at regional level, with the aim of providing the other riparian states with major benefits from the Ethiopian exploitation of the Nile waters, especially in the energy sector.

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This section showed how the power balance on TBW between Ethiopia and Egypt has subtly shifted and how that has opened up new points of dispute. Whether these recent changes will drive the negotiation process toward either more cooperative and inclusive arrangements among the basin states or to a situation of coexistence of bilateral agreements with unilateral infrastructure developments, or finally to the rise of Ethiopia as new hydrohegemon in the region, is still uncertain.

A relevant improvement in the relations between Egypt and Ethiopia materialized in March , when a Declaration of Principle over the management of the Nile water was signed in Khartoum by the two states and the Sudanese government, but the concrete outcomes of the agreement are still unpredictable. In the same way, it is uncertain what the role of South Sudan will be in determining intra-basin relationships: Both Egypt and Ethiopia have substantial interests in buying its acquiescence, but the enduring situation of instability in the country blurs any future hypothesis.


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Four tributaries in Syria and one in Jordan are the sources of the Yarmouk River. The Yarmouk flows along the northwest Jordanian border with Syria, between Jordan and the Occupied Golan Heights, and then between Jordan and Israel before bending in the lower part of the Jordan River. There is no basin-wide agreement on the water management of the Yarmouk so far, only bilateral agreements between Jordan and Syria and between Jordan and Israel FAO As noted by Haddadin , , after , due to the influx of Palestinians to Jordan, the latter had to ensure jobs and food security for the growing population in order to maintain social stability, and water was essential for this Haddadin , This socioeconomic context resulted in Jordan commissioning a report, 17 where Maqarin was identified as a location for storing water from the Yarmouk, instead of Lake Tiberias as suggested by previous plans.

Despite being technically feasible, this solution was not adopted: A deep look on the regional dynamics of that time could help explaining the reasons behind the halt of the project. The following geopolitical and socioeconomic contextual aspects backed the plan. First, the USA initially supported the plan in order to maintain stability in Jordan, backing plans for economic growth and security, opposing in this way a potential communist infiltration in the country.

However, the plan was contrary to the interests of Israel, which would have preferred the storage to be in Lake Tiberias, and which had competing plans for the development of the basin. As a result of Israeli complaints, the US economic support was withdrawn and the dam was not constructed Haddadin Therefore, in order to understand why change happens or does not happen, we need to consider issues of broader political context, including: the refugees; the need to build and maintain stability in Jordan; the US—Soviet geopolitical context; and the competing plans for the development of the basin.

In addition, the FHH helps us in shedding light on why change did not happen: Jordan at that time was not a hydrohegemon country, and therefore, due to power asymmetries, Jordan could not proceed with the project. Actually, Israel was the hydrohegemonic country in the basin, holding relative advantages in the hard, bargaining, and ideational features of power Zeitoun Even if the plan was not developed, the report influenced later projects and treaties for the area. Jordan kept urgently looking for expanding its water supply to secure economic and social development and enhance security in the kingdom.

Jordan agreed to use the overflow of the reservoir and allowed Syria to exploit all water resources upstream of Maqarin river and its tributaries , with the clause of ensuring enough water to supply the dam to be constructed. The political context shaped the details of the treaty: For Jordan, water was the priority for maintaining stability, providing food security and employment for its growing population, while for Syria energy was more important than water compared to Jordanians priorities.

This treaty resulted in an overall win—win situation: Jordan was to be given more water while Syria was to receive more electricity. In the early s, the US Ambassador Eric Johnston developed a scheme for the allocation of the Jordan Basin—including the Yarmouk Basin—among the different riparian states. It appears that the previous Jordanian report influenced the Johnston Plan identification of two locations, including Maqarin.

The US Ambassador negotiated the Johnston Plan with Israel and the League of Arab States, which, although accepting it on technical bases as it managed to make Israeli and Jordanian plans for the development of the basin compatible , finally rejected it for political arguments, since it would have resulted in an implicit recognition of Israel. The case of the Johnston Plan shows that water issues, often discussed on a technical level, are instead deeply political.

In fact, in the Johnston Plan case, while a technical agreement over the allocation and uses of the water resources was agreed upon by all riparian states, it was not signed and ratified due to the fact that such technical deal implicitly would have resulted in recognizing Israel, becoming therefore an important political act. At that time, no Arab state had diplomatic relations with or recognized the existence of Israel. Therefore, the political context strongly influences TBW dynamics, as shown in the case of the Johnston Plan. Only a problemshed approach can explain the failure of the plan, as a watershed perspective would not have captured it.

In the s and s, Syria built 26 dams on the tributaries of the Yarmouk without Jordanian approval or consent Etana Files , it over-exploited groundwater resources recharging the river, and the dam envisioned in the at Maqarin was not constructed Haddadin Looking at the broader context after the war, when Israel occupied the West Bank, the Jordan Valley on the Jordanian side depopulated from over 60, to around people, villages were destroyed, and farming activities almost completely suspended Haddadin As argued by Haddadin, building the dams and not respecting the agreement were aimed at strongly decreasing the flow of the Yarmouk into Israeli control Haddadin However, the relations between Jordan and Syria deteriorated also for regional geopolitical reasons: For instance, Syria supported Iran, while Jordan supported Iraq during the first Gulf War in the s.

Jordan had to consider the other sectors and therefore did not and could not do much about the violations of the agreement interview 2 19 Hussein This demonstrates again the necessity of a problemshed rather than a watershed approach to understand why Jordan tolerated the Syrian violations of the agreement. The FHH provides useful tools to understand the situation between Syria and Jordan: Syria, as emerged from interview 2, is the hydrohegemon country as it has greater hard, bargaining, and ideational power compared to Jordan.

Therefore, even if a treaty was in place, Syria was able to decide whether to implement it and respect it or not. Improved relations between Jordan and Syria between and , and the new situation on the ground due to previous Syrian violations, brought the two countries to renegotiate a new agreement in This agreement reflects the evolved balance of power between Syria and Jordan, which means a reinforcement of the hydrohegemonic position of Syria.

Compared to the agreement, this new agreement is worst for the Jordanian government as it envisions a dam with a smaller capacity, it recognizes the Syrian dams illegally constructed without Jordanian consent since , and the new approach of dispute resolution works at Syrian advantage. However, after the agreement, the relations between Jordan and Syria did not improve on the Yarmouk issue. Syria increased the exploitation of the Yarmouk through building new dams and groundwater drilling, further shrinking the flow of the river Kubursi The Wahda Dam encountered long delays.

Bilateral arrangements—and not a third agreement as suggested by Rosenberg —that took place in early s for Rosenberg for Zoubi reduced the size of the planned dam Zoubi ; Hussein The issue of the decreased flow of the river has been discussed in the Joint Water Committee established with the agreement and resulted in a joint study on the quality and quantity of the waters in the basin in UN-ESCWA The study aimed at exploring the causes of the decreased level of water and best measures to protect the basin from illegal pumping.

Recently, an increase in the flow to the Wahda dam was registered. However, it was noted by Jordanian officials that this may be due to a decrease in farming activities in Syria due to the unstable conditions and power cuts, which negatively impacted the pumping stations in the Syrian dams, and not to a Syrian political will to respect the agreement. Nevertheless, the political instability in Syria is resulting in a shift of the balance of power in favor of Jordan. Jordan has increased its trade relations with other countries, and the importance of Syria for the Jordanian import and export has strongly decreased.

This shift in the balance of power, we argue, will also be reflected in the bilateral hydropolitical relations after the Syrian war. Jordanian unilateral actions in the short term and a new agreement in the long term are likely to happen after the end of the Syrian political instability. However, future scenarios depend on the configuration of the future Syrian government and on its take on the regional geopolitical alliances.

Nevertheless, in practice this shift of power is currently resulting in an increase in the flow of the Yarmouk reaching Jordan, increasing to 60 MCM since the Syrian civil war started in The Jordanian—Syrian relations over the Yarmouk reiterate the necessity to consider TBW relations looking at the quality of agreements and their effective implementation on the ground Hussein and Grandi While the presence of a bilateral agreement may look like sign of good cooperation, often agreements are not implemented or are the cause of conflictive relations Selby ; Zeitoun and Mirumachi In the Yarmouk case, the presence of agreements with Jordan coexisted with the presence of conflictive relations over the allocation of the waters of the Yarmouk.

Considering the broader context helped us in understanding why the agreements were reached and also, to some extent, why they were not respected. The FHH helped us to understand why Jordan, which is the non-hydrohegemon country both in relation to Syria during and , and to Israel during the Johnston Plan, had to change its plans and accept the Syrian violations of the , formalize them in the agreement, and accept in practice also the continuous violations of the treaty. In addition, this section showed that by adopting a problemshed approach, it is possible to understand why the flow of the Yarmouk reaching Jordan has increased since due to the impact of the political instability in Syria.

This section also showed the shift in the balance of power between Syria and Jordan and its impact on the allocation of the waters by analyzing the broader political context. Given the transboundary nature of most of the water resources in the MENA region, we advocate for the urgency of adopting an interdisciplinary approach in order to account for the complex interactions that water embeds. In particular, we argue that a problemshed approach, rather than a narrow watershed perspective, would allow considerations from the broader context and analyses of power dynamics impacting over the use of shared water resources: TWM is a relative concept determined by social and political process, and denying the role of power relations would hide the causes of change, thus missing the complete picture of water-related dynamics.

The two case studies selected for analysis show significant differences in terms of roles of the actors involved, negotiation processes, hydrogeological characteristics, and broader regional dynamics; nevertheless, this study not only validates some of the hypotheses of the FHH by applying it to different empirical cases, but also theorizes over lessons learned that bring the two cases together.

First, both cases show how and why political dynamics especially power balances are pivotal in determining policies of TWM.


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Second, in both basins the regional context influences national water politics and the negotiation processes. Third, in both cases TWM reveals its inherent fluid nature: Rather than being static, hydropolitics show ever-changing patterns of relations the turmoil in Syria favored relative power gains in Jordan, the unilateral infrastructure developments in Ethiopia impacted over regional relationships , which witness the possibility of challenging the hydrohegemon.

Given the current evolving regional political context, this work only aims to provide analytical insights to be further developed for future empirical researches. He calls this the contextualization of agency. On the contrary, there exists a large gray area, and the different emerging scenarios involve their owncomplexities.

The River Nile in the Post-colonial Age: Conflict and Cooperation Among the Nile Basin Countries

The concept is adopted from Lustick in Zeitoun and Warner An alternative view sees the NBI as a strategic tool controlled by Egypt in order to expand its ideational power over the downstream countries. Rather, it is a necessity in light of the impasse and challenges facing Egypt in maintaining its water interests in the Nile and given Ethiopia's audacity to build the Renaissance Dam" quoted in Aman Interview 1 done in Amman, Jordan, on October 22, , by the primary author of this article. Interview 2 done in Amman, Jordan, on December, 1, , by the primary author of this article.

Interview 3 done in Amman, Jordan, on August, 2, , by the primary author of this article. Skip to main content Skip to sections. Advertisement Hide. Download PDF. Dynamic political contexts and power asymmetries: the cases of the Blue Nile and the Yarmouk Rivers. Open Access.

EGYPT: Nile Cruise & Ancient Monuments (Luxor, Aswan, Giza)

First Online: 21 March Since Egypt is the far downstream country of the basin, its reliance on the Nile flows has historically characterized the fragile balance of the hydrologic equilibrium in the whole region. Nowadays, population growth and cyclic droughts, poverty and food insecurity, pollution and environmental degradation, migration and water scarcity, overgrazing and desertification, climate change and hydraulic exploitation represent serious challenges to the effective management of Nile flows. These challenges, combined with historical grievances related to intra-regional politics, exert a renovated pressure over the resources of the basin, threatening the stability of the whole area Ibrahim Open image in new window.

This section focuses on the relations between Jordan and Syria on the Yarmouk River. We argue that we need to include political elements into the analysis in order to understand why the and bilateral agreements between Jordan and Syria were signed Fig. Moreover, looking at the quality of these agreements and at the gray areas of cooperation and conflict coexistence, it emerges that in practice the agreements are neither respected nor fully implemented, and therefore, cooperation the treaties and conflictive relations treaties not respected in practice coexist.

Reasons for this can be found expanding the analysis to the broader context, through a problemshed rather than watershed approach, while the mechanisms of water allocation can be explained through the tools provided by the FHH. Allan, T. The Middle East water question: Hydropolitics and the global economy. New York: IB Tauris.

Google Scholar. Al-Taani, A. Seasonal variations in water quality of Al-Wehda Dam north of Jordan and water suitability for irrigation in summer. Arabian Journal of Geosciences, 6 4 , — CrossRef Google Scholar. Aman, A. Egypt tries to woo South Sudan in Nile water dispute. Al Monitor. Arsano, Y. Ethiopia and the eastern Nile basin. Aquatic Sciences, 67 1 , 15— Butterworth, J. Local approaches to integrated water resources management. Water Alternatives, 3 1 , Buzan, B.

Security: A new framework for analysis. London: Lynne Rienner Publishers. Ethiopia—challenges to Egyptian hegemony in the Nile Basin. Water Policy, 10 S2 , 13— Political economy of water resources management and allocation in the Eastern Nile River Basin. Power, hegemony and critical hydropolitics. Transboundary Water Management. Principles and Practice 27— Nile water governance, The Nile River basin: water, agriculture, governance and livelihoods pp.

New York: Routledge. Castro, J. Water governance in the twentieth-first century. Cohen, A. The watershed approach: Challenges, antecedents, and the transition from technical tool to governance unit. Water Alternatives, 4 1 , 1. Conker, A. Norwich: University of East Anglia. Daoudy, M. Hydro-hegemony and international water law: Laying claims to water rights.

Water Policy, 10 S2 , 89— Asymmetric power: Negotiating water in the Euphrates and Tigris. International Negotiation, 14 2 , — Earle, A. Etana Files. The Yarmouk Basin between conflict and development. Fayyad, M.

What Lessons from the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam for International Law?

Fischer, R. Getting to yes. Floyd, R. Security and the environment: Securitisation theory and US environmental security policy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Haddadin, M. Water resources in Jordan: evolving policies for development, the environment, and conflict resolution. Washington DC: Resources for the Future. Cooperation and lack thereof on management of the Yarmouk River.

Water International, 34 4 , — Diplomacy on the Jordan: International conflict and negotiated resolution. Berlin: Springer. Hay, C. Structure and agency, Theory and methods in political sciences , — Heywood, A. Hampshire: Palgrave MacMillan. Hof, F. Water Policy, 1 1 , 81— Homer-Dixon, T. Environmental scarcities and violent conflict: Evidence from cases. International Security, 19 1 , 5— Hussein, H. An analysis of the discourse of water scarcity and hydropolitical dynamics in the case of Jordan. University of East Anglia. Social Water Studies in the Arab Region Ibrahim, A. The Nile Basin cooperative framework agreement: The beginning of the end of Egyptian hydro-political hegemony.

Jackson, R. Introduction to international relations: Theories and approaches. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Why States Cooperate over Shared Water. Keck, M. Transnational advocacy networks in international and regional politics. The attempt to perpetuate the status quo is based, instead, upon a tenuous argument for the continued binding force of the Agreement on Kenya, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda.

It is rather one of either rejecting the securitization of the Nile waters question altogether or keeping on playing with the water security tar-baby and remaining entangled in apparently endless negotiations in an atmosphere of obscurity. That the existing Nile treaty regime is a formidable hurdle stifling any headway towards equitable and reasonable utilization is a long established fact which a mere cursory glance over the various treaties discloses beyond any shadow of doubt. The assertion that these treaties constitute, in legal terms, an insurmountable hurdle which could only be circumvented via the non-legal and destructively elastic concept of water security though is extremely tenuous, as it has no factual and legal basis and is flawed, in substance, as it signifies an attempt to resolve an essentially legal problem by adopting an indeterminate, non-legal solution.

The treaty regime, constituted substantially by a patchwork of colonial treaties, represents an anachronistic and iniquitous legal structure undergirding an equally anachronistic and iniquitous pattern of utilization where the entire flow of the river is apportioned between the two lower riparians. In fact, there is no other major international basin where the legal regime and pattern of utilization are poignantly incompatible with the principles of international water law as they are in the Nile basin.

Dynamic political contexts and power asymmetries: the cases of the Blue Nile and the Yarmouk Rivers

The existing treaty regime began to take shape with the advent of British colonial rule in the basin. The continued binding effect of the treaty beyond the demise of British colonial rule in the basin though has been met with a two-pronged challenge: one based on the question of succession to the treaty by the former British colonies, and another pertaining to the contents of the agreement and its subsequent replacement by the Agreement. This claim though is based on a specious argument primarily because the normative validity of the exceptions is seriously challenged 78 and there is, as well, serious disagreement on the type of treaties which fall under the exception.

Also known as the Opting-in formula, the doctrine was formulated and declared by Julius Nyerere on 30 November while he was the premier of the then autonomous but not yet independent Tanganyika. The doctrine thus represents an embodiment of a consistent and uniform continental position rejecting the imposition of colonial treaties — dispositive or otherwise — without disregard though for customary international law.

At the same time, however, and recognizing the importance of the waters of the Nile that have their source in Lake Victoria to the Government and peoples of all the riparian states, the Government of Tanganyika is willing to enter into discussions with other interested Governments at the appropriate time, with a view to formulating and agreeing on measures for the regulation and division of the waters in a manner that is just and equitable to all riparian states and of the greatest benefits to all their peoples. Uganda and Kenya followed Tanganyika in rejecting the agreement as not binding upon them on the same grounds.

The agreement made possible the launching of Nile Control Projects — the Sudd el Ali and the Roseires dams to be built in Egypt and Sudan, respectively — which would increase the flow of the Nile. Applying the basic principles of international water law enshrined in the Convention and translating the same into specific basin-wide agreements to ensure equitable and reasonable utilization is, without doubt, a Herculean task.

The negotiation has thus been stuck in a blind alley and the likelihood of a breakthrough is very slim, indeed. Realization of the first alternative would surely constitute a resounding victory. Rejection of the proposed amendment and rejection, likewise, by Egypt and Sudan of draft Article 14 — by far the most probable outcome — though would inevitably bring the decade-long negotiations to a logical cul-de-sac.

Long identified as one of the potential flashpoints — a hotspot for water-related conflicts — the Nile basin still remains the only major basin lacking an inclusive, permanent legal and institutional framework for its utilization and management. Given the enduring legacy of the colonial past which left in its wake a patchwork of lopsided agreements enthusiastically endorsed and reinforced by the lower riparians, the launching of the NBI was, indeed, an unprecedented breakthrough.

The adoption of the Shared Vision marked a significant departure in the hydro-political history of the basin from, on the theoretical level, one of hegemonic control to shared control. Ten years later though, this significant departure has yet to get past the phase of rhetorical commitment and translate into a concrete legal and institutional framework.

The arguments proffered to justify the fateful interpolation of water security in the CFA are utterly specious and unfounded. Likewise, the status quo has no legitimate basis and its perpetuation would only be a negation of the Shared Vision the realization of which hinges, of necessity, on its demise and substitution by a new treaty regime in tune with the principles of international water law.

Reduced share of the Nile waters is surely a bitter pill Egypt will for certain be unwilling to swallow easily. Whether their governments would have the will and zeal to make this dream a reality is an open question; their unassailable right to a share of the Nile waters though is as strong as ever. Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide. Sign In or Create an Account. Sign In. Advanced Search. Article Navigation. Close mobile search navigation Article Navigation.

Volume Article Contents. Dereje Zeleke Mekonnen. Oxford Academic. Google Scholar. Cite Citation. Permissions Icon Permissions. Abstract The restive Nile basin which has long been identified as a flashpoint prone to conflict embarked on a new path of cooperation with the launching of the Nile Basin Initiative NBI.

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The NBI was launched in Feb. Erlich and I. Notes exchanged in Cairo, on 19 Jan. Al Baz, V. Hartje, and W. Scheumann eds , Co-operation on Transboundary Rivers , at The Ethio-Egypt Framework Agreement is, on the contrary, an agreement the significance of which is eclipsed by the plethora of diverse, broad objectives it is set to achieve. For a detailed discussion of the subject see D. See Zeleke, supra note 20, at —, for comparison with other basins.

For a comparison with other major basins see Zeleke, supra note 20, at — From —, five boundary and sphere of influence agreements were concluded. Brownlie, Principles of Public International Law 5th edn, , at See D. Bernhardt ed. Oppenheim, International Law 8th edn, , i, at

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