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THE NEW HYDRO-POLITICAL SITUATION IN AFRICA

INTIKHAB AHMAD

CHALLENGES FOR NILE RIVER BASIN COUNTRIES

The Nile river basin is located in the water scarce arid/semi-arid region of the African continent, where eleven riparian countries struggle to satisfy their own water requirements. Therefore, managing and sharing Nile water in an equitable manner is a complex matter, especially with respect to the existing power balance in the region. For the past decade, the Nile basin has undergone many economic and political changes that are likely to encourage modifi cations in the balance of power. Powerful lower riparian countries, particularly Egypt and Sudan, exercise their hegemonic and historical rights to utilise a larger share of river water, whereas other comparatively weaker upper riparian states like Ethiopia strive to enhance their water share or even get their legitimate due. With the emergence of South Sudan, the situation in the basin has become even more complex.

 

Hydro-politics examines conflicts and cooperation in countries over shared water resources. Globally, the strategies used in hydro-politics are being modified due to changes in regional power balances and weak international institutions. Political processes that include the water sector in any region, construct the hydro-political relations between countries, ranging from benefits through cooperative water use to inequitable aspects of hegemonic leadership. This results in competition over water use in the different water sharing countries and to the establishment of hydro-hegemony. Hydro-hegemony is the consolidated control over water resources, which favours the most powerful country in the region and determines the use of water. (Mark Zeitoun and Jeroen Warner, “Hydro-Hegemony: A Framework for Analysis of Transboundary Water Confl icts”, Water Policy, vol8, no5, 2006, p435) Antonio Gramsci (Selections from the Prison Notebooks, London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1971) first developed and defined the concept of hegemony as “the political power that flows from intellectual and moral leadership, authority or consensus as distinguished from armed force”. That is, the political power so obtained becomes the dominant hegemony by authority rather than coercion. Hegemony involves legitimacy and some form of understanding resulting from consent. Both the theoretical concepts of hegemony and counter-hegemony are influenced by Gramscian theory as well as neo-Gramscian views.

Various factors affect a riparian state’s ability to technically control, utilize and allot water resources. The Nile river waters are shared by eleven countries and over a long period of time there has been a clearly inequitable distribution of resources. The hydro-politics in the region have been largely marked by Egyptian hegemony and to a lesser extent by Sudan. The 1929 treaty was renegotiated by Egypt and Sudan in 1959, guaranteeing a hundred percent  water rights to them. These two states out of the eleven basin countries utilize all the Nile water for agriculture, drinking water, local and national economics, electricity, etc, Ethiopia despite being a major water contributor lags behind due

to its weak position in the basin. Water management in the area is already under challenge from growing populations, land-use changes, political upheavals, regional conflicts, economic development, climate change, etc. Additionally, the political shifts in basin countries have increased the complexity of the management of Nile water. Recognising the challenges, various countries have started unilateral and bilateral development plans and projects. For example,

to contest the status quo, Ethiopia has begun constructing various projects on the Blue Nile and its tributaries. With the independence of South Sudan, the situation in the basin will become even more conflictual if not peacefully negotiated and managed. The hydro-politics of the region is best understood by examining the cases of the hydro-hegemonic and counter-hegemonic states

in the Nile basin.