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date: 22 October 2017

The Nile Waters Issue

Abstract and Keywords

To understand the role of the modern Nile in African history, it is first necessary to have familiarity with the premodern “natural” Nile, including both its hydrology and societal importance. It is well known that no river basin in the world has a longer, more complex, and more eventful history. The Nile water issue in modern times is a history of how economic and political developments in East and North Africa have been fundamentally shaped by the interconnectedness of the Nile’s particular physical and hydrological character; the efforts of adapting to, controlling, using, and sharing the waters of the river; and the different ideas and ambitions that political leaders have had for the Nile.

Keywords: hydropolitics, colonial history, post-independence history, Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, South Sudan, Uganda

The Nile drainage basin covers one-tenth of the African continent, or about 1.2 million square miles spread between 35 latitudinal degrees. The river runs from the African rainforests in the center of the continent, winds its way north, across one of the biggest swamps in the world (the size of the Benelux countries), and cuts through a longer stretch of desert than any other river without tributaries, before spreading out in the delta of Egypt and emptying into the Mediterranean Sea almost 4,350 miles from its source.1 On its journey the water has passed through what are now eleven countries with a population of almost half a billion people, and 50 percent of them directly depend on the river. The water/society relations are extremely varied, and historically the river has by far benefited the northern drylands the most.

The Nile Waters IssueClick to view larger

Figure 1. Map of the Nile River Basin.

Courtesy Nile Basin Initiative (NBI).

Due to the natural Nile system’s marked seasonal and annual variability, Egypt and some of northern Sudan were the areas where premodern agriculture could be most efficiently established. Almost 90 percent of the water flowed north to Egypt during the three autumn months. Most of this water came from the Ethiopian highlands via the Blue Nile, Atbara, and Baro, while the White Nile tributary came from the Interlacustrine region (present-day Uganda, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Tanzania). Although the White Nile carried only about 10 percent of the total volume, it was by far the most important tributary during the low summer season, that is, the months of May, June, July, and most of August. In spite of the fact that Egypt was a country almost without rain, it had for centuries been the granary of the Roman and the Ottoman empires (see video 1).

Video 1. Egypt. Scenes from Quest of the Nile. Writer and Presenter: Terje Tvedt.

Egypt developed an irrigation system that for thousands of years structured Egyptian agriculture and its seasonality, as well as the role and strength of the state (see video 2).

Video 2. Egypt, Nilometer. Scenes from Quest of the Nile. Writer and Presenter: Terje Tvedt.

When the Nile in Egypt miraculously rose every autumn under the cloudless sky of the Sahara and Nubian deserts, water was let into a system of basins from the river banks to the edge of the desert wherever it was possible. Within these banks, land was flooded to a depth of three to six feet, and water was held there for between forty and sixty days. As the river subsided, fertilizing silt and a saturated soil was left behind. This system of basin irrigation represented an optimal adaptation to the river’s natural fluctuations and the sediments it transported from the hills and gorges of Ethiopia. Its production techniques remained basically unchanged until modern times.2

Egypt and Nubia, in present-day Sudan, were the only places in the river basin that at the time could possibly develop a civilization based on sedentary, irrigated agriculture. Only there did one find the hydrological and topographical conditions that were a precondition for such activities on a sufficiently grand scale.

The Modern Nile and Muhammed Ali

The Nile’s modern era started during the reign of Muhammad Ali (1805–1849). After he introduced long-staple cotton as the main cash crop of Egypt, the adaptation strategy of the past came under pressure. It could not provide the necessary water for cotton cultivation, which due to other climatic factors had to take place in the summer season—the river’s low season. Muhammed Ali knew that Egypt’s climate, soil, and people could technically cultivate more than was actually done—but the region’s huge potential could not be realized without more water for irrigation during the summer season. The centrality of the Nile for the Egyptian economy and for the wealth of the khedive and his family became even greater.3

Muhammed Ali subsequently initiated a method of river control that fundamentally changed the age-old relationship between man and river. The Nile Delta Barrage was started in 1833 (work led by French engineer Mougel Bey) and was completed in 1862 under the reign of Viceroy Ismail Pasha (not yet khedive of Egypt). The project involved the erection of a barrage across the two branches of the modern Nile just north of Cairo, thus artificially heightening the water level and making it possible to divert more water into summer irrigation canals of the Delta. It aimed to convert the whole agricultural system in the Nile Delta in Egypt from seasonal to perennial basin irrigation, a shift which became more important as the prices of cotton soared in the wake of the American Civil War. Despite the fact that the barrage proved to have some serious weaknesses (especially careless construction of its foundations), it was a definite sign of what was to come. In the mid-19th century, the other societies in the Nile basin were not involved in Nile control at all: to most of the people living along the banks of the river and its tributaries, it was simply water running through their societies that they had to adapt to and use. It was only the lower northern parts of the Nile basin that had sufficient irrigable land given available technology, enough water, and natural fertilizing of the soil, and it was these areas that developed appropriate institutions for Nile water harnessing.

British Water Imperialism and the Partition of Africa

The British government occupied Egypt in 1882 in a strategic move to control the region’s artificial waterway, the Suez Canal, but soon ended up as rulers of a river empire.4 The history of British imperial power in northeast Africa over the next eighty years saw the growth and the collapse of a British Nile empire, stretching from the shores of the Mediterranean and the estuary of the river branches to the heart of Africa and the sources of that most famous river. The British colonial administrators developed on a grand scale what Muhammed Ali had started, and their period as masters of the Nile came to represent a revolutionary phase in the long history of the Nile and Nile control. The British built a number of large, game-changing hydraulic structures on the river between Uganda and the Mediterranean between 1902 and 1954. They spearheaded a transformation in Nile technology, and introduced and made dominant the perception of the Nile as one river system, as one hydrological unity, and a gift of nature that should be, in the language of the day, mastered by man. London’s Nile strategy and water diplomacy is also important because, decades after the last district commissioner left the scene, it cast a long shadow over the postcolonial Nile issue, framing and influencing how the river was used and shared among the independent, sovereign Nile states.

The British realized that by becoming leaders of an agricultural country in a desert climate they had also become rulers of a society where water, water use, and water control were at the very center of the economy and political life. The British administration under Lord Cromer’s leadership (1883–1907) thus made Nile control a central aspect of its policy for a number of reasons. The irrigation system of Muhammed Ali that had partly fallen into disrepair—not least due to later khedives’ financial policies and problems, and aggravated by the Urabi revolt—represented both a hurdle and an opportunity, since by fixing it the British could gain political legitimacy and enable Egypt to pay for its loans. One of the most fundamental decisions they faced early on was this: Should they repair the old barrage, or build a new one? They tested the usefulness of the dam as early as in 1884. The test was so encouraging that, despite the state’s very poor finances, Lord Cromer provided £1 million the following year to improve the country’s irrigation system, and repairs to the barrage were completed by 1890. British banks’ owners and creditors knew that Egypt’s ability to repay her debts to European banks depended on increased cotton exports, which in turn depended on improved irrigation systems. The Lancashire textile industry wanted to reduce its dependence on American cotton by increasing imports of cheaper Egyptian cotton. The Egyptian and foreign elite wanted more water, as did the fellahin. So important was the Nile for the British economy that The Times newspaper reported regularly throughout the 1890s on the water discharges of the Nile.

An overarching goal of the British Nile Empire during its first decades was thus to increase cotton exports. Hence, the task became to administer and construct a more efficient irrigation system and enhance human control over the Nile’s discharge fluctuations. On December 10, 1902, the British opened the impressive Aswan Dam, the biggest dam of its type in the world at the time. It was built across the river a little bit north of the border with the Sudan, and was able to store the tail end of the annual autumn flood for use in the summer season. Its opening ceremony was a proud moment of imperial grandeur, but due to huge amounts of silt in the Ethiopian rivers the British were unable to build storage reservoirs or dams that could hold back the entire autumn floods. Because of strong opposition from archaeological circles in Europe against the flooding of antiquities, the hydraulic engineers, dam designers, and Lord Cromer had to reduce the capacity of the reservoir further. In spite of its limitations, however, the Aswan Dam proved successful by extending the cultivable area by millions of feddans and by introducing three planting and harvesting seasons instead of one in large parts of the country.

When the British government finally decided to extend their occupation of Egypt, London soon realized that their goals in Egypt depended first and foremost on their ability to harness the Nile. They therefore also developed a strategic vision for the whole region. They concluded that the entire Nile basin should be their “sphere of influence,” and this was declared official policy already by 1890. The British had many reasons for the gradual formulation of a Nile strategy beyond Egypt’s borders. After British explorers had confirmed in the mid-19th century that the Nile issued from the Great Lakes in Central Africa, they knew that almost all the Nile water in Egypt in the summer season, or in the cotton cultivation season, came from there (see video 3).

Video 3. Uganda, the Source of the Nile. Scenes from Quest of the Nile. Writer and Presenter: Terje Tvedt.

To improve the existing Egyptian irrigation system they needed to be able to monitor more closely the fluctuating water discharges upstream from Egypt. As early as in the 1890s, the British discussed the need for building reservoirs in the Interlacustrine region and digging new river channels through the wasteful swamps of the Southern Sudan, where about half of the White Nile’s water evaporated in the Sudd due to the slowness of the stream and the flatness of the land (see video 4).

Video 4. South Sudan, Junglej Project. Scenes from Quest of the Nile. Writer and Presenter: Terje Tvedt.

London was also fully aware of the Nile’s overtly political character; the British knew that by taking control over the lifeline of Egypt upstream from Egypt, they would possess a potential means of thwarting anti-British movements in Egypt. Finally, London wanted to bar any European rivals from interfering with the Nile upstream, thereby trying to weaken the British position at the Suez Canal, which was identified at an early stage as the “swing door” to their world empire. A number of imperial calculations led to a proactive policy, making it possible for London at the very beginning of the 20th century to be the virtual ruler of the Nile basin. London occupied the Great Lakes region already in 1894, and launched the Sudan campaign in 1896, ending in the victorious battle of Omdurman in September 1898. In 1891, 1902, 1904, and 1906, active water diplomacy agreements were secured with all the rulers of relevant and important Nile areas that London did not control militarily.

The British secured agreements with the rulers that controlled other Nile territories, which accepted de facto that the Nile was a British “sphere of interest.” Some of them promised in written agreements not to interfere with the Nile without the approval of the British. Italy had promised this on the Eritrean tributaries (April 15, 1891), and Article 3 of the Anglo-Italian Protocol states that “the Italian government engages not to construct on the Atbara River, in view of irrigation, any work which might sensibly modify its flow into the Nile.” The British argued forcibly that they had secured an agreement (May 15, 1902) with the emperor of Ethiopia, in which—according to London and the English translation—he promised the following : “His Majesty the Emperor Menelik II, King of Kings of Ethiopia, engages himself towards the Government of His Britannic Majesty not to construct or allow to be constructed any work across the Blue Nile, Lake Tana, or the Sobat, which would arrest the flow of their waters except in agreement with His Britannic Majesty’s Government and the Government of Sudan.” The Amharic version, however, gave a different meaning and understanding, and Ethiopian experts have argued that the agreement was never ratified by Ethiopia. On May 9, 1906, London secured an agreement with the Belgian government of the Independent State of the Congo, where again Article 3 stated: “The Government of the independent state of the Congo undertakes not to construct, or allow to be constructed, any work over or near the Semliki or Isango river which would diminish the volume of water entering Lake Albert except in agreement with the Sudanese Government.” Finally, on 13 December 1906, Article 4(a) of the Tripartite Treaty between Britain, France and Italy stated that the states should “act together . . . to safeguard; . . . the interests of Great Britain and Egypt in the Nile Basin, more especially as regards the regulation of the waters of that river and its tributaries (due consideration being paid to local interests) without prejudice to Italian interests.”

The British imperialists had a number of reasons for becoming a colonial power and player in Africa, but in order to understand the timing and manner in which the British marched upstream in the Nile basin, one has to analyze what properly can be called an original form of “water imperialism,” based on contextual and rational hydrological and technological arguments. Cromer’s strategic thinking implied that Sudan, because it was upstream on the Nile, had to be occupied by Britain, but not before Egypt had the resources to finance the military campaign to “reconquer” the Sudan, and not before the gap between water supply and water demand in Egypt made it necessary. The question of imperial expansion was thus not if, but when. Cromer, called the “puppet master” of Egyptian politics, was not a romantic empire builder but a rational imperialist looking for ways to secure the creditors their money and Britain its position. Several years before the decision to occupy Sudan was officially taken, five years before the famous Fashoda Incident of European imperial rivalry on the Nile in 1898, and nine years before the Aswan Dam was finished in 1902, the British in charge of Nile control in Cairo were discussing the necessity of controlling the Nile far south of the Egyptian border. But the moment to march upstream was not yet right.

Imperialism and Hydrology

The British knew that almost all the water of the main Nile in Egypt came from the Ethiopian plateau and the Blue Nile, but still they considered—and quite rightly—the White Nile to be the most important tributary to control at the time. The reason was simple: it was this tributary that was the main carrier of water for the cotton crop in the summer season in Egypt. Based on such considerations of geography and hydrology, the Central African lakes were seen as the most promising sites for reservoirs, and therefore also strategically the key to the Nile basin and to power in and over Egypt. In the early 1890s, the waters of the White Nile were described as being “as valuable as gold” by the engineers and hydraulic planners in Cairo.5 By damming Lake Victoria by only three feet, they argued, a constant and plentiful supply of water to Egypt during the summer months could be ensured.6 The territory south of Lake Victoria and east of Lake Albert, however, was considered of marginal importance to the flow of the main Nile, and it was therefore also of marginal political importance in British imperial Nile strategy.

In line with this downstream perspective on the Nile, the regions of the Upper White Nile were perceived as potentially improvable aqueducts to the dry lands in the north. The British leaders of Egypt knew already before the occupation of the Sudan in 1896 that the White Nile lost much of its water while meandering through the Sudd, and that in order to improve the water supply in Egypt, something had to be done with the river through these enormous wetlands.

Cromer therefore sent his “Water Man” and close associate, the undersecretary of public works, William Garstin, up the Nile in the wake of the occupying army in 1897, in order to draw up plans for how the entire Nile system ought to be controlled for the benefit of Egypt.7 The Blue Nile and Atbara could not then be controlled for intra-seasonal or over-year storage, and Italian Eritrea or independent Ethiopia did not represent a threat to the Nile regime at that time. The British expansion up-river in the 1890s was thus an imperial policy driven by a complex mixture of economic, political, and hydrological and hydropolitical considerations. Its direction and chronology was influenced by how they understood the Nile’s geographical and hydrological characteristics, and hence its potential economic and political usefulness: first they conquered the biggest natural reservoirs of the White Nile (1894); a couple years later they marched up the main Nile to the confluence between the Blue and the White Nile at Omdurman (1896–1998), proceeded up the White Nile or the Bahr al-Jabal, as the main river was called in Southern Sudan (1898), and joined up with what is today northern Uganda, which was then already in British hands.

Britain initially developed a Nile strategy that for obvious reasons was mostly concerned with Egypt, but as the Nile Empire expanded, British Nile policy became increasingly complex. In the first decades London was primarily concerned with securing more water for Egypt in order to increase agricultural production and the profitable cotton production, and to enrich the country under London’s benign oversight. If Britain was seen as the guardian of Egypt’s lifeline, it would London’s very important position in Suez. At the same time, upstream control was crucial within a broader hydropolitical strategic game since London thought it might be able to or be forced to use power over the river as leverage against Egypt and its elite and fellahin if they ever grew restive.8 It was for these partly conflicting reasons that the British Nile Empire was established. The British aimed at “taking the Nile in hand,” and in his book Modern Egypt, Cromer could confidently declare that the “Man, this time the Englishman,”9 had taken the entire Nile in hand. For the first and only time in the Nile’s history one might talk of a “King of the Nile waters.” But ten dramatic years later the British grip on the river had loosened, and their Nile politics changed.

The Changing Roles of the Blue and the White Niles

Political developments changed the relative importance of the main Nile tributaries under British imperial strategy and in their economic and hydraulic policies. In the first decades of London’s rule, the White Nile was the most important tributary both politically and economically. The British had fought the River War, built a railway halfway across the African continent from Mombasa to Lake Victoria, and brought hundreds of different African ethnic groups from Dongola to the shores of the Ugandan lakes under British rule, primarily in order to secure their control over the White Nile basin. But in the 1920s, the Blue Nile basin—first and foremost the Gezira plain in the Sudan and then Lake Tana, the main source of the Blue Nile on the Ethiopian plateau—took center stage in the British strategy.

The Egyptian revolution in 1919 and the British declaration of Egyptian independence in 1922 were blows to the British Nile strategy and threatened to weaken London’s position in Suez. Although the British after 1922 explicitly underlined that everything relating to the utilization of the Nile should still be under London’s control, the new relationship between Cairo and London created a growing insecurity about the future of Egyptian cotton imports. The geopolitical and hydropolitical position of the Sudan became more important, for two main reasons, and in a very particular context of regional water control chronology. This upstream country now became a key to future control over Egypt, not only theoretically and potentially but very concretely: in the form of a big dam thrown across the Blue Nile just before it merged with the White Nile at Khartoum. One of the major complaints of the Egyptian nationalists during the revolution demonstrated this fact. When Britain said they planned to build the Sennar Dam on the Blue Nile in the Sudan, creating the world’s largest cotton farm—the Gezira scheme (see video 5)—the nationalists complained bitterly that this meant that London threatened to “turn off the tap” of Egypt’s lifeline.

Video 5. Ethiopia, Lake Tana. Scenes from Quest of the Nile. Writer and Presenter: Terje Tvedt.

Such outbursts of Egyptian downstream insecurity made it obvious to British strategists that upstream Nile control, if exploited wisely, could be used as both a stick and carrot vis-à-vis Egyptian nationalists. The role of the Nile became both tacitly and overtly more of a political weapon, partly as stick and partly as carrot, in Anglo-Egyptian relations until the end of the British Empire. In the 1920s and subsequent decades, Foreign Office experts in London stressed again and again that whoever controlled the Sudan “held Egypt at her mercy,” because the Sudan lay astride the Nile.

The popularity of the anti-British slogan “Unity of the Nile Valley” among protesters, both in Egypt and the Sudan, made it important to implement policies that could lessen Egyptian influence in the Sudan. One way to do this was to support those political forces in the Sudan that had interests in using more water of the Nile. Since the Sudanese Riverain elite was involved in irrigated agriculture, London knew that the Nile could be used as a divisive issue. The Egyptian nationalists sought control of the Nile and regarded Sudan as an integral part of Egypt. Britain had lost control over Egypt but was still a strong upstream power, having both financial and technological capacity to control, or threaten to control, the upstream part of the river, to the detriment of Egypt.

At the same time, the Sudan became an important cotton field in its own right for the British Empire. The Sennar Dam on the Blue Nile proved to be a great success story under British rule. It created the biggest cotton farm in the world. Developments in long-staple cotton production in Egypt and changes in the international cotton market had made the Gezira scheme more important to British industries and also to Sudanese finances. The British tried and succeeded in operating the project with minimal harm to Egyptian interests, since it took winter water from the river—that is, at a time of the year when water was not in dire demand in Egypt. Because of the project’s actual and potential profitability, London and the British Cotton syndicate and the Lancashire industries wanted to expand the scheme, and that would require more Nile water. This could only be obtained in two ways: by taking more water out of the Blue Nile and thus diminishing the flow that reached Egypt, or by increasing the river discharge by building reservoirs in Ethiopia and so high up the river that the sediment load was manageable from an engineering point of view.

Britain tried both methods, and neither of them proved successful. The British used their control over the river as a stick in connection with Lord Allenby’s famous Nile Water Ultimatum in 1924. Allenby, British high commissioner in Egypt, stated that the Sudan government, which was in practice ruled by the Foreign Office in London, would withdraw more water for the Gezira scheme than agreed upon with Egypt. This decision was taken as a punishment of Egyptian nationalists for killing the British governor general of the Sudan. At the same time, it was of course beneficial to the Gezira scheme. Increasing water withdrawals in the Sudan, and the plans for the Lake Tana reservoir, became keystones in London’s strategy to maintain its regional political influence and reap economic benefits for British businesses.

It is also in this hydropolitical context that the exchange of notes between His Majesty’s government and the Egyptian government with regard to the use of the waters of the Nile for irrigation purposes, dated May 7, 1929 (called the Nile Water Agreement of 1929 in the literature), must be understood. It granted Egypt the right to inspect and veto Nile-related water projects that had the potential to reduce the flow of the river. The formal arguments were that Egypt was more dependent on the Nile than any of the Upper White Nile countries, and that those countries could rely more on plentiful precipitation, but the agreement was also a diplomatic move by London to appease anti-British feelings in Egypt.

The Dam in Ethiopia, War, and the Collapse of the League of Nations

It was developments on the Blue Nile that became world politics in the period before the Second World War, while developments on the White Nile had influenced European rivalry before the First World War. His Majesty’s government’s somewhat desperate but disastrous attempt to reach a secret agreement with the Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini, as ruler of Italian Eritrea, on the Lake Tana Dam (the top-secret negotiations between London and Rome were leaked to the press, with awkward diplomatic consequences for the British); the pressure from the British representatives leading the Sudan government and the cotton industries of Lancashire for more waters to the Gezira; and the anger in Egypt after the Allenby Ultimatum put London in a difficult position. It had to improve the Empire’s public image while realizing that there would be no chance of negotiating a new strategic treaty with Egypt unless the political damage of the Nile ultimatum was repaired. The 1929 agreement must be seen in this political context, but it did not solve the inherent contradictions of British aims on the Blue Nile.

The Gezira scheme was central to these considerations of imperial strategy. Its success made implementation of the plans for a Lake Tana reservoir crucial to British economic and administrative policies in the Sudan, and to the new economic and political Sudanese elite on which Britain based her position there. The reservoir on the lake would make it possible to extend the Gezira scheme considerably, with minor negative consequences for the flow of the Nile in Egypt. It would, however, also bolster Britain’s potential power in Egypt since water for the Gezira scheme would provide London with a potential diplomatic weapon in its relations with Cairo. London had negotiated both with Ras Taffari, later Emperor Haile Selassie, and in secrecy with Mussolini during the 1920s and 1930s, in order to enlist support and acceptance for a Tana Reservoir, but without significant progress. Haile Selassie “dragged his feet,” as London described it, partly because he was worried about possible opposition from religious orthodox forces, as the British dam on the Lake Tana might jeopardize holy places on islands in the lake (see video 6).

Video 6. Rwanda, the Source of the Nile. Scenes from Quest of the Nile. Writer and Presenter: Terje Tvedt.

When Italy occupied Ethiopia in 1935 and 1936, the Nile issue was an important but secret part of the geopolitical game. Britain opposed Italy’s expansionism in the Horn of Africa and objected to Mussolini’s war against Ethiopia which ended in Italian victory. But London hoped—at least in the beginning—that the fascist leader would keep his promise to let the British have their dam. Mussolini knew all along that the reservoir was Britain’s dearest interest in Ethiopia. He had learned that after years of secret negotiations with London about a dam there. Many interpretations of the British reluctance to strongly condemn the Italian aggression in the League of Nations, making the League unable to protect Ethiopia despite the fact that Italy had clearly violated Article 10 of the Covenant, have been based on the conviction that Britain had no economic interests in Ethiopia. But the Nile issue and the Tana Dam have been overlooked. However, London miscalculated Mussolini. Instead of allowing Britain to build her dam, Mussolini dispatched soldiers and a batch of Italian engineers to take control of Lake Tana. Italy now threatened Britain’s position at the Suez Canal, and the dam came to nothing. However, in 1941 Italy was chased away from the lake area by the British and Ethiopian troops under Haile Selassie.

The Nile and the Demise of the British Empire

The impact of the Second World War was strongly felt in the Nile basin in three particular ways: the new world power, the U.S. government, used Nile diplomacy as a means to weaken what Washington considered anachronistic European imperialism in Africa; the establishment of the United Nations and the anticolonial mood put more and more pressure on Britain to build Nile dams in East Africa to benefit the region’s development; and the emergence of a number of sovereign, independent Nile states made the issue of Nile control and benefit sharing ever more complex.

The Owen Falls Dam on the Victoria Nile in Uganda was opened by the young Queen Elizabeth of England in 1954 after years of negotiations with a skeptical Egyptian leadership. It was heralded as the “new beginning” of Uganda that would provide electricity to the country’s industries and people, while Egyptian nationalists criticized it, since it was located in “enemy territory” still controlled by London. The British government realized that the building of this power plant in Uganda might hurt their relations with Egypt (although London accepted Egypt’s demands for a negotiated curve of the flow), but it had become more important to placate the anticolonial mood at the time. The fact that the British built the dam also sent a message that the British remained in upstream control of Egypt’s lifeline.

In Egypt, the Free Officers Coup had brought Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser to power, and very soon he made plans for a new and enormous Aswan High Dam, a cornerstone of his internal and foreign policy. This gigantic reservoir was designed to be able to store two years of Nile floods and thus liberate Egypt from any external threat to the river and protect it from both floods and droughts. It was also intended to give the economy a big push. The Sadd el Ali or the Nasser Dam, as it was also called, was to make it possible to turn Egypt into the “Japan of Africa.” Reluctant British and U.S. governments both promised in 1955 to support the building of this dam, but they attached certain conditions that they thought Egypt would not fulfil.

When, on July 19, 1956, the U.S. secretary of state, John Foster Dulles,10 with no prior warning that the U.S. offer to finance the Aswan High Dam had been revoked, he knew it was a world historic event. This decision almost immediately initiated a chain of reactions that changed the map of Middle Eastern politics and led to the collapse of British imperial power in the Nile valley. The British economy was very weak at the time, and Britain could not act, even if it had wanted to, without the United States paying most of the bill for the dam.11

This meeting in Washington on the most ambitious Nile project ever, between an American politician and an Egyptian diplomat, showed to the whole world that the days of the British having the upper hand in questions related to Nile control were over. His Majesty’s government in London was an onlooker to an event that with one stroke ended the very long and complicated history of British involvement in the Aswan High Dam.

The Suez Crisis, with all its regional and global consequences, hinged on the Western decision to withdraw promised financial support for the dam. Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal in revenge. The crushing defeat of Britain in the subsequent Suez war in 1956—after political tactics related to Nasser’s Aswan Dam backfired—was the final blow not only to Britain’s Nile project but to Britain as a colonial power in Africa.

The 1959 Agreement and the Nyerere Doctrine

In the postcolonial era, Egypt became the dominant player in the Nile basin. Egypt had the upper hand when it came to Nile management, basin-wide institutional and legal arrangements, and, not least, ability to use the river. Two of the most formative hydropolitical events took place under President Gamal Abdel Nasser: the building of the Aswan High Dam and the signing of the 1959 agreement regarding the Nile between Egypt and the Sudan. By being able to dam the river within its own borders in an over-year storage reservoir with the assistance of the Soviet Union, Egypt managed—at least for some time—to liberate itself from potential pressure and interference from upstream powers. Although Nasser’s hopes for the dam’s role in Egyptian development turned out to be somewhat unrealistic, the dam and the subsequent use of the stored water bolstered Egypt’s proposition that it has historical and acquired rights to 55.5 billion m3 of Nile water every year. The dam was also instrumental in paving the way for the 1959 agreement with the Sudan. Since the dam flooded parts of the Nubian valley, and close to 100,000 people had to be relocated within the Sudan, the 1959 agreement (and Egypt’s acceptance of the Sudan building the Roseiris Dam on the Blue Nile) was a form of compensation to Egypt’s upstream neighbor. The agreement between “The United Arab Republic and the Sudan for the Full Utilization of the Nile Waters” was signed in Cairo on November 8, 1959.

The 1959 agreement helped foment the Sudan-Egyptian alliance on the Nile that was kept intact until the end of the 1990s and shaped hydropolitical developments in the whole basin during the same period. Sudan and Egypt acted with one voice when it came to discussions with other riparians regarding Nile control and Nile sharing; the agreement obliged Egypt and the Sudan to negotiate together. The close relationship with Egypt enabled the Sudan to implement Nile projects on its side without strong objections from Egypt.

The birth of a growing number of independent states in the Nile basin caused a radical shift in the history of the Nile and made regional hydropolitics crucial to developments in the whole basin (three independent countries in 1956, nine in 1965, and eleven in 2011). Two profound historical processes coincided: new states were formed, all with different stakes in the waters of the Nile and partly reflecting different physical locations in the watershed, at exactly the same time in history as it became technologically feasible to control the Nile waters on a much larger scale than ever before and in places where it had previously been physically impossible. The new sovereign states developed their national water policies and strategic water plans at very different paces, reflecting varying levels of development, degrees of political stability, and specific geographical positions in the Nile basin. The postcolonial era in the basin as a whole was therefore influenced by Nile issues from the very onset, including how state powers exercised their new-won sovereignty, by technological development and economic capacity, and by specific hydrological variations in potentials for Nile control and use.

Throughout this period Egypt was strongly opposed to other countries building dams and reservoirs on the Nile, and it did not want to enter into negotiations for new agreements about sharing the Nile waters. When President Julius Nyerere came up with his doctrine of state succession in the early 1960s—that agreements signed by a colonial power on behalf of the colonized should not be binding on the new independent African states—it represented a challenge to the Egyptian Nile regime. Nyerere’s main concern was the 1929 Nile Waters Agreement signed by London on behalf of Tanzania. He had plans for the Kagera river basin (a tributary of the Nile in Tanzania), but Egypt objected to these plans. Nyerere lost the case in the Hague tribunal. Egypt held that all the Nile River agreements were by their nature binding on successor states, and that these instruments were transmitted to the successor states and could be amended or abrogated only by consent in accordance with the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. Egypt further asserted that treaties concluded by European powers acting on behalf of colonized African states continued to be in force by virtue of the law of state succession and because of the territorial nature of the obligations resulting from these treaties. In the 1970s and 1980s, Egypt stated its willingness to resort to military measures to secure its water supply. At the same time, Egypt initiated a number of instruments for cooperation on the Nile.

Cooperation and the Nile Basin Initiative

At the same time as the Nile remained a point of conflict among basin states, a number of initiatives were nonetheless taken to further cooperation. Egypt initiated the Hydromet project in 1967, supported by the United Nations and focusing on a hydro-meteorological survey in the lakes region (comprising Egypt, Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, while Ethiopia joined in as an observer in 1971). The “Undungu group,” which focused on the establishment of Nile Basin Economic Community from 1983–1992, was succeeded by the Technical Cooperation Committee for the Promotion of Development and Environmental Protection of the Basin (TECCONILE), which convened its first meeting in 1993. These initiatives were beset by lack of inclusivity (there were riparian countries not represented in the effort), and comprehensive institutional settings.

The Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), established on February 22, 1999, sought to overcome some of these limitations, and its goal was to work toward attaining what a “shared vision objective”: to achieve sustainable socio-economic development through equitable utilization of, and benefit from, the common Nile Basin Water resources and to facilitate, support and nurture cooperation amongst the Nile Basin countries. The NBI represented an important push for cooperation, and for the first time all the basin states joined (Eritrea as an observer), but the initiative took place at a time when the countries of the Nile basin were developing very unequally and when some of the upstream countries had reached a level of political stability and economic strength that for the first time made it rational policy for them to question the whole framework of past water agreements. It turned out that the NBI was not able to contain these more fundamental contradictions or to overcome the “warring principles” that remained more or less the same: no appreciable harm (Egypt) versus equitable use (all other riparians except the Sudan).

The Nile Alliance between Egypt and the Sudan

The collaboration between Egypt and the Sudan regarding the Nile dominated the first decades of postcolonial Nile history. For example, in 1979, Egypt accepted that the Sudan and President Nimeiri start planning for a big hydropower dam at the river’s Four Cataract (known as the Merowe Dam when finally inaugurated in 2009, containing about 20 percent of the Nile’s annual flow), which enabled the Sudan to use more of its allocated share according to the 1959 agreement. One of the reasons Egypt supported the planning of this dam was because in the same year (1979) the two countries had finally agreed on and started to implement the Jonglei Canal project in the Southern Sudan. This project aimed at increasing the water flow of the Nile by almost 4 billion m3 of water. It was a revised version of the British colonial plan from the 1890s and was seen as the first in a row of projects draining the marshes and swamps of the Upper Nile, in the hopes of eventually increasing the flow of the Nile by more than 20 percent.12 Half of about 223 miles of the canal had been excavated when, in 1984, new political problems put the project back on the planning table: the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army kidnapped and killed some canal workers.

During the 1990s, the unity between the Northern Nile states was gradually weakening. When clashes erupted between the two neighbors over border issues in the mid-1990s, the Sudanese Islamist and religious strongman, Hassan Turabi, threatened to punish Egypt with the Nile and said that this would be “deadly” to Egypt. This statement can be interpreted as signaling the end of the close Nile alliance between the two countries, although they continued to share the same positions in Nile negotiations vis-à-vis upstream countries for some more years to come. It was when both Egypt and the Sudan for the first time in history were ruled by political forces close to the Muslim Brotherhood that the split on the Nile came fully into the open. At the beginning of the third millennium, more and more influential voices in the Sudan, both water engineers and politicians, argued publicly in favor of a shift of allegiances in their Nile policy: they suggested that the Sudan’s long-term interests lay more in cooperation with Ethiopia and other upstream states than with Egypt.

Dams in Ethiopia in particular could solve some of Sudan’s problems with the Nile, as they might improve flood control and protect the Sudan from the threat posed to its reservoirs by silt deposits carried down from the Ethiopian mountains by the Blue Nile and Atbara Rivers,13 without Khartoum having to invest in costly hydraulic structures. When Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, supported the Ethiopian dams on the Blue Nile against the wishes and policies of Egypt, this represented a radical break with the recent past, and the resulting schism made it clear that the silt of the Nile was more important than religious bonds.

The Nile issue and large-scale water infrastructure projects have not only sparked conflict between neighboring countries but have also been a source of internal strife. In the Sudan this was the case with the Merowe Dam, which forced at least fifteen thousand Nubian families living on the narrow banks of the Nile in Northern Sudan to relocate to other areas of the country because the river caused flooding of their homeland. Disagreements and complaints over insufficient government compensation sparked some of the most serious internal protests in the new Sudan. Nubian spokespersons argued that the big dams that were planned across the Nile in areas where they were living would threaten their way of life. The government in Khartoum maintained that these dams had to be built in these locations due to hydrological and topographical considerations, and that they were preconditions for Sudan becoming a developed country and achieving its goal of being a breadbasket for the Arab world.

2011—The End of the Postcolonial Nile Period

The year 2011 will stand out as a game-changing year in the history of the Nile, not because of the “Arab Spring,” but because it was the year in which Egypt’s monopoly over the Nile was broken on a number of fronts.

The regional realignment of powers in the Nile basin was clearly reflected in the Nile River Cooperative Framework, which came into force when the sixth riparian nation, Burundi, in spite of Egyptian efforts to stop them from doing so, signed the Entebbe Agreement in March 2011. The signatories of the Entebbe Agreement hold that this agreement allows riparian countries to construct dams and undertake related projects, contrary to the restrictions of the colonial treaties. Egypt was opposed to this agreement, arguing that it would destroy the levels of cooperation forged over the years. Upstream countries have maintained that it is on the basis of the Cooperative Framework Agreement that fruitful dialogues in the future can be made sustainable. Whatever the agreement’s actual and immediate consequences, the act of signing without Egyptian consent represented a break with the power relations of the past.

In 2011, South Sudan became independent, an event that had both an immediate and long-term impact on the hydropolitical balance in the basin. Two months after its independence in July, South Sudan sought to join the NBI and was admitted as a full member in July 2012. The new South Sudan government now holds the very key to Egypt’s most important water-saving projects in the marshes of South Sudan. Moreover, it is not unlikely that, in the not-so-distant future and if stability and peace can be achieved, the government will demand renegotiation of the Nile Waters Agreement of 1959. South Sudan claims it is entitled to some parts of the water share allocated to what in 1959 was the bigger, united Sudan.

In March 2011, at a time when Egypt was in chaos and everybody was watching the demonstrations on Tahrir Square rather than the water planners on the Blue Nile on the Ethiopian plateau, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi announced that Ethiopia would build an enormous dam on the Blue Nile. It was called the Millennium Dam, later renamed as the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. This hydroelectric dam is the biggest in Africa, with a capacity of 62 to 74 billion m3. The annual output is planned to be 6,000 megawatts (around three times Ethiopia’s existing capacity), and Ethiopia will thus become a net exporter of electricity to the region’s potential buyers, such as Djibouti, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda, and possibly Egypt.

The planning and construction of the dam triggered considerable controversy and strong protests from Egypt, which argued that the dam violates international and binding agreements, that it will reduce the water flow of the Nile in Egypt, and that it seriously threatens the security of the entire nation. The Ethiopian decision and ability to go ahead with building the Renaissance Dam in spite of Cairo’s opposition should be seen as a very symbolic and concrete expression of a fundamental revolution in power relations in the Nile basin, made possible by the hydrological character of the river and the development of new dam-building technology. It could be realized now, due to relative political stability, rapid economic growth, and a clear hydropolitical strategy by the Ethiopian government under the leadership of Meles Zenawi.

Under the short reign of President Mohamed Morsi after he was elected in 2013, top politicians were assembled to brainstorm ideas for how Egypt could “absorb the shock” of the Renaissance Dam, including supporting proxy military groups within Ethiopia to debstabilize its government. Morsi suggested that if Egypt’s share of the Nile’s water diminished by one drop, then “their blood” would be the alternative.14 This aggressive rhetoric belied the fact, however, that Egypt was no longer in a position, either domestically or internationally, to make good on these threats. Morsi’s meeting resulted in a huge diplomatic setback, because the secret meeting was televised by mistake. The military option was undermined by the fact that the Sudan would not allow Egypt to cross its territory since Khartoum now was in favor of the same dam Cairo described as a deadly threat.

For the past two decades, the governments of Ethiopia and Egypt have repeatedly aired sharp differences over use of the Nile. The background has been clear: the Ethiopian Nile tributaries contribute most of the main Nile’s flow, but Ethiopia has not been free to exploit this water because, as Egypt has maintained, Ethiopia is bound to abide by the restrictions inherent in what is still considered a binding 1902 agreement. Ethiopian ministers have declared time and again that “this inequitable state of affairs” cannot continue, and their legal experts have concluded that the agreement does not bar them from constructing works on the Nile.15 The Ethiopian government has also pointed out that existing Nile projects such as the Aswan Dam and the Merowe Dam in the Sudan are wasteful and irrational, since water, they argued, would be more effectively stored on the Ethiopian plateau due to less evaporation there.16 In the past, as in 1970, Egypt threatened to go to war over the building of the Fincha Dam, and when Ethiopia attempted to secure funding from the World Bank, Egypt and Sudan invoked Article 3 of the 1902 treaty, making it illegal for international financial institutions to provide such loans. The Ethiopians therefore built the Renaissance Dam, financed largely by the Ethiopian people themselves via bonds, circumventing opposition from the international donor community.

Despite Egypt’s ongoing rhetoric about its determination to safeguard its Nile allocation, its ability to deliver on its own policy were weakened. Since the Sudan sided with Ethiopia in relation to the new Nile projects, the military option also became much less feasible. Egypt’s opportunities therefore lay more with exploiting relatively strong ties with the United States, European Union, Russia, and China, and its diplomatic relations with Israel, in order to restrain upstream states, as well as in promoting economic cooperation on a number of fronts within the basin.

Egypt was suddenly standing alone among the Nile basin countries, at a very decisive moment in its Nile history, when upstream states started to have the capacity to exploit and control the Nile for their own benefit (see video 6). Uganda, Kenya, and not least Ethiopia launched very ambitious plans for Nile control that, if implemented, deemed the Nile agreements of colonial times as “not acceptable anymore.”17

Demographic and Environmental Pressures

The modern Nile has gradually served more and more millions of people and more and more states, and it will probably continue to do so in the years ahead.18 Yet, there can be no doubt that genuine cooperation will be necessary in order to prevent intra-state and internal conflicts over its control and use, and to save the river from overexploitation, environmental degradation and potential climate change. The Nile water issue has in the beginning of the 21st century been caught between national perspectives on demographics and the river as a resource, and the need to create real intra-basin institutions and functioning cooperative mechanisms.19

Egypt’s policies have been formulated within a context of conflicting aims: the need to control the Nile while sharing sovereignty over it, balancing the vulnerability of a downstream country with military strength far exceeding that of the other Nile countries, and maintaining a status quo in watersharing that has become increasingly unsustainable for Egypt itself (as it needs more water than it has). Egypt’s belief is that it has “historic rights” to the Nile and that it is so dependent on the river that other countries in the basin have to acknowledge its special position created by history and a particular relationship with the river. Egypt relies on the Nile for 97 percent of its water use at the same time that it is the world’s leading importer of wheat. The United Nations warns that Egypt could run out of water by 2025. Egypt’s population is expected to rise to 140 million by 2050.20 As the population booms, the country will require more water than it currently has available; however, shifting geostrategic alliances among upstream nations mean that Egypt’s allocation is likely to decrease. Egypt’s official policy has stressed that regional cooperation is in its own national interest and should not be dismissed as a mere shift in tactics.

Other state leaders and politicians in upstream countries have increasingly questioned whether genuine cooperation is possible before the Nile agreements of the past are re-negotiated, and they have doubted Egypt’s willingness to accept such re-negotiations. Egypt has tended to argue that it is possible to sustain and deepen cooperation even while circumventing the issue of water sharing via focusing on water harvesting potential and general economic ties among the eleven countries of the basin.

The Nile faces an uncertain future amid potential climate change and environmental pressures. Environmental and development factors have interacted for a long time in various parts of the basin, and careful, innovative political and technological management will be required.21 For example, thanks to depeletion of the Nile and ground water, sea water intrusion has escalated in the Nile Delta. Furthermore, fresh water has been fed through irrigation canals, only to be recycled back into the river channel with inputs of salt, agricultural chemicals, and pesticides. This has resulted in widespread salinization, affecting the fertility of soils further and further south of the river mouth. Climate change scenarios have presented serious challenges for the Nile. And there is yet another challenge: the population of the Nile basin is expected to double in the next twenty-five years, in a context where the regional water security situation is already precarious.

Discussion of the Literature

The Nile has intrigued readers, travelers and writers, historians, and all kinds of researchers for centuries. This most famous of all famous rivers has thus been the subject of thousands of books and articles, from the stories of Herodotus and Virgil and the travel notes of Islamic scholars and European novelists to the many modern books about Nile geology, Nile hydrology, Nile dams, and Nile politics. No other international river basin has a longer or more complex and eventful history of the politics of water than the Nile basin. A compilation of the literature on the river and its role can be found in three bibliographies. See Terje Tvedt, The Nile, An Annotated Bibliography (2d ed.), 2004; Terje Tvedt and Erik Hovden, A Bibliography on the River Nile, Vol. II; and Terje Tvedt and Erik Hovden, A Bibliography on the River Nile, Vol. III. Nile Plans and Nile Reports, 1960–2006. For early European descriptions of the Nile system, see Elia Lombardini, Essai sur l‘Hydrographie du Nil; Chavanne J. Challame, Afrikas Strööme und Flüüsse: Ein Beitrag zur Hydrographie des dunkeln Erdtheils; and A. Hartleben and A. Chelu, De l‘équateur à la Méditerranée. Le Nil, le Soudan, l‘Egypte. The many reports and books by William Willcocks, especially Egyptian Irrigation in two volumes, and by the undersecretary of public works for more than a decade around the turn of the century, William Garstin, are a must for anyone who aims to understand Nile politics in general and British and Egyptian Nile politics in particular. Garstin’s Report upon the Basin of the Upper Nile with Proposals for the Improvement of That River is a classic. The voluminous Nile Basin Reports by H. E. Hurst and his colleagues are also very useful literature regarding developments in Nile hydrology, Nile plans and projects, and to the Nile discourse of the 20th century. The report on the Nile in Southern Sudan, prepared by the Jonglei Investigation Team, The Equatorial Nile Project and Its Effects in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, must be one of the best reports ever prepared by a team of British colonial experts. It is very useful for gaining an understanding of the relationship between water and society in central parts of South Sudan, and also as a source for how some British administrators conceived of the Nile question in the Sudan in the early 1950s prior to the Aswan High Dam. Seminal recent works in different disciplines would be Rushdi Said, The River Nile: Geology, Hydrology and Utilization, and the book that brought international academic interest to the study of modern hydropolitics: John Waterbury, Hydropolitics of the Nile Valley. In recent years a number of interesting books on the modern history of the Nile have been published, especially by Ethiopian but also by Sudanese scholars. The historiography of the Nile in history and development has an understandable geographical bias; almost all studies have dealt with Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia. This means that there are a number of unanswered questions related to the other Nile states and the Nile issue. The implications of recent power shifts in the basin have also not yet been sufficiently addressed in studies of the river. In general one must conclude that in spite of the fact that a lot of books and articles have been written on the Nile and on the countries in its basin, there is a whole range of very important issues regarding the longitudinal interconnections and confluences between the two; between societies and river and between man and water that have not been researched at all.

Primary Sources

For a full overview of most of the primary sources for this article, see Tvedt 2004 and Tvedt (ed.) 2010. For information on recent developments, see Jstor and Google Scholar, and the Nile Basin Initiative. A focus has been on the very large number of government reports on Nile projects and plans for Nile utilization since the middle of the 19th century until today. For an overview of government reports on Nile-related issues from all the Nile basin countries and from consultancy firms, UN agencies, and donor reports, see the three Nile bibliographies with more than four thousand entries: Tvedt 2004 and Tvedt and Hovden 2008, both vols. II and III. Primary sources for the very complex story of Nile diplomacy and geopolitics during the British Nile Empire are easily available from the Sudan Archive, Durham; the National Archive, Khartoum; and Public Record Office (PRO), London. Especially useful in PRO will be the files in FO 371: Foreign Office: Political Departments: General Correspondence from 1906–1966, as well as the Subseries on Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia. There are useful documents under the following headings: Egypt, Sudan, Abyssinia/Ethiopia, Irrigation, Tsana, Jonglei, Nile projects, and Aswan. Also relevant: FO 403 General correspondence East Africa 1835–1957. This series contains confidential print relating to Africa and comprises selected correspondence and papers relating to the Suez Canal and Egypt, 1942–1946; and Abyssinia, 1911–1913, 1919–1923, and 1942–1946. For the Cromer-Garstin regime on the Nile and early British water imperialism, see also FO 633. This is Cromer’s correspondence in 113 files and volumes. This series contains private and official correspondence and papers of the Earl of Baring, mainly dealing with his career as commissioner of the Egyptian public debt and later minister plenipotentiary in Egypt (1883–1907). It is organized chronologically, and details of the correspondence are explained in the register. The collection contains a great number of letters dealing with irrigation, dams, and Nile control. For those interested in the role of the United States in relation to the Aswan Dam, see the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Abilene, Kansas, and the Seeley G. Mudd Library, Princeton, New Jersey, for Dwight D. Eisenhower’s and John Foster Dulles’s private papers. The National Archive, Khartoum, is especially rich on project plans and assessments of the Gezira Project and the Jonglei Project. It also contains useful sources on relations to Egypt and north-south issues in the Sudan. Sudan Archive, Durham, has good collections on Nile policies, especially the W. N. Allan Papers, C. A. Willis Papers, and R. J. Smith papers.

List of map resources for the Nile Basin: Nile Basin Research Programme and Department of Geography, University of Bergen, 2009.

Further Reading

Arsano, Yacob. “Institutional Development and Water Management in the Ethiopian Nile Basin.” In The River Nile in the Post-Colonial Age: Conflict and Cooperation in the Nile Basin Countries. Edited by Terje Tvedt, 161–179. London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2010.Find this resource:

Baker, Samuel. The Albert N‘yanza: Great Basin of the Nile and Explorations of the Nile Sources. 2 Vols. London: Macmillan, 1867.Find this resource:

Bruce, James. Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile, in the Years 1768, 1769, 1770, 1771, 1772, and 1773. 5 Vols. London: J. Ruthven, 1790.Find this resource:

Chavanne, Josef. Africa’s Ströme und Flüsse. Ein beitrag zur Hydrographie des dunkeln Erdtheils. Vienna: A. Hartleben, 1883.Find this resource:

Cheesman, Robert Ernest. Lake Tana and the Blue Nile: An Abyssinian Quest. London: Frank Cass, 1968.Find this resource:

Chélu, Alfred Jacques. De l’Equateur á la Mediterranée: Le Nil, le Soudan, l’Egypte. Paris: Chaix, 1891.Find this resource:

Churchill, Winston. The River War: An Historical Account of the Reconquest of The Soudan, 1902. London: Prime Classics Library, 2005.Find this resource:

Collins, Robert O.Shadows in the Grass, Britain in the Southern Sudan, 1918–1956. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1983.Find this resource:

Elemam, Hosam E. Rabie. “Egypt and Collective Action Mechanisms in the Nile.” In The River Nile in the Post-Colonial Age: Conflict and Cooperation in the Nile Basin Countries. Edited by Terje Tvedt, 217–237. London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2010.Find this resource:

Erlich, Haggai, and Israel Gershoni. The Nile. Histories, Cultures, Myths. London: Lynne Renner, 2000.Find this resource:

Garstin, William. Report upon the Basin of the Upper Nile with Proposals for the Improvement of That River. Cairo: Ministry of Public Works, 1904.Find this resource:

Howell, P. P., M. Lock, and S. Cobb, eds. The Jonglei Canal: Impact and Opportunity. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1988.Find this resource:

Hurst, Harold Edwin. The Nile. A General Account of the River and the Utilization of Its Waters. London: Constable, 1952.Find this resource:

Ibrahim, Hassan Ahmed. “The Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 with Special Reference to the Contemporary Situation in Egypt and the Sudan.” PhD thesis, University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies, Khartoum: University of Khartoum, 1970.Find this resource:

Jonglei Investigation Team. The Equatorial Nile Project and Its Effects in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. 5 vols. London: Waterlow, 1954.Find this resource:

Kimenyi, Mwangi S., and John Mukum Mbaku. Governing the Nile River Basin: The Search for a New Legal Regime. New York: Brooking Institution, 2015.Find this resource:

Melesse, Aseffa, Wossenu Abtew, and Shimelis Gebriye Setegn, eds. Nile River Basin: Ecohydrological Challenges, Climate Change and Hydropolitics. Dodrecht: Springer, 2011.Find this resource:

Mohamed, K. A. “The Projects for the Increase of the Nile Yield with Special Reference to the Jonglei Project”, UN Water Conference, Mar del Plata March 1977, vol. 4. 31, 1977–1825, 1977.Find this resource:

Mulira, James. “Independent Uganda and the Nile: Hydroelectric Projects and Plans.” In The River Nile in the Post-Colonial Age: Conflict and Cooperation in the Nile Basin Countries. Edited by Terje Tvedt, 125–161. London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2010.Find this resource:

Mwiandi, Mary C. “The Nile Waters and the Socio-economic Development of Western Nile Basin.” In The River Nile in the Post-Colonial Age: Conflict and Cooperation in the Nile Basin Countries. Edited by Terje Tvedt, 93–125. London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2010.Find this resource:

Ngowi, Honest Prosper. “Unlocking Economic Growth and Development Potential: The Nile Basin Approach in Tanzania.” In The River Nile in the Post-Colonial Age: Conflict and Cooperation in the Nile Basin Countries. Edited by Terje Tvedt, 57–73. London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2010.Find this resource:

Nkurunziza, Pascal. “Burundi and the Nile: Water Resource Development and National.” In The River Nile in the Post-Colonial Age: Conflict and Cooperation in the Nile Basin Countries. Edited by Terje Tvedt, 13–31. London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2010.Find this resource:

Rzoska, Julian, ed. The Nile: Biology of an Ancient River The Hague: Junk, 1976.Find this resource:

Said, Rushdi. The River Nile: Geology, Hydrology and Utilization. Oxford: Pergamon, 1993.Find this resource:

Samaha, M. Abdel Hady. “The Egyptian Master Water Plan.” Water Supply and Management, 3 (1979): 251–266.Find this resource:

Taha, Fadwa. “The History of the Nile Waters in the Sudan.” In The River Nile in the Post-Colonial Age: Conflict and Cooperation in the Nile Basin Countries. Edited by Terje Tvedt, 179–217. London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2010.Find this resource:

Tilahun, Wondimneh. Egypts Imperial Aspirations over Lake Tana and the Blue Nile. Addis Abeba: United Printers, 1979.Find this resource:

Tshimanga, Raphael M. “The Congo Nile: Water Use, Policies and Challenges.” In The River Nile in the Post-Colonial Age: Conflict and Cooperation in the Nile Basin Countries. Edited by Terje Tvedt, 73–93. London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2010.Find this resource:

Tvedt, Terje. The River Nile: An Annotated Bibliography. 2d ed. London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2004.Find this resource:

Tvedt, Terje. The River Nile in the Age of the British: Political Ecology and the Quest for Economic Power. London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2004 and 2016.Find this resource:

Tvedt, Terje, ed. The River Nile in the Post-Colonial Age: Conflict and Cooperation in the Nile Basin Countries. London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2010.Find this resource:

Tvedt, T., & Hovden, E. (2008). A Bibliography on the River Nile. Vol. III. Nile Plans and Nile Reports 1960–2006. Partially Annotated. Bergen: Bric.Find this resource:

Waterbury, John. The Hydropolitics of the Nile Valley. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1979.Find this resource:

Willcocks, William. Egyptian Irrigation. 2 Vols. London: E. and F. N. Spon, 1889.Find this resource:


(1.) For a description of the river, see Rushdi Said, The River Nile: Geology, Hydrology and Utilization (Oxford: Pergamon, 1993); Julian Rzoska, ed., The Nile: Biology of an Ancient River (The Hague: Junk, 1976); and Henry J. Dumont, ed., The Nile: Origin, Environments, Limnology and Human Use (Dordrect: Springer, 2009).

(2.) See Said, The River Nile; Edmund Hurst, The Nile: A General Account of the River and the Utilization of Its Waters (London: Constable, 1952); and William Willcocks, Egyptian Irrigation, 2 vols. (London: E. and F. N Spon, 1889).

(3.) The khedive title, by and large having the same meaning as viceroy in English, was the initially self-declared Ottoman Turkish title taken by Muhammed Ali Pasha and used by his dynasty.

(4.) For the British Nile Empire, see Terje Tvedt, The River Nile in the Age of the British: Political Ecology and the Quest for Economic Power (London: I. B. Tauris, 2004 and 2016).

(5.) William Willcocks, Report on Perennial Irrigation and Flood Protection of Egypt, Appendix III: 11 (Cairo: Ministry of Public Works, 1894).

(6.) Willcocks, Report on Perennial Irrigation.

(7.) The report was published in 1904. See William Garstin, Report upon the Basin of the Upper Nile with Proposals for the Improvement of That River (Cairo: Ministry of Public Works, 1904).

(8.) For a more thorough description of the role of the Nile in the partition of Africa and for the rise and fall of the British Empire in Africa, see Terje Tvedt, The River Nile in the Age of the British: Political Ecology and the Quest for Economic Power (London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2004 and 2016).

(9.) Tvedt, The River Nile in the Age of the British, quoting Lord Cromer, Britain’s leading official in Egypt from 1883 to 1907. See Evelyn Baring Cromer, Modern Egypt (New York: Macmillan, 1908).

(10.) U.S. secretary of state (1953–1959) under President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

(11.) For a thorough description of the Suez Crisis and the water issue, see Tvedt, The River Nile in the Age of the British.

(12.) See, for example, K. A. Mohamed, “The Projects for the Increase of the Nile Yield with Special Reference to the Jonglei Project,” in Water Conference 4 (March 1977): 1977–1825, 1977.

(13.) Fadwa Taha, “The History of the Nile Waters in the Sudan,” in The River Nile in the Post-colonial Age: Conflict and Cooperation in the Nile Basin Countries, ed. Terje Tvedt (London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2010).

(14.) Mohammed Mursi, speech, see TV-documentary “The Nile Quest”, 2014. See also “Egyptian Warning over the Ethiopia Nile Dam, BBC News, June 10, 2013.

(15.) Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, interview, “Future of Water,” TV Documentary, Oslo: NRK/Panopticon, 2014. Written and presented by Terje Tvedt.

(16.) For a discussion of the Ethiopian position, see Yacob Arsano, “Institutional Development and Water Management in the Ethiopian Nile Basin,” 161–179.

(17.) Expression used by Rwandan President Paul Kagame in an interview with Terje Tvedt for the TV-documentary “The Nile Quest” (2014).

(18.) For a description of developments under the postcolonial period, see Terje Tvedt, ed., The River Nile in the Post-Colonial Age: Conflict and Cooperation in the Nile Basin Countries (London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2010), especially the following chapters in this book: Robert Baligira, “Rwanda and the Nile: Water Plans and Their Implementation,” 31–57; Fadwa Taha, “The History of the Nile Waters in the Sudan,” 179–217; Honest Prosper Ngowi, “Unlocking Economic Growth and Development Potential: The Nile Basin Approach in Tanzania,” 57–73; Hosam E. Rabie Elemam, “Egypt and Collective Action Mechanisms in the Nile,” 217–237; James Mulira, “Independent Uganda and the Nile: Hydroelectric Projects and Plans,” 125–161; Mary C. Mwiandi, “The Nile Waters and the Socio-Economic Development of Western Nile Basin,” 93–125; Pascal Nkurunziza, “Burundi and the Nile: Water Resource Development and National,” 13–31; Raphael M. Tshimanga, “The Congo Nile: Water Use, Policies and Challenges,” 73–93; and Yacob Arsano, “Institutional Development and Water Management in the Ethiopian Nile Basin,” 161–179.

(19.) See Aseffa Melesse, Wossenu Abtew, and Shimelis Gebriye Setegn, eds. Nile River Basin: Ecohydrological Challenges, Climate Change and Hydropolitics (Dodrecht: Springer, 2011).

(20.) Department of Economic and Social Affairs Population Division, United Nations, World Population Prospect, the 2015 Revision, Key Findings and Advance Tables (United Nations: New York, 2015).

(21.) See Terje Tvedt, The River Nile: An Annotated Bibliography, 2d ed. (London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2004), for a thorough description of literature on most aspects of the Nile. The bibliography has more than four thousand entries covering all disciplines.