Small Wars Journal

Nile Basin Conflict: Perspectives on Water Sharing, Food Shortages, Civil Wars and Terrorism

Wed, 12/28/2011 - 4:44am

Nile Basin Conflict: Perspectives on Water Sharing, Food Shortages, Civil Wars and Terrorism

by CDR Youssef H. Aboul-Enein

The Culture and Conflict Review

Predicting future conflicts between states are contingent upon an appreciation of a host of complex factors such as tribal, social, economic, environmental, cultural and even basic survival. While conflicts may appear to be resolved, pressures such as climate change, disease, even the economic development of neighboring states at the expense of others could lead to an escalation of hostilities. Regional instability can have an impact on an ever-increasing globalized environment, which can then affect the United States in many ways. America’s interests are tied to many nations around the globe. Nowhere is this more pertinent than America’s long-term quest for stability in the Middle East and on the African continent. However, the future stability in the Middle East may not rest on finally achieving a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, but may be the result of more pressing problems that affect hundreds of millions of people with the potential of causing instability to one-tenth of the African continent from Egypt to Rwanda. It is the age-old problem of how to find a just solution to the issue of sharing the water resources of the Nile River Basin. With the downfall of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt may now begin to address the Nile question more seriously and in collaboration with other Nile states, instead of being sidestepped by a majority of the states that share this river.

Water resource issues are among those that preoccupy the ten nations that share the Nile, known as riparian (those that share a river or rivers) nations as well as its tributaries, and lakes. All these Nile riparian nations are experiencing massive population growth, while other nations like Ethiopia and Uganda are emerging from decades of civil war and have a driving desire to exploit water resources within their national borders. However, Ethiopian and Ugandan projects along its rivers and lakes, if left unchecked, can influence Sudanese and Egyptian water levels along the Nile. To say that crisis along the Nile is inevitable is too simplistic. Although there is literature that supports the view of a future war over the Nile, the reality is much more complex. It features a history of cooperation on some fronts, covert blocking of financing on others, outright support for revolutionary movements, and blatant threats of war mainly between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. What is clear is that the global economy and the United States cannot afford a conflict that finds the African nations bordering the Red Sea in chaos. This could come in the form of direct hostilities between Egypt and Ethiopia, or famine that drives whole populations to desperate measures along the Red Sea coast that could feature an increase of piracy along these coastlines as a means of survival.



Wed, 12/28/2011 - 7:13pm

An interesting, by necessity a long article on the Nile River's potential to cause conflict and co-operation. Sadly it appears to have been assembled and written up before the independence of Southern Sudan, so largely misses out on an important factor. For example the UN mission remains in place there contrary to what the author writes. Elsewhere one finds signs that Ethiopian troops remain in Somalia.

Yes the affairs of the Nile basin could have an impact today on US policies in the region, whether there is a need for what the author advocates is a moot point.

Where is a mention of what the USA can offer - that is not military - notably with satellite imagery, water resource expertise, mapping etc? There is no pressing local need, repeat local need for any US military role on the ground, even if it is a National Guard (Farming & Irrigation) detachment.

Perhaps every such paper needs to have 'terrorism' in the title and passages on the threat of local groups and the inspiration etc AQ offers. Here in my opinion it is simply out of place. Even the author's own map shows Somalia is not a Nile Basin state, so why mention that cursed place?

A good primer for the USA's non-military agencies? Yes. Will the USA actively offer what it can help with today? I think not, a point the author should have covered.