Field and river

20th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies (ICES20)
Mekelle University, Ethiopia

"Regional and Global Ethiopia - Interconnections and Identities"
1-5 October, 2018

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GASHAW Ayferam, Wollo University, Ethiopia

This paper examines the hydro hegemonic power configuration and changing power relations in the Eastern Nile basin. The hydro politics of the Nile have been at the centre of academic debates since antiquity, and several scholars in this realm have studied the multifarious aspects of the hydro-politics of the Nile River and different contentious issues. However, little attention has been given to the study of the evolving hydro hegemony and counter hydro hegemony in the aforesaid river basin. The overall objective of this paper is therefore to examine the hydro hegemonic strategies and tactics used by Egypt in its long journey towards establishing, maintaining, and consolidating the current hydro political status quo and the reaction of non-hegemonic riparians with the intent of transforming the established order and thereby creating a new playing field. Accordingly, I argue that Egypt has used smart power, a combination of hard and soft power, in establishing, maintaining, and consolidating its preferential situation. In the meantime, there is no pragmatic change, but only signs of changes that can be explained by alterations in the domestic, regional, and international environment. The study employs qualitative research methodology, drawing on both primary and secondary data sources. The primary data sources were key informant interviews, while the secondary data was collected from books, published journal articles, published and unpublished theses and dissertations, reports and remarks by governmental and non-governmental organisations, speeches, magazines, and internet sources. Given that the data gathered are qualitative, the study employed qualitative data analysis techniques, notably critical discourse analysis on historical narratives and documents. The study's findings are that a ‘hegemonic mythological view’ was initially planted in the minds of ancient Egyptians, which later grew to be seen as a ‘sacred reality’ and was finally institutionalized through ineffective legal agreements. Although Egypt’s hydro hegemonic position was institutionalized in the first and second halves of the twentieth century, it is not a new phenomenon, but rather as old as the Pharaonic era, so the 1959 agreement should be understood as a continuation and revitalization of the Egyptian ‘hegemonic mythological view of the Nile’. However, since the 1990s, Egypt’s continuing hydro hegemony has been challenged and contested by non-hegemonic riparians largely because of the changing domestic, regional, and international environments. It can be concluded that there is no change, but signs of change foreshadowing a new order. This anticipated new order, however, is now influenced by the hegemonic power’s use of a mechanism of securitisation to produce hegemonic compliance by claiming an existential threat. Non-hegemonic riparians therefore need to use smart power, a combination of hard and soft power, to successfully transform the established order. First, there is a need to ‘decolonize the hegemonic mindset’ to show that ‘Egypt is not the scared husband of the Nile, rather that the Nile has made a geographical and legal marriage with 11 countries’. Second, there is a need for an ‘historic non-hegemonic block’ to bring into effect a consistent unified upstream position which will bring about a pragmatic change. Failure to do so would mean blessing the current hegemonic status quo and calling for the extinction of the commonly shared resource of the Nile waters.