Beyond the river: Elite perceptions and regional cooperation in the Eastern Nile Basin

Rawia Tawfik
Faculty of Economics and Political Science, Cairo University, Giza, Egypt; and German Development Institute/Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungs Politik, Bonn, Germany;

ABSTRACT: This paper argues that benefit-sharing literature has assumed, rather than examined, the conditions under which cooperation over shared water resources from transboundary rivers can lead to regional cooperation in other economic sectors – cooperation 'beyond the river'. Using the case of the Eastern Nile Basin, the paper illustrates how economic cooperation between Ethiopia and Sudan has progressed in the last decade despite the lack of significant improvement in their water cooperation. Egypt and Sudan, on the other hand, have largely failed to translate their downstream hydropolitical alliance into stronger interdependencies in other economic sectors. In explaining this nonlinear relationship between water cooperation and cooperation 'beyond the river', the article explores the perceptions of political elites in Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan on the benefits and terms of cooperation, their assumptions as to who should set these terms and lead the cooperation process, and their ideas on the meaning of cooperation itself. It also underlines how incumbent regimes in each of the three Eastern Nile Basin countries view the possibility of collaborating with their counterparts in the Basin to reap the benefits of cooperation, and assess the impact of regional and international variables on this cooperation. In addition to secondary sources and official documents, the article is based on original and up-to-date interviews conducted with government officials and experts in Cairo, Addis Ababa, and Khartoum between September and November 2017.

KEYWORDS: Benefit sharing, hydropolitics, regional cooperation, Eastern Nile Basin, Sudan, Egypt, Ethiopia