“May You Always Drink from the Nile”

(a spoken Egyptian blessing)

NileEgypt known as “the gift of the Nile”, gives much reverence to the Nile as their umbilical cord, recognizing the Nile as a major factor to the abundance of Egyptian life in ancient times as well as today. The Nile being the longest river in the world, from its cooling waters come fish, drinking water, irrigation, and transportation channels. From its friable riverbank soil (equal mixture of sand and silt), comes cultivated farming land, mud used for bricks, and papyrus for books and boats. About 95% of the Egyptian population lives along the Nile due to Egypt’s arid and drought terrain that lacks waterfall (NBI, 2015).

Khattab, O. (n.d.). The Nile. Retrieved October 17, 2015, from http://www.slideshare.net/OmarKhattab4/nile-river?qid=d233f4c6-5b83-4f8e-88bd-78170a02249c&v=qf1&b=&from_search=59

The Nile plays a major role in Egypt’s multilateralism and/or bilateralism political posture and strategy. Multilateralism, referring to a collective action by multiple parties and/or bilateralism, a collective action by two parties (Thaku, 2015). This has been a very important and a controversial issue in Egypt and other riparian states politics, pertaining to the utilization of the Nile Basin. It’s natural ecosystem and infrastructure provide advancement such as the use of hydropower potential, and provide major resources economically, that are significant to sustaining and increasing global trade and biological diversity (NBI, 2015). Also, the development of  dam’s further create concern regarding control of water passage to up or downstream states.








The Nile is shared by 11 riparian states, Burundi, DR Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, The Sudan, Tanzania,Uganda, and Eritrea, and has two tributary waterways. The Blue Nile accounting for 86% of the total Nile, and covers the countries referred to as the upstream states, and the White Nile representing only about 15% of the total Nile, and covers countries referred to the downstream states (Cascao, 2009).

blue and white_nile

In and around 1929 Egypt entered into a “Nile Water Agreement” with Great Britain yielding leniency to Sudan and other British colonies as to the utilization of the Nile river. The agreement gave specific water allocations and privilege to Egypt and Sudan as having “natural and historic rights” to the Nile waters (Cascao, 2009). At that time Ethiopia was not included in the agreement and refused to acknowledge it, along with Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. This was viewed as a bilateralism strategy on the part of Egypt in maintaining control over the Nile.

1929 agreement timeline (Cascao, 2009)


The 1929 agreement was renegotiated in 1959 after Sudan’s independence, and Egypt’s plans to build the Aswan Dam, leading to the reallocation of Nile Basin water. Further multilateral negotiations were then prompted by the other 10 Nile riparian states for their rights to the waterways. This lead to the establishment of several projects in 1967, 1983 and 1992, as Egypt continued to adhere to their agreement rights based on the 1929/1959 agreements. The 10 riparian states went on to establish the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), http://nilebasin.org. This initiative was to develop an equitable and sustainable common benefit regarding the utilization, protection, and conservation of the Nile Basin water resources (NBI, 2015). This initiative went on to formulate the establishment of the Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA), outlining principles, rights and collaborative management and expansion of the Nile Basin waters, http://www.nilebasin.org/index.php/about-us/the-nb-cooperative-framework (NBI, 2015).

Member states

Ethiopia has been initiating a ratification of the 1929/1959 agreement, while Egypt and Sudan maintain their bilateralism strategy. Egypt mainly objected to a part of the ratification in Article 14(b) which states, “not to significantly affect the water security of any Nile Basin State” and wanted to replace it with “not to adversely affect the water security and current uses and rights of any other Nile Basin States”, however, it was felt that the rewording was just a way to maintain the old agreement rights of Egypt and Sudan (Yigzaw, 2013).


The NBI and CFA are proactive in a multilateral approach for all riparian states to accept the New Nile Agreement for collective interest and sustainable peace in the Nile Basin. They feel it is imperative that Sudan joins the upstream states in multilateral corporation efforts to increase the benefits and utilization of the Nile Basin, and add pressure to Egypt stronghold to the 1929/1959 agreements’. However, Ethiopia’s development of a new dam, adds further concern to Egypt in Ethiopia’s questionable unilateralism strategy, and in the reduction and control of the Nile Basin waters to downstream states. As the saying goes you either have to “sink or swim.”


Cascao, A. (n.d.). Changing Power Relations in the Nile River Basin: Unilateralism vs. Coorporaton? WaA Www.water-alternative.org, 2(2), 245-268.

Thakur, R. (n.d.). The United Nations in Global Governance: Rebalancing Organized Multilateralism for Current and Future Challenges. Retrieved October 17, 2015, from http://www.un.org/en/ga/president/65/initiatives/GlobalGovernance/Thakur_GA_Thematic_Debate_on_UN_in_GG.pdf

Wikipedia Multilateralism & Bilateralism the free encyclopedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multilateralism, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bilateralism

Yigzaw, Z. (n.d.). The Nile: Why multilateralism and no room for divide and rule? Retrieved April 20, 2013, from http://www.thereporterethiopia.com/index.php/opinion/commentary/item/369-the-nile-why-multilateralism-and-no-room-for-divide-and-rule?

4 thoughts on ““May You Always Drink from the Nile”

  1. Nice post:)
    I understand that Egypt have relied on the Nile, and Egypt and Sudan wanted to monopolized the benefits from the Nile.
    I thinks that conflicts over resources often happened in the world history, and it is difficult to get wise aggreement from all ripatian countries.
    Thank you!


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