What is going on in the Nile has little to do with water…
Not life and death, as water resource availability for basic human consumption is not the issue. Economic development? Yes, to some extent, because water is a very important input for major economic uses of water – especially for agriculture and energy. Food security of the Nile riparians is only partially dependent on Nile waters – imports of "virtual water" have been covering the gap in all the countries since at least the 1970s. Energy security is important because reliable and affordable electricity is critical to meet growing national economic demands. Social and therefore political stability is definitely at stake, because large majorities depend on the agriculture sector, and farmers are the largest constituency in all Nile countries, including Egypt. In the same vein, lack of access to electricity can also become a destabilising social factor. Ultimately, the political stability of all Nile countries and their respective politico-economic regimes is at stake. Failing to respond to their own national constituencies can unleash spiralling conflicts.
Let us look at the 10 years of GERD negotiations to understand how this has been playing out.
Dams are political
Dams around the world serve multiple purposes: controlling hydrological unevenness, storage to increase irrigation output and produce energy, and settlement of populations, among others. Dams are therefore a quintessential example of political projects – from ancient China's and India's 'hydraulic civilizations' to post-colonial Egypt. The High Aswan Dam (HAD) is a classic 20th century example of how such a large-scale and internationalised project contributed to President Nasser's regime-building and consolidation, on which the following Egyptian political leaders have built. The 21st century large-scale GERD follows the same path. Launched by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in 2011, the GERD became central for regime-building and maintenance of Ethiopia's polity, with strong regional and international reverberations. Ethiopia's subsequent political leaders inherited a snowball of intense and ceaseless negotiations. As we speak… June 2021: the second filling of the GERD is around the corner, and there is still nothing that looks like a consensual agreement on how to operate and coordinate all Blue/Main Nile infrastructures.
Sanctioned discourses do not engage with the idea that the political stability of all three Blue Nile countries is at stake. However, from individual claims of "national security", the discussion has moved to the realm of "regional security". Further, because Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan are significant players in global geopolitics and economics, the issue has become an "international security" issue. The issue is definitely not only about water anymore, if it ever was.
Who calls the shots?
As the GERD negotiations have proceeded, "securitisation" processes rapidly kicked in. Initially, the technical experts took the lead. Talks were difficult but some degree of consensus was possible: the need for more in-depth studies; calculations of technical benefits and risks and discussions of how to increase/mitigate them respectively. This paved the ground for joint technical solutions. Legal experts attempted to find ways to codify the technical solutions in a potential trilateral legal agreement. But from then on, escalation to higher decision-making levels became discernible. The Ministers of Water met regularly, and often Ministers of Foreign Affairs came along. The higher the level of meetings, the higher the level of 'securitisation'. The apex occurred in March 2015, when the three Heads of State signed the Declaration of Principles for the GERD, the first ever trilateral agreement in the Blue Nile.
This was not the end of the game, but rather the beginning of a new chapter. As negotiations continued, it became clear that only the involvement of top-ranking officials could unravel the gridlock. Multiple high-level meetings followed, especially a meeting in June 2018 that included the Heads of Intelligence of the three countries besides the Ministers of Water and Foreign Affairs. But to no avail. In 2019/2020, the GERD negotiations became internationalised – former President Trump, the US Department of Treasury and World Bank became part of the picture. From October 2019, the Nile became a de facto international issue, with the consent of Ethiopia's leadership. These failed, and other major international players joined the GERD bandwagon in various ways: the UN Security Council, African Union, European Union, Gulf / Middle East countries, and global economic powers such as China and Russia. More securitised than this is almost impossible.
The Nile as part of regional reconfiguration
Negotiating technical/procedural issues around the filling and long-term operations of the GERD is still ongoing, and reaching an agreement is still the goal for the three countries – or so official statements indicate. Managing and preparing for extreme events, such as the frequent droughts and floods, apparently still guides the GERD negotiations. But behind the scenes, the discussion seems to be about: 1) water allocations or re-allocations for current and future uses, with legal and political guarantees for all the three countries; 2) a negotiated future agreement that does not include too many political concessions that could be seen as 'giving in' by the respective national constituencies, thereby unleashing risky public outcry. However, the current GERD negotiations seem to be just the tip of a much larger iceberg: a reconfiguration of the Nile "security complex" to make sure unilateral approaches are the exception and not the norm, while boosting exponentially an investment-friendly regional environment.
To conclude, I offer three questions:
- 1.If the GERD/Nile conundrum is essentially about security and not water, then should we assume technical talks/negotiations are not needed anymore?
- 2.Is "de-securitisation" still an option? If yes, what would the process look like, and is it still possible before the second filling happening in around a month or so? and
- 3.If the GERD issue has reached such regional and international higher political/security echelons with no solution as yet, then what next?
Ana Elisa Cascão
Blue Nile at the GERD construction site // Main Dam and Saddle Dam // Photo taken in July 2016, when rumours were circulating that filling would start that year
What if we start investigating and interpretting the GERD from any other international relations paradigm other than neoclassical realism? Will we came to the same conclusions or will it enable us to see a different side of the same story? Will it help to answer or at least enlighting some of the questions Anna asks? What role does the media and scientists play in perpetuating the neoclassical realist 'myth', that the GERD is a regional security issue only? Does the GERD issue indicated the irrellevance of the African Union in mediating the conflict? In the debate around the GERD and its impending completion, these alternative questions also need to be asked. It is not only important to ask these questions from an international relations theory perspective, but also significant for the relevance of international relations as a discipline that not only inform public opinion but also influence regional, continental and global governance architectures. Anna asks some pertinent questions towards the end that hints at an alternative interpretation of the issue and what is at stake.
Thanks for the questions, Richard! Like all of them. And thanks for being the first to open the discussion! I cover just three points... for a start at least
Theory yes or not?
I take your points, and my answer is No: I do not think that by changing theoretical frames would show any different narratives from the current ones. The fundamental problem is very crystallised.
Answers to the questions?
Well, to be honest I think those answers can only be given by the decisions-makers themselves. And our roles, as observers/analysts is perhaps to focus more on the possible scenarios - be them negative or positive (just to simplify), and make something out of it. And contribute to the discussion somehow - in a constructive manner. And I think by "asking questions" we are already giving some kind of little contribution.
Role of media
That is a very good question. A lot has been done and written about it, and a lot of collective meetings, trainings, publications, podcasts have been going out on that exact same topic - The role of Media in the Nile hydropolitics. And I believe is is worth to spare half hour and watch the amazing ground the has been covered, and in my opinion it has contributed significantly to improve media coverage of Nile issues. Check here... full of beautiful Nile stuff!
Groundbreaking work from IHE, led by Emanuele Fantini:
https://www.water-alternatives.org/index.php/wat (in Water Alternatives itself)
Work by MiCT/NBI/GIZ, led by Nik Lehnert... it is visually one of the best things ever made about the Nile!
And SIWI on media and gender:
Things are moving in the right direction... more public informed opinion and more information available to the public! These are great outcomes. I think at least it gives more space for everyone to analyse by him/herself how things have changed (or not...) in the Nile for the past decade. The world is watching Nile Hydropolitics alive on Twitter and Facebook
I come to this as a journalist/editor who is relatively new to the field and the geography of what is being discussed. I have been watching the issue closely for a couple of months now and from a international journalism news perspective it is a fascinating and fast moving story, one which deserves much more international attention as it is perfect lens through which to view a number of fascinating and important areas of discourse; water diplomacy, international law and climate change to name just three.
Below I look briefly at Ana's three opening questions providing my current POV as a starting point. However, as I am very new to all this I am keen to learn and happy to have my views dissented with in the spirit of this forum.
1.If the GERD/Nile conundrum is essentially about security and not water, then should we assume technical talks/negotiations are not needed anymore?
Short answer no. IMO there is a relationship between the security and the technical aspects involved in this, perhaps even a cycle. From a technical perspective a better managed water resource from a flow perspective = a safer, less destructive and more efficiently manageable water resource for everyone who is dependent on the resource.
Technical cooperation is also needed to assure the security/political layer of decision makers that they can make truthful statements about the risks and benefits of cooperation - i.e. the ultimate goal. In a sense cooperation at a technical level is a necessary pre-condition to political and security consensus. Interestingly what we are seeing now seems to be something akin to technical divergence, driven by political and security considerations.
2.Is "de-securitisation" still an option? If yes, what would the process look like, and is it still possible before the second filling happening in around a month or so? and
Short answer: No. But that is because I come to this from a political perspective - and my political judgment is that at this point in time there is way too much political capital invested in all of this for the political and security engagement to be terminated. Had that position been taken at the outset, consciously, it would have been the best way to get this through harmoniously. But as I understand it and as its name suggests, the GERD is an inherently political project and therefore that was probably never an option.
However there are probably good lessons for the future about putting various aspects of these sort of projects in a better order from the get go. But for now what is done is done. The challenge with all political negotiations is to come up with a solution frame in which all the parties get to be victorious.
3.If the GERD issue has reached such regional and international higher political/security echelons with no solution as yet, then what next?
My initial thoughts about this are that the best we can do is hope for hydrological deliverance at present - if, god-willing we were to have four years following this one with very significant flows, then the security issue will not arise. And if during that period the GERD proves useful in averting catastrophe once or twice or more times (baring in mind how close downstream the Sudanese Dam is this seems entirely possible) then it may become significantly more easy for the parties to come to an agreement, having had it proven to them through experience that this is not the disaster that some of them currently seem to think it is.
That is of course avoiding the question and I will think a bit more about what else might be able to be done now which might help. But all of the problems this project faces currently exist at the political/security level, and therefore we need to look there for solutions also - even if those solutions might be at a grass-roots level i.e. focussed at a multitrack water diplomacy level.
P.S. On second thoughts, stepped up multi-track diplomatic efforts could not hurt, especially those focussed on increasing links between and common understandings between in this case the two protagonists, Ethiopians and Egyptians. And therefore these could be pursued now, perhaps with significant resources behind them. Afterall right now there is a sense of urgency and so much to lose.
The suggestion that Nile debates are being 'securitised' and that we should "look at the 10 years of GERD negotiations to understand how this has been playing out" is bizarre.
Nile politics has been securitised for decades, centuries, millennia and what we are witnessing is simply the latest iteration. At the end of the 1st millennium AD, it is recorded that poor floods led to crop failures, famine and civil unrest. So when the then 'water managers' warned that water shortages were imminent, the response of sensible administrations was to import and stockpile food - or go to war to get it.
But these were cases where the vagaries (and variability) of water drove security responses which is different from today's 'securitisation' debate which suggests that security considerations are the dominant factor driving water management.
The evidence of the 18th and 19th century is similar. In the 19th century, the British colonial authorities worried about the impact of water shortages in the Nile (and the cheap cotton it produced) on the British economy.
By the 20th century, the British Cabinet, concerned about its ability to maintain political control of Egypt sought to create the perception that they would be able to 'turn off' the Nile. The choice of the Aswan High Dam as the option to support Egypt's future water was a response to that pressure, met with a narrative of colonial control and cold war conflict. But, 60 years later, the over-arching outcome is that the water management enabled by the High Dam underpinned the 14 fold growth of Egypt's GDP per capita, even as its population trebled. Water trumped security.
The histories have ensured that the notions of Egypt's existential dependence on the Nile persist. This has made it difficult for Egypt's political leaders to address the inevitable reality that the river is shared with many other countries who will want to use some of it themselves. So over twenty years ago, when efforts were made to get the countries to talk about the future of the river, Egyptian ministers could only participate up to the point where their counterparts pointed out that there had to be equitable arrangements on the management and use of the river.
Given the history and the national rhetoric, no Egyptian official has been able to have that conversation. But water is a patient and powerful medium, well capable of eroding apparently immovable obstacles.
So once again, the water decisions reflected the pressures imposed by the security concerns. Ethiopians had prepared for the GERD since the USA's Bureau of Reclamation had helped them to identify the site in 1964. But, to launch it, they waited for the opportunity provided by the internal instability of the Arab Spring in Egypt (which weakened previously consistent US support), which coincided with a strengthening alliance between US and Ethiopia to address their mutual security challenges in Somalia.
So was water management 'securitised' or did water managers exploit the security environment to achieve their goals?
In this wider context, the question is surely not whether "the GERD/Nile conundrum is essentially about security and not water" and whether "technical talks/negotiations are not needed anymore?"
It is likely that, while the establishment of new water security equilibria proceeds, there will continue to be security challenges (very visible in the sudden upheavals in Ethiopia's political stability).
But if we read the history, the negotiations will reach their conclusion when the GERD filling demonstrates the value to Sudan of reliable irrigation supplies (and cheap electricity) and when, downstream, the GERD storage is seen to reduce drought risk and possibly even increase Aswan High Dam's reliable yield. Meanwhile, Egypt will find mutual benefit in working with South Sudan to increase yield from the White Nile.
In that context, the glaring inequity of Egypt's demand for the additional six words in the Nile Cooperative Framework Agreement will not be sustainable:
(Egypt wanted article 14(b), which read that, ‘Nile Basin States therefore agree, in a spirit of cooperation… not to significantly affect the water security of any other Nile Basin States,’ to read instead, ‘not to ADVERSELY affect the water security AND CURRENT USES AND RIGHTS of any other Nile Basin State’ (NBI, 2010).)
This is a debate in which, over time, we have seen water drive the security debate and not vice versa. Given the larger realities of the resource, that is unlikely to change.
[some of this history is detailed in my recent article, which also considers sustainability under climate change:-
Learning from the River Nile about engineering sustainable futures.
Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers – Civil Engineering 174(5): 24–31,
Mike I make the same arguments in my article in Horn of Africa Insights due to be republished in the New Agenda! Those critical 6 words of the CFA are what need to be negotiated to finality so that the Nile Basin Commission can be formed to move the riparians from mutual suspicion and destructive zero sum game to regional integration and mutual economic and social development. The negotiations did not start in 2010 to end up with 2015 declaration of principles. The inequity is glaring not only on the blue Nile but also with the 8 other riprians and a Basin wide approach with focus on sharing of economic benefits is the best way out of the conundrum. Purposeful amnesia had no place in the discourse.
Stephen! Thanks for the comment and memory stickers! Nothing is forgotten... the history(ies?) of the Nile is written and will keep being updated, as new facts emerge
Co-existence of agreements
Indeed Nile-related negotiation processes seem not have a specific starting point nor an ending point, as you mention. Be at the multilateral (basin-wide) or trilateral level. For me the most puzzling thing is that in fact is there is STILL no comprehensive agreement available at all, but rather there is a co-existence of 4 partial agreements:
- a bilateral 1959 Agreement - to which the two signatories adhere (but the non-signatory countries obviously do not have to, and can contest it, as they do)
- an incomplete basin-wide agreement, which has been signed by many but not yet being ratified by the necessary number of countries to come into force (however, in principle, even when in force, it will not apply to the non-signatories)
- a trilateral Declaration of Principles for the GERD, signed and politically endorsed - which the three countries keep saying it is a project-only agreement, although we know the discussion is about the whole Blue Nile (all the three countries claim to adhere to the principles enshrined there)
- a would-be trilateral agreement on the rules and mechanisms for the Filling and Long-Term operations of the GERD: which we still do not know how it look like! And in case it will be become a reality, we do not know if the three countries will adhere to it...
So, what is the problem here?
Piecemeal approaches are short-term solutions...
I believe the problem is... there is not yet the necessary political readiness for a 'comprehensive' agreement to be adopted. And perhaps that means we will keep witnessing a proliferation of concomitant agreements. Is this the way to go? Reinventing the wheel every decade, and for each single project that will be announced/planned/constructed? As for me, the financial, diplomatic and political transactional costs of such modus operandi are unbearable in the medium/long term.
Thank you for your response. I believe the filling and operation rules is to operationalize the Declaration of Principles which is the agreement on the GERD only. To my knowledge consensus on this was reached at the Technical level on the phasing but you may be more up to date on this.
For all who have been following these multiple efforts, the CFA was the one agreement which in which all riparians participated in and came to consensus on 44 1/2 out of 45 articles are you are aware of. In my opinion that may provide the best option to resolve the GERD and all potential conflicts as presented in this article . Reclaiming the Shared Vision for the Nile Basin starting with the GERD | LinkedIn Best regards
Mike, long time no hear! Thanks for sharing your opinions and inputs in the Forum. Very much appreciated.
And by the way I am taking your "bizarre" as a compliment, and not the other way around!
Securitisation is as old as...
Maybe it was my (purposely?) selection of verb tenses that might have given the idea I was saying Nile securitisation process have started in 2011. Obviously not!... I think for any person that knows a bit about the Nile, it is obvious this is centuries-long process. And thanks for sharing your writings on that topic. Will read it!
The very simple objective was to understand and discuss how exactly those processes have been evolving in the last decade. Now that there is a new (and very large-scale) infrastructure in the system, and knowing that from now onwards the discussion is about water management and development of infrastructures in the (Blue) Nile WITH the GERD as an "existing" fact... what next?
What comes first: water or security?
"The Nile's development and use drives security concerns rather than vice versa"... but is that not what we were talking about all along? That the development of a huge project in the upstream catchments generated a new (more intensive) chapter in the history of the region leading to "triple securitisation" (check my general feedback below). By the way... observing/analysing is not considering it acceptable - at least not for me...
Nile: extrapolating from Orange-Senqu and/or Zambezi basins?
It would be great to hear from you on how different what is currently going on in the Nile is from the experience in transboundary settings in the Southern Africa region. In politicised basins such as the Orange -Senqu for example (an example of a basin closure) or the Zambezi (which still has immense potential to be tapped)... are the political processes that different? Thanks!
Ana has attempted to state that despite the political and security issues on GERD Negotiations, it is still necessary to continue technical negotiations in the Blue Nile. Of course this is true.
But it is never negotiation for negotiation sake, and sometimes the cessation of a negotiation is necessary to start a more efficient negotiation. Maybe it is the time to stop the car and look back and see where it went wrong!!
Good points, Mehdi, thanks!
Technical negotiations: of course yes
Well, I think it is consensual that technical negotiations can never stop. Question is... so far it has not been enough. Begs the question: What needs to be in place to translate "technical solutions" into a "legal solutions"?... for a start. Something is missing here.
Time for reflection
In terms of making breaks in the negotiation process in presence of hiccups and/or escalation, or even when it seems like talks came to an halt.... I agree it would good to stop and redefine, but realistically the river keeps running and so the dam construction does.
Richard, Alistair, Mike and Mehdi,
Thanks a lot indeed for your provocative counter-questions! A lot of food for thought already...
But I will be waiting for the "owners" of the Nile to engage in the debate here, before starting to address your very pertinent points.
At the end, the Forum will be open for three weeks, so no rush and loads of patience
Accurate reply by @mfaEthiopia .
▶#DOP2015 and #CFA critical at all times.🔝
▶#GERD godsend for all.
▶Shared benefits to be compensated
(in kind or 💰)
🇪🇹n rivers = 🇪🇹n resources, shared (ERU+NSH) with/when CUSTOMERS are respectful & reciprocating.
Thanks Salvatore for the reminders. Looks like is a short message tailored for Twitter... would you mind translating the main messages here in a more lengthy and elaborated manner?
Customers are consumers that pay for water?
I am particularly interested to understand what ERU+NSH mean for you, in particular when then you talk about "Customers" (in capital letters).
As this is a bit new to the Nile language, we would be all very interested to understand who and what do you mean by Customers.
What’s Nile other than a security issue? Ethiopians think Egypt will never want to see Ethiopia prosper because Egypt wants all of the agate of Nile Water. This sentiment is as old as the Nile. The last decade of negotiations can be considered as “de-securitization” of Nile that ended up contributing to securitization.
Thanks for the tip!
Perceptions and self-perceptions
Ok, so from the ongoing discussion in this Forum, I understand there is a majority of people that do consider the Nile is, has been, and will continuing being a security issue.
That says a lot about the perceptions we have about the issue problem. How do we break the cycle? Is it not by changing perceptions over the Nile dilemma? Or maybe is perhaps about changing self-perceptions?
I strongly believe it is a mistake to see what is going on as a "race for the Nile waters" (that is what securitisation is about), but rather as a key moment to appeal to "cooperative approaches" in whatever shape they come. And yes, it is not very fashionable to talk about cooperation in the Nile these days, but it should!
Last decade as de-securitisation?
Because the GERD was born? Well this could be a long discussion. What do you actually mean?
Egypt and the Sudan have no legal backing for their claim that the GERD Dam be filled at a slower pace than that envisaged by the Ethiopian government. Thus, they tried to persuade the US and the European Union to support their demand. The US under Trump offered to broker an agreement on the issue. However the Ethiopians walked away from the negotiations, as they perceived the US delegation to biased towards their counterparts. Therefore, Egypt and the Sudan turned to the Arab League for support of their claim. As a result, the Arab foreign ministers opted to back calls for the United Nations Security Council to intervene in the long lingering dispute between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over a massive dam Addis Ababa is building on Nile River’s main tributary. Prior to this, Egypt and Sudan had sent letters to the Security Council, explaining their positions on the dam, and where they warned about dire repercussions to peace and stability of the Horn of Africa without a deal.
In my view, this latter statement is absolutely intolerable. For the Security Council to be worthy of its name, it should seriously reproach Egypt and the Sudan for even thinking of such hostile action. It should also reproach the two countries for trying to dodge the costs incurred by a slower filling rate at the GERD Dam. If the two countries are serious about their fears about the consequences of a rapid filling of the dam, they should offer to foot the bill for a slower filling. There is no other way, especially now, as the filling will commence in the near future.
Thanks for the summary of the "internationalised" Nile process.
Again the idea of Nile customers? Trying to understand..
Regarding your second point... could you explain me what do you mean by "should offer to foot the bill"?
That sounds as you are saying the downstream riparians should pay for Ethiopia to release more water from the GERD (during filling or long-term operations), when needed or required by them?
Is that what you are saying: if so, how much does a million cubic meter costs?!? Roughly?
And btw... is that different from paying for the energy produced (like buying it and paying for it?)? And, it is that different from paying for the Dam itself?
Because I would like to remind you of Ethiopia's PM Meles Zenawi speech at the in launching of the GERD in the 2nd of April of 2011.
"Indeed, one might expect these countries to be prepared to share the cost in proportion to the gains that each state will derive. On this calculation, Sudan might offer to cover 30 per cent and Egypt 20 per cent of the costs of the entire project. Unfortunately, the necessary climate for engagement, based on equitable and constructive self-interest, does not exist at the moment. Indeed, the current disposition is to make attempts to undercut Ethiopia’s efforts to secure funding to cover the cost of the project."
When did it started?
Amazing quote!, and then tell me when did securitisation from the Ethiopian side started. Thanks in advance
This short paper draws a false distinction: whether the dispute is about water or about security. The two are inextricably intertwined in the views of the peoples and governments of the region, so of course negotiations over the technical dimensions of water remain central. As I have written, the Nile, like any transboundary river, is a legal and political structure and that structure must be designed to ensure adequate water supplies, as near as can be, are available on equitable terms to all the national communities sharing the basin. The principles of international water law provide useful guidance to how to approach that goal.
Thanks a lot for you taking time to share your comments, Joseph W. Dellapena and thanks for all your work on the Nile.
Structure approaches - which ones would work now in 2021?
I totally agree with you regarding the "moving beyond the false dichotomy".... I hope I did not give the impression I find it a dichotomy, because that is not the case: I totally agree they run in parallel, and in places like the Nile region which is so so geostrategic (at regional and global levels), more the tendency for water and security agendas to come together. For me the question is: are they not colliding now?
And then... I agree with your call for more Structured approaches, but what do you mean by that: a GERD agreement which is robust, detailed (both in technical figures, but as well both norms and procedures), or should be a more comprehensive (overarching) agreement... and then adapted to each specific infrastructure? I am asking because I really would like to know.
Ensure equitable supplies?
I understand the Nile countries do endorse the IWL principles. They are explicitly included in both the DoP and the CFA. We also know that countries cherry-pick articles that are more favourable to their positions, which is understandable. But when it comes to 'Equitable and Reasonable Utilisation'... countries eventually will have to enter in the hot debate about allocations of Nile water in order to calculate how to 'ensure supplies' to all countries, right?
Is this foreseeable at the moment?
First of all, thanks all for the great discussion unfolding in this Forum over the past week. All comments, answers, criticisms, reframing, new questions, are extremely welcomed. I will try to provide some short and humble feedback to each of the great individual inputs, but even before that some general points of clarification:
The goal of the 1000+ words article was to be a short teaser to stir the debate among all kinds of public interested in Nile topics. Goal achieved
Observations + Questions
This article is mainly is a collection of detailed observations of the current reality related to the GERD/Nile + 3 questions I find pertinent to be asked at this point in time (June 2021). All that based on extensive and intensive research on the topic. Are there a lot of details that stayed out? Yes, it is a possible selection. But you have started filling the gap
Theory and Securitisation
This is not a theoretical article and never intended to be. It is merely a short account of the current developments in the Nile Basin adopting a simple definition of Securitisation: a process when a specific issue jumps the queue of political priorities, because it is a perceived as an ‘existential threat’, and therefore legitimises a state/actor decision to take exceptional security measures in the protection of its interests.
High-level processes of securitisation happen every day all around the world with all kind of controversial issues. Also every day around the world, those processes contribute to partially hinder the freedom of observers and analysts to go deeper into those same issues and build an informed opinion. With this discussion, I believe we are already contributing to de-securitise the Nile. Thanks!
Time period – Long and short durée
Nowhere in the article I have said ‘securitisation of the Nile’ has started with the GERD! The Nile is securitised ever since the first drop started flowing downstream from Lake Tana millenniums ago. That Egypt in particular have a “securitised” perspective over the waters ever since – yes, there are thousands of books written on the topic, and we all read them. Let us take it for granted. What I was trying to say (and possibly failed) is that in the period from 2011 to 2021, the ‘securitisation’ trends have continued BUT have changed, intensified and became more diverse, namely in terms of actors involved. Therefore:
2011-2021: Over-securitisation is the new reality – Why?
1. Triple Securitisation: As we speak, it not only Egypt that defines the Nile as a topic of the national security agenda. Sudan and Ethiopia do engage with very similar political processes, in particular since the GERD was launched. This increases immensely the complexity, and we need to understand what differences this ‘triple securitisation’ brings in terms of individual and collective perceptions, behaviours and actions. Let us stop being obsessed with the past, and engage with the present and preferably with the future as well.
2. Out-of-Basin securitisation: although for centuries ‘external actors’ (travellers, historians, hydrologists, researchers, advisors, artists, consultants, diplomats, economists, etc etc) have been involved on Nile issues… never before we have witnessed such high-level involvement from some international political, diplomatic and security actors, namely having a President of the United States and its aides involved directly, openly and publicly in the negotiations about one single infrastructure project! Same could be said about the involvement of other powerful actors of the ‘international community’ (whatever that means).
I have been trying hard not to judge if this over-securitisation is good or bad: it is a reality on the ground now-now, and its implications (positive and negative) need to be studied and debated. Is that not what we are doing here? I hope so.
Technical solutions should predominate!
Based on the comments so far, I got seriously worried. Never, at any point in time, I have said Technical experts are not – or should not – be the central actors. Actually I strongly believe they should recover their deserved centrality in the process, as they are the ones that can provide sound and reasonable solutions for the Nile conundrum… which is pretty much the same as when the Nile started being utilised centuries and centuries ago. Meaning: to manage and develop the Nile River – and where/when/how to best allocate its waters by country and by sector, based on social and economic rationality.
More to come…
Interesting and engaging piece indeed. A few initial thoughts
1) Has the Nile/GERD been actually securitized in the sense of closing off public debates? Yes and No. Although it was presented as a national security issue and an ‘existential threat’ in Egypt and Ethiopia, this securitization was actually instrumentalised in the case of Ethiopia to mobilise the public around a tougher negotiating position, rather than closing off the public debate, with implications on the negotiations (putting off an agreement until after the Ethiopian elections).
2) the analysis in the introduction gives the impression that the riparian states are equally dependent on the Nile and for the same purposes (water, food energy security), which is not true. Although the different uses and priorities (water security for Egypt and energy security for Ethiopia) is consistent with your broad argument that conflict is not just about water, these different degrees of dependence is crucial in understanding the nature of conflict and the potential for cooperation. Related to this, I would also still argue that it is still about water (and power) in the sense that upstream countries use water to gain (domestic and regional) power and downstream countries mobilise (domestic and regional) power to get access to water.
3) Indeed, the ‘the Nile became a de facto international issue, with the consent of Ethiopia's leadership’. Of course, we know it has always been, but this emphasis on Ethiopia’s consent is important given the Ethiopian noise on Egypt and Sudan’s attempts to internationalise the Nile/GERD. But I may also argue that it is more internationalized than securitized. I made the point elsewhere that with many other issues on the agenda of these external players, they may not feel the urgency of acting more seriously on GERD and may feel somehow relaxed given that Egypt and Ethiopia are unlikely to go to war over the Nile. The difference between the Trump and Biden administration on the issue, or EU’s comments that the tensions would not lead to military confrontation.
4) “Reaching an agreement is still the goal for the three countries – or so official statements indicate”. I would say it is more the latter than the former, especially for Ethiopia, at least for the time being.
5) On the way forward, are technical talks not needed anymore? As you say, most technical points have been agreed upon, the positions on the remaining legal (dispute settlement) and broader issues (the binding nature or when and how would Ethiopia change the guidelines, future projects and link to broader agreement on water allocation) are zero-sum and compromises need a political decision. In this sense, ‘de-securitisation’ and ‘de-politicisation’ in the sense of leaving it to the technical teams to come up with an agreement would not offer a way out of the deadlock, except if you mean a temporary agreement for the second filling, which is not accepted by Egypt, and would only delay the conflict.
First, I think it is impossible to separate "technical talks/negotiations" or even "securitization" from everyday politics of any of the Nile Riparian countries. Any outcome of technical negotiations on Nile will certainly draw from national and international politics.
Second, Securitization of a resource such as the Nile is not unique to the Nile Basin. This is because such a resource is inherently a security issue for any country. There has been much talk that seems to say, 'there would be no Egypt without the Nile'. Of course this is far from the truth but such talk is good for the security of Egypt with respect to the Nile. Egypt needs as much (if not more) nile waters to reach its territory if it will will continue to hold the economic and security advantages it has always enjoyed.
Third, historical Nile treaties considered Egypt and Sudan in a way that seems to say the Nile waters are more important to the two countries than all the other riparians. Upstream and source countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Congo were completely ignored in the treaties of 1929 and 1959. In a way colonial legacy bears the blame for present day claims on the Nile water resources and the inequitable development that comes with such claims. The GERD may be a way of how other riparian countries may want to right past wrongs. Also, questions still remain on why Egypt, for example, never talks about things it considered before constructing the High Aswan Dam in the same breadth as the demands it makes on Ethiopia's GERD.
Fourth, upstream-downstream basin configuration. Every river flows from headwaters to its mouth where it empties into a receptor. Along the way, the river flows become the basis for civilization of economies and societies. In most cases, riparians with capacity advantages take more than their equitable share of the river resource, and develop faster. That is not to say, it fair that way. To date, equity is an elusive matter in the sharing of Nile resources. Downstream countries like Egypt seem to have a right to get more.
Finally, politics (local, national, international) will always characterize any developments that need to use Nile waters on a large scale. GERD may soon have a lot more company.
Martin, thanks for the contribution; and the points mentioned.
Trilateral dynamics of securitisation
I would like to know if you agree that at the moment (let us say in the past year and half) that all three countries have upgrade the Nile/GERD file to higher national security agendas? Is that not so with Sudan and Ethiopia at the moment? In my opinion yes, and I think this brings new nuances to the discussion. And the future scenarios also change...
I am particularly interested in your last sentence: regarding the local and national drivers. What do you actually mean by that? In the case of Ethiopia, which I am assuming you know better (sorry if I am wrong), what are drivers that influence the GERD process? Are they the same now as they were in 2011, when it was launched? Or did it change? Could be interesting to know. Thanks in advance for your insights
There is great uncertainty and complexity around the impact of GERD on Egypt and Sudan. There needs to be an advanced agreement about the rules of filling the reservoir and operating rules for periods of drought that includes detailed measures to mitigate impacts on downstream countries.
According to our study (PhD thesis in 2020), The GERD has the ability to drastically change Egypt’s water supply, where Egypt will suffer from water shortage as follows: if the filling period achieved over three years, water deficit will likely be 16.2- 56.8 BCM, 16.2 – 43 BCM over seven years, and 16 -39 BCM over ten years, varying between very wet and very dry years. Although this study considered ten years as an appropriate filling period to keep Egypt in a safe position, it is not possible to determine the appropriate filling period because it should be achieved based on the state of flooding each year. The present study reported that the risk of the GERD is not only related to the period of filling the reservoir, but also the Ethiopian policy of water discharge by the GERD after the filling period, which is uncertain.
Regarding the impact of GERD on the water gap in Egypt, the water gap is still a problem even if the GERD reservoir fills over ten years, where the deficit will increase to 38 BCM in 2023 for the very dry years’ sequence. The range of water gap over the ten years will be between 16 -39 BCM. It can be concluded that the impact of GERD on water supply to Egypt will be catastrophic if Egypt experiences a drought period (dry or very dry years). Filling over ten years is considered in this study and more appropriate than the three or seven years, given the risk of drought, to keep Egypt in a safe position that can bridge the water gap.
From my point of view, it's a political play and Ethiopia is the theatre! I hope that Ethiopia realizes that and reviews its situation by cooperating with the Nile Basin countries for a better life for all.
I certainly agree that a series of dry years combined with Ethiopia filling the dam without adjusting the quantity stored in the GERD would possibly spell doom for the delta. It is not just a question of overall numbers. Water distribution by gravity in the delta is very complex and cannot easily adjust to reduced flows because of hydraulic constraints.
The Egyptian government has taken several steps to anticipate and mitigate the problem through multiple investments: desalination plants will add water for domestic uses; treating wastewater - however desirable it may be - will add much less than claimed because wastewater is already largely reused. Canal lining will definitely ease management and provide better water supply to canal tail ends, while possibly reducing groundwater abstraction: but total evapotranspiration will be little affected and the overall balance therefore will remain unchanged. The anticipated 'savings' are largely illusory.
While Egypt adopts and external discourse that emphasizes that the country has an 'annual deficit' of 30 billion m3 (Bm3) [to be compared with a Nile inflow at around 60 Bm3] - whatever this means - it might be puzzling for many that, internally, it promotes the expansion of its irrigated agriculture (between 0.5 and 2 million hectares, depending on the political enthusiasm of the day). While a good part of this area is to be irrigated with groundwater resources disconnected from the Nile system, another substantial part is not: center pivots mushrooming in Toshka, West Minya (groundwater but linked to the Nile valley), greenhouse complexes under the control of the army along the El hamam canal, massive expansions of Cairo itself on the eastern side of the delta, etc. source their water from the Nile system and therefore compound whatever 'deficit' is claimed by the authorities.
There surely is a policy contradiction here, and plans that can only increase the vulnerability of the 'old delta'. Another contradiction might also be the investments in irrigation by some Egyptian companies in Sudan which, once the GERD is filled, will become/remain the most threatening 'term of the equation' for Egypt, because of Sudan's potential to expand irrigation on vast tracts of land along the course of the Nile.
I agree with you that Egypt's policy is unclear but as you said ''depending on the political enthusiasm of the day'' and in the past, it is just too ambitious political plans, not actual plans! if we reviewed the achievements of every governmental plan for agricultural expansion since 1980 - till now, We will only find that about 10-30% of these plans have been accomplished, and the main obstacle was lack of water. I would say that many agricultural projects have been proposed and announced, but have failed.
Mohamed, thanks a million and you win the prize for the best title of a post in this Forum!
Yep the ark was built during a drought period, but having in mind that eventually the rains (heavy ones) would come, no? Otherwise what would be the point of building a boat? I think the same principle applies to the Nile dams - whatever agriculture and energy purposes they might have, they are 'regulators'... they have storage/drought/flood management functions. Now, in the presence of so many dams (HAD, Roseires, Merowe, GERD, etc) and such high hydrological variability.... guess it is here when the figures get political! I am not going to comment your figures... because I have no technical knowledge for that, but think others can contribute as François did below.
But I would like to throw back a question to you: it is true that drought (whatever levels) is the worst case-scenario and one scenario that countries should be prepared for (and therefore the need for agreements/guidelines), and also prepared to share the burden of it.... is that contemplated in draft agreements as well?
But what about the situation we are living now (this year, last year): high rainfall levels and high risks of floods? The rains came! Are the Arks prepared for so much water? Maybe I am taking your metaphor too far
Uncertainty: is that manageable?
We know the middle name of the Nile is uncertainty - in all regards, hydrological, environmental, social, economic, etc.... but what seems to be more difficult to manage are the political expectations towards how much the 'other' (side) should 'collaborate', 'cooperate', 'provide', 'compensate', 'protect', 'guarantee', 'coordinate'. Do all these things mean the same for all actors? Is there a possible common language agreeable that could rubber-stamp a possible good technical agreement for all?
Any tips welcomed
Thank you for your reply and so sorry for my late reply!
Yes, if we have Noah's certainty, the heavy rains should come, eventually!! Also, after the deluge, the drought came back again for a long time
Yes, sharing the burden takes place between Egypt and Sudan from Nasser Lake as they are downstream countries and this is cited in the agreements, but the question may be, does Ethiopia share the burden with the downstream countries? where it has nearly 124 BCM of annual surface run-off water!
''But what about the situation we are living now (this year, last year): high rainfall levels and high risks of floods? The rains came! Are the Arks prepared for so much water? Maybe I am taking your metaphor too far'' I can reply with the same question, what about the drought period 1980 - 1988 in Egypt? Are we sure it will not come back again?
''We know the middle name of the Nile is uncertainty - in all regards, hydrological, environmental, social, economic, etc.... but what seems to be more difficult to manage are the political expectations towards how much the 'other' (side) should 'collaborate', 'cooperate', 'provide', 'compensate', 'protect', 'guarantee', 'coordinate'. Do all these things mean the same for all actors? Is there a possible common language agreeable that could rubber-stamp a possible good technical agreement for all?''
This depends on recognizing the interests of the other and believing in a better future for all, but the biggest danger is leaving it all in the hands of politicians because they often do not listen to the citizens, but pursue their personal interests.
Many thanks for all contributions and your efforts!
Media often is the prime instrument of political interests, not facts, and this was cleary demonstrated in the GERD issue.
What is going on in the Nile has little to do with water, but that it is more about Geopolitics and mantaining of hegemony than water.
Let's agree that the Nile does not belong to anyone, and therefore no one has the right to control it as he sees fit. We have to imagine or think of the following: 🤔
1. What if Switzerland announced tomorrow morning that it is building a huge dam that prevents the waters of the Rhine from reaching Germany, Belgium, Austria, France and the Netherlands??! Can you imagine the German city of Bonn without the Rhine??!
2. What if Germany announces tomorrow the construction of a huge dam, and in the process, will it prevent the waters of the Danube from flowing into Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova?! Imagine the cities of Vienna, Budapest, and Belgrade, where the Danube River runs rough.
3. What if Russia starts building a giant dam, and prevents the waters of the Dnieper from reaching Belarus and Ukraine ???!
4. What if Canada prevented the St. Lawrence River from reaching New York State???! Also, the Columbia River has stopped flowing into Washington State???!
5. What if Peru built several dams to prevent the Amazon River from flowing into Brazil???!
6. Finally, what would Russia's reaction be if China stopped the flow of the Irc hi river and turned the green Russian steppes into deserts???!
International rivers that transcend national borders are divine endowments, giving the gift of life to many countries, and to millions of people. River water is not a service that one state can give to another, nor can it exercise absolute power to decide the fate of a sovereign state.
GERD should have remained a technical issue of the region. It is our bold fault , wittingly or unwittingly, pulled it to political institutions which have strong interest on the dam. I think dragging it out of the political game is the only wayout……
My understanding about the nature of the flows from the Abbay into the Nile is that practically speaking they are far too large to hold back during the big rainy season July to September when most of the flow occurs.
Thus as has been referred to above there is, beyond the filling period, which is a critical phase, no material reduction in flow expected to the riparian downstream countries.
Once the dam is filled it will not be keeping any water, and in fact it cannot do so. Water flowing in has to be balanced by water flowing out. To the public at least this basic truth of dams seems to be hard to understand going on some of what is seen in social Media.
And once it is operating the GERD has significant capacity to improve management of flow in the river system as whole. And that Egypt and Sudan can be if they wish the beneficiaries of improved river flow management. For Sudan greater predictability in flow can enable greater efficiency of water use in irrigation. And during periods of drought, studies have shown that the GERD will effectively improve resiliency of all water users for the first several years of any drought.
What is clear however is that if the population is to continue to grow then all water users need to work hard to ensure that their water use is as efficient as possible. And one of the most effective means of improving the efficiency of water management in river systems is via the use of dams.
When it comes to issues of security, engaging the public via discourse around "security" concerns is an oft used method of engaging with baser instincts. And when people are fearful they often begin thinking in zero sum terms. This is what appears to be happening in the Nile Basins in a cyclical pattern now. Engaging with the public around technicalities is inherently more complicated - but it is necessary to come to a common understanding about the realities of what is being discussed.
When it comes to the issues of equity you are right to point out that "the Nile does not belong to anyone, and therefore no one has the right to control it as he sees fit". Unfortunately Egypt seems to think that the Nile does belong to them to the extent of claims that it was given to them by God, even though most of the river is not in Egypt and very little of the flow, very nearly zero, is sourced in Egypt. And what what is sourced in Egypt ais dwarfed by the amount of evaporation which occurs both in the flow and from the Aswan High Dam.
Arguably what Egypt was bequeathed by destiny is far more complicated than this. Egypt was given a river that for countless millions of years has run through the homes of countless different peoples. They were given, if anything, something which was always and will always be shared. Understanding the nature of the responsibilities that flow from that is something that will come in time.
And in all of this the technical details need to guide decision making. And in this the securatisation, which has governed some parties thinking about the Nile for millennia needs to now be reassessed, and perhaps discarded as no longer being fit for purpose.
Sohair, thanks a lot indeed for zoom-out questions!
Nile is not comparable…
Your questions are very pertinent and needed, although as we know the Nile Basin is very unique in all senses, and therefore difficult to compare. But let me use the current GERD state-of-affairs for this discussion. And I will use your numbers as the sequence (and will comment on all).
But even before that…
Ownership of transboundary water resources
Indeed you are right…. “the Nile does not belong to anyone” because it is a shared river and therefore cannot be claimed to be the property of anyone. Therefore, it is obvious (at least for me) that a clear framework to jointly manage, develop and allocate it must see the day of light.
I let a quote by my favourite write for further reflection “You can't lose what you don't own.”
1+ 2: European transboundary river basins
There are a lot of lessons to take from the experience in Europe, namely on how to build legal and institutional capacity, including in the field of large-scale dams. Look for the framework that guides transboundary water management in the EU: Water Framework Directive
But all in all is not comparable… because in Europe the main issue is not ‘water quantity’ but rather ‘water quality’. But I would be happy to explain a bit the experience between Spain and Portugal (upstream and downstream respectively) in a very dry transboundary basin – the Guadiana.
3+6 Russia + China transboundary positions
Russia has a whole experience in transboundary water management that we should look at. During the Soviet Union period most rivers were national, and then after its territorial disintegration in the 1990s… those national rivers became international and/or border-rivers, with numerous riparian states. And it is complicated, of course!
In any case, the position of Russia regarding other transboundary rivers is complex. But let us see what will be Russia political position in the UN Security Council during the high-level meeting this Thursday. Perhaps not much different from the meeting in June last year on the very same topic. Who knows?
Same applies for China – who is an ultra-strong upstream riparian in its transboundary setting, and it has a very clear position regarding the GERD. And does not think that discussions about large-scale dams are a topic to be debated at the UNSC level, as that could open a precedent and obviously is not welcomed. Has China changed its mind since June 2020? Again, let us wait for Thursday.
Regarding your 6th point… I can hardly imagine what a transboundary dispute between Russia and China would look like!
At the end, looks like the confrontation between upstream and downstream perspectives/ perceptions is not unique to the Nile. But some basins around the world have found good solutions for the complexity and uncertainty attached to shared resources: maybe let us look at them and get some inspiration. On that…
“River Basin Organizations in Water Diplomacy”, Edited By Anoulak Kittikhoun and Susanne Schmeier, published just a couple of months ago. Check here:
There is no doubt that the different interests will still be there between riparian countries in the Nile river basin, but can be accommodated and negotiated. When these countries shared an important resource such as water, they must collaborating and cooperating, there must also be a constructive convergence of the interests of these riparian countries.
The GERD can be a catalyst for basin-wide water cooperation …
Cooperation in the transboundary water field can bring benefits to be shared 'by all' .. But the question here is how can it be guaranteed that these benefits are actually distributed among the basin countries?, and here, we can benefit from the experiences of previous countries in how to manage transboundary waters ..
Enough ✋🏻 speculation that it could lead to a "water war"…
Riparian countries need to discuss & identify solutions for sustainable management of shared resources .. and Not resorting to a fatal conflicts, Which neither nourishes nor avails against hunger ...
Extremely interesting discussion, thanks Ana
This is what exactly idd Amin dada saw coming and he wanted to take action be4 things get to this level so now after the refilling is done let's assume that won't there be any more negotiations for negotiations sake
As to me as far as I can see there is something better than wat we think and wat we see about all this .that's my point of view thanks
By the way thanks for the research but GERD has something hidden in it.
In my post, "foot the bill" refers to the costs incurred to Ethiopia by a loss of services from the GERD dam. A slower filling means that it will take longer for the dam to reach reach full capacity. I assume that the design of the dam was based on some cost-benefit calculations, where the value of the benefits were estimated. Thus, there is a good starting point for a valuation of the services foregone by a slower filling. Of course, the exact amount could be fixed by bargaining. This cost is case specific, and the outcome could not be taken as a general price of Nile water.
Thanks Peder from bring this issue to this discussion. It is hard to imagine the Egyptian and Sudanese governments engaging with such an approach, but why not to question/suggest it?
But I have some questions of clarification for you:
Pricing during Filling or after as well?
Would that apply for the Filling period only? Or you are actually suggesting that approach for the Long-Term operations as well? And by the way, is this a personal suggestion of yours, or is the Ethiopian government actually engaging with it?
Losses of which services?
And when you use the term "losses of services", that would be measure in terms of lost MW produced? What about if there is not much market for the energy anyway, and therefore Ethiopia would rather maintain the storage levels high, instead of releasing water downstream? If the energy is nevertheless produced - and there is nobody to buy it... So how does that 'financial-compensation' approach would work?
Last but not least, what about if Egypt and Sudan would suggest a similar approach to their own losses in the agriculture output (not in a continuum, but for example in some critical dry years)? Would they allow to claim compensations as well? Would that also be included in those modelling calculations?
Bargaining is the crux of the matter
"the exact amount could be fixed by bargaining" (citing you) and tell me, according to your estimations, how many years could that bargaining process take...?
Peter, a question... could I cite your idea on a short twitter, to bring people's attention to this discussion? and perhaps engage here? I think it could be interesting
On the occasion of the 2nd Filling of the GERD...
Thanks Peter for the active participation in this Forum. Very interesting and provocative ideas.
Look forward to continue the discussion elsewhere
Thank you Ana for providing such a nice background followed by important questions. Here are some thoughts:
A) What is going on in the Nile has little to do with water? Not sure, GERD would not have caused such big conflict/propaganda if the Nile waters were more abundant, no? Some people would remember that silly annoying kid that decides on who plays and who does not and even how, where, and when to play, just because (s)he owns the ball. The ball secured and empowered its owner, but what if that silly kid did not own the ball? What if one of the other kids gets another ball? Couldn’t s(he) become the new rule-maker? It is evidently about water, along with other things that sometimes dominate the issue more than water. The question remains, until when the Nile waters will be the hostage of every silly, power-seeking kid?
B) Constructing large dams boomed during the 20th century to store water, control flooding, and generate electricity. Ecologists have always warned of the long-term environmental detrimental impacts that large dams cause. When it comes to the Nile, environmental status was never a concern of any Nile country/leadership. In fact, they would exploit the river for their own economic and political gains, like Nassr’s regime-building in the 1950/60s as Ana mentioned. Now it’s Ethiopia’s turn, nearly 60 years later and still, large dams are perceived as the magical sticks for money (and national pride)-making. So what? the least we can do is to build fewer (and smaller) dams while gradually switching to available (environmentally friendly) alternative solutions to generate the same benefits of dams. I know it sounds very naive and perhaps even romantic for some people but over-damming rivers is just detrimental, be it in Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, or the damming-rivers-super-star China. Dams alter natural river flows among other natural processes and, when it comes to damming transboundary rivers, impacts of dams extend beyond the political boundaries. Let’s put it simply, think of dams as umbrellas for "natural" rainfall, no one would like to have a "human-made" umbrella over their beloved rainy piece of land, neither would the rain, or?
C) Ethiopia demands equity and the right to utilize "its own" water especially that most Nile water generates in Ethiopia without using any of it; GERD is a hydropower dam that will not "consume" but "utilize" water. These statements are either used by a deceiver or a deceived person. Let’s state two facts here. First, Ethiopia uses Nile water for irrigation, around 2-3 BCM/year. Second, there is no such thing that hydropower dams do not consume water, well, they do. Reservoirs have losses in form of evaporation (2-3 BCM in GERD) and seepage (estimates vary significantly over GERD and some studies claimed that it can reach 20 BCM particularly during the filling). As long as we don’t treat the Nile as a unit, these losses will be "consumed" to generate power and will be deducted from the river flow. These losses, together with irrigation uses, account for about 5-6 BCM of the river (blue) water. We can argue whether this amount is an equitable share of blue water or not. We can also agree that Sudan and especially Egypt have taken the Nile for granted and are currently facing the consequences of their (regional) ignorance. But if we want "fair" outcomes/allocation let’s stop spreading falsified statements and put "real" numbers on the table.
D) Was it possible to proceed without securitization? In this part of the world, one is born craving security. Not only that regimes over there do securitize whatsoever that they can benefit from, but also people would securitize their day-to-day life in all possible forms. In fact, the word security is constantly chasing people over there, be it during the job-seeking, family and health affairs, election times, and the need to elect a "powerful" leader that can "secure" us, our futures, and of course our dams from external and internal evil enemies, even if they must create some, and surely if the political stability is at stake. However, when it comes to natural resources and the right to access them, securitization is well-embedded in the global concepts of water, energy, and food securities. For example, the UN defined water security as "The capacity of a population to safeguard sustainable access to adequate quantities of and acceptable quality water for sustaining livelihoods, human well-being, and socio-economic development, for ensuring protection against water-borne pollution and water-related disasters, and for preserving ecosystems in a climate of peace and political stability". The definition itself is very inviting for the securitization of water-related conflicts. While the three countries activated intense, and sometimes unjustified, securitization processes, we can agree that GERD (and similar future projects) obviously has the potential to (de)stabilize the futures of the three countries. Calling on the UNSC to intervene over GERD can thus be understandable, albeit it might not be that effective and is seen by some as a ridiculous act. Recently, I watched breaking boundaries (which I highly recommend to watch & spread:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gb6wQtNjblk&t=21s. In the film, Prof. Johan Rockström sees that environmental problems that can destabilize societies are a question of security and, guess what? he desperately asked for UNSC intervention too! Indeed, securitization and internationalization over GERD have reached insane levels, but I personally anticipate (and do not hope) that this will become a global trend over the coming years/decades.
E) Let’s get back to Ana’s questions:
1. I think technical talks are no harm, even if they remain "just talks". GERD became an attractive case study for many researchers and there are a few brilliant technical solutions coming up. Perhaps political elites will somewhat be tempted by a breakthrough technical solution, who knows. Besides, political decisions, whether to conclude an agreement or not, will be eventually justified/translated from/to technical solutions/numbers, so let's keep the technical discussions alive.
2. De-securitization? Not sure, so much (injected nationalism) was/is invested in the topic.
3. What is next? Perhaps multi-track water diplomacy can play a role in the long run. Unless a strong political change happens, we will live with this conflict for a while, even if a temporary agreement on the second filling is concluded.
Thank you for initiating this discussion.
Thanks, Saher, for sharing so many thoughts, and to throw some many questions back to the Forum. Even if they remain answered… they are still as valid as if they are. In the absence of not knowing how to start, I follow your thread
Abundance and Iconoclasm
I have the slight feeling that ‘abundance’ and ‘scarcity’ are terms that hide a lot of meanings. As if we are looking at water cycles as if they are always extreme. Rather there is a lot of water, or rather there is no water. And the fact is that since ever measurements, technology, laws, taxation, have been present to mitigate the impacts of those extremes, to allow that livelihoods would be sustainable throughout the whole year. Long story cut short: dams as modern infrastructures provide all the above. They control floods and droughts – and that in itself make them useful in economic terms. I mean, modern Egyptian economy is what it is because of the High Aswan Dam!
And as I have said en passant in the article… these project (HAD, GERD, Roseires), because of their giant scale, they become ‘state pearls’. They represent power and pride, sustained by massive popular support. If we understand the history of dam development in Nile countries: the next dam must be bigger than the previous one. High and Renaissance names are representatives of national drivers for those particular projects: higher and bigger and different from than the past, or even a cut with the past. Iconoclasm!: for example, for Lake Nasser to become a reality, major Pharaonic pieces of art were going to be left to the underwater world. The Lake’s reservoir was far more important by then…
So, yes, it is likely that power games will continue, at several different levels.
Small is beautiful…. And a lot do not agree with it!
Smaller scales, less impacts, smaller irrigation, new alternative sources, maybe even decommissioning some dams (e.g. Jebel Aulia), environment-sensitive, watershed management, local solutions…. I do not think this ring a bell in decision-making processes. I might be wrong, but I think in general it is the macro-economics that define the stakes of the countries, but not the micro-economics. Having said that, we know who the majority of the populations of these countries are – the farmers!
Securitisation of mindsets
One does not need to understand a lot about collective psychology to understand that when something is defined as an “existential threat” is going to trigger something: people will get concerned, maybe anxious, and eventual fearful, and then defensive, or even hostile. It is a normal human reaction, in particular when we talk to such a vital resource for human life.
But securitization goes beyond that: it creates a fear, which might or might not correspond to a real risk/danger. I think there is a need to revisit and rewrite the scripts… the Nile crosses international borders, if one likes it or not. And therefore it is a moral obligation to cooperate over it. There is not even a way out… talks and talks and talks. It is not in vain, in my opinion.
Nile Generational Gap or Continuum
If I go back to the title of your post I think it is amazing that we have an ever-increasing number of people from new generations in the Nile word – researchers, practitioners, technical people, journalists, etc – getting involved and vocal. And we need to salute this! The Nile is a cross-generational issue par excellence.
As Ana Elisa Cascão has raised some issues about my previous post, I would like to clarify my position. Legally, Ethiopia has the right to fully utilize the runoff from its territory. Previous agreements between Egypt and the UK and between Egypt and the Sudan cannot bind Ethiopia in any way. If Egypt and the Sudan want to ensure that the filling of the GERD dam does not result in severe drougts in their respective countries, they have to somehow persuade Ethiopia to fill the dam at a slower rate, and during a longer time than originally planned, which would mean that Ethiopia would forego some of its anticipated income from the project. I don’t know to what extent power lines and network of channels for irrigation have been developed by the time of the filling. Thus, I assumed that project planning had developed some timelines for investments and income streams respectively. Of course, I know that projects frequently fall behind. Anyhow, I suggested the calculation the income lost during the slower and longer filling period could be based on the values from the design phase. As I mentioned, the actual values will be up for debate. That’s why I suggested they should be determined in a bargaining process.
I know that Egypt and the Sudan also want some guarantees of a minimum water flow in perpetuum. However, my post considered only the filling period, where an agreement is urgently needed as filling is imminent.
As a curiosity, I want to add a point raised by an insider from early mitigation efforts on this issue. He suggested that the variations of the inflow from Ethiopia to the Sudan were effectively bolstered by vast Jonglei swamp, which functions as a huge equalization magazine. Thus, the whole issue may have caused much more heat than was actually warranted. As Egypt and the Sudan seem to lack confidence in this analysis, they still have the possibility of buying some peace of mind following my suggestion.
I would invite you to read whatever and everything is available on the Jonglei Canal!
It is really something that deserves attention - the area, the project, its construction, its destruction, its interlinkages with the civil conflict, as well as proxy wars with neighbours, the philosophy behind it (it was for example already mentioned in the 1959 Agreement, for example!), how much water and for whom and for what purposes. But read as well about the environmental concerns and costs and pioneering international campaigns.
PhDs on Jonglei and John Garang
I think this topic will be an excellent topic of PhDs in the years to come. it is a high relevance in the hydrological dynamics and contribution to increasing water availability in the Nile, as well as for hydro/geopolitics. The independence of South Sudan has opened the door for a very interesing conversation about the role of South Sudan on all this complex puzzle
BUT.... check Dr. John's Garang PhD Dissertation: "Identifying, selecting, and implementing rural development strategies for socio-economic development in the Jonglei Projects Area, Southern Region, Sudan" Iowa State University, 1981
Full document here:
Mind the date: the construction started in 1978, and it was destroyed by a missile in 1983
Three extra reading suggestions:
The Jonglei Canal: Impact and Opportunity, by Paul Howell
Nile Waters - The Waters of the Nile: Hydropolitics and the Jonglei Canal, 1900–1988, By Robert O. Collins
The Nile Basin and the Southern Sudan Referendum
... The Nile goes in circles ...
... and not just up and down...
I have issues with the first half part of the first question which posits (conditionally) that the GERD/Nile conundrum is “about security and not water”. I argue that the issue is about WATER, Nile water, that has been needlessly securitized. Fair, equitable utilization and judicious management of Nile water (and related resources) is the heart of the matter. Realizing fair, equitable and judicious utilization-management is technically feasible. There are so many options.
Needless securitization and politicization have, however, hijacked and transformed what otherwise is a manageable problem into a mess whereby perceptions that paint any solution space (in which all parties come out winners) as inconceivable. The solution for one is posited to be the problem for the other, a gain for one, a loss for the other. Desecuritization is possible but a tall order because this impinges on the nature of the governments of the countries, the overlaying international relations they pursue, the interests of geopolitical big powers in the Nile and the neighborhood, etc. All said, the GERD is harbinger of the reconfiguration of these complexities through which a new Nile governance architecture should emerge. Afterall, there are geographical and hydrological givens no country can alter (Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan – whether their political elites and governments like it or not will remain hydrologically and geographically interlinked, if not locked; demographic and economic change in the Eastern Nile will continue taking place – managing change constructively sooner or later will be imposed on them, etc.)
What has been observed is the sad fact that there has been no emerging bold visionary political leadership, and honest intellectual class, particularly from those that wield hegemonic power, that breaks from the past and from the futile attempt at perpetuation of the status quo.
I really like your last question, Ana. And I keep on thinking and rethinking about this point.
1) I think GERD in itself is not the end of the story, rather, it had been merely the magnifying glass to observe the blind spots and the gaps in the historical, economic and political composition or what I like to call "grievances" between the two societies. 2) Instead of focusing on the failure of the negotiations, we need to think beyond that, and see their impact and aftermath on infringing the relations between societies even further.
3) I have been really interested on reading about anti-dams movements. Two amazing documentaries I recently watched have been on the Narmada movement (anti-dam movement in India) with a focus on Arundhati Roy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qlyZofTmUO4 and the damnation documentary on the removal of dams in the US https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=laTIbNVDQN8. By raising this point, I think there is a really urgent need to think/speak/envision whether we would want the river story to be told (by one dam over the other? or can we have a different story plot or "pivotal" moments as you like you put it).
Dear Nile Dissidents,
Thanks a lot indeed for all our contributions. It was an amazing and rich conversation, and very diverse as well. It shows how the Nile is rich in angles, and that in itself is a great thing, I would say!
Thanks as well for the spirit of free-speech, and that have allowed people to ask questions, provide possible answers, possible would-be solutions or scenarios, alternatives views, history, etc.
Thanks to the Editors of W&A Forum - for having a slot for the Nile/GERD topic. It was timely!
Look forward to continue the conversation in other platforms!