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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TESFAYE Tafesse, Addis Ababa University, Center for African & Oriental Studies, Ethiopia

There are more than 200 transboundary river basins in the world that are shared by two or more countries. All of them possess their own peculiar problems and conflict resolution mechanisms. The variations thereof could be attributed to the differences in the physical, economic and political geographies of the basins as well as the extent of water availability in relation to demand. A classic source of conflict between downstream and upstream states has always been surfacing with the former underpinning the ‘no-harm rule’ and the latter ‘absolute sovereignty’. Being cognizant of the divergences in the interests of up-and downstream states, various international bodies, chief of which being the UN, have tried to come up with international laws on the non-navigational uses of international waters’. Due to historical, geographical, geo-strategic, and developmental factors, an asymmetry in the utilization of the water resources of the Nile is evident. Prior to the emergence of the NBI in 1999, there were some three attempts to forge cooperation. The fact that they were project-oriented and non-inclusive in nature hampered their evolvement into viable basin-wide organizations. The NBI has been established in 1999 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, as a transitional institution pending the advent of a permanent Nile River Basin Commission (NRBC). The latter requires, among others, the signing up of a legal and institutional framework, viz. the Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement (in short CFA) which is not yet concluded. This paper tries to look into the disagreements between upstream and downstream countries over the ‘water security’ issue that led to the stalemate of signing the CFA. Neither the technical expertise nor the Nile Council of Ministers (Nile-COM) nor the Heads of States of the Nile basin countries have failed to break the impasse. The fear is that such a situation may lead to partial multi-lateral and/or unilateral utilization of the Nile water resources. Since the ‘water security’ issue is more of a ‘political pronouncement’ than a ‘legal concept’ per se, there is a possibility for the two downstream states to give political credence to break the stalemate. It should be known that the United Nations Water Convention (UNWC) can take care of the fears and scepticism of the up-and downstream states through its two counter-balancing provisions, viz. ‘equitable and reasonable utilization’ and ‘obligation not cause significant harm’. This can, in turn, pave the way for the establishment of the much anticipated Nile River Basin Commission (NRBC).