The Nile River Basin a good startingThe Nile River Basin a good starting

The Nile’s and
its tributaries more recent history involves much discussion around hydroelectric
schemes. This makes the river’s modern history complex and it has had wide
reaching consequences both within the region as well as in similar cases abroad
(Tvedt, 2010). When considering the history of politics in the Nile River Basin
a good starting point is 1882 when the British Empire extended their influence
to a full occupation of Egypt. This was followed in 1892 by the British concurring
of Sudan. Since being colonised the Nile River Basin has been subject to numerous
treaties and agreements regarding development of the Nile and its tributaries
waters. These agreements have not resulted in equal rights for all riparian
countries. It is important to understand the history of colonial treaties and
laws as they still have an impact on how states approach negotiations regards
the Nile and its tributaries waters today. Most of the politics from the
colonial area are between Britain, Italy, and Ethiopia. When European powers drew
borders, divided Africa amongst themselves, Ethiopia was designated to Italy.

However, Italy was never able to successfully colonise Ethiopia. because of
this, some treaties treat the upper Blue Nile as being in Italy’s territory while
others treat it as being under Ethiopian control. some treaties also mention
the Sobat River. This is a river that flows from the border of what is today
Ethiopia and South Sudan into the White Nile.

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In Article III
of the Treaty between Great Britain and Ethiopia signed on May 15 in 1902. The
article states “His Majesty the Emperor Menilik 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” since its signing the treaty has become highly contested by
Ethiopia. This loarley stems from the fact that in article III the Amhara
version of the treaty does does not translate properly to the English version.

The English version states that “His Majesty the Emperor Menilik 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.” Ethiopia did not draw the same understanding as this from the Amhara
version of the treaty they read.


Article IV(a) of the Tripartite Treaty was signed
on December 13 in 1906 between Britain, France and Italy. The article states “To
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.” This has the effect of stripping sovereignty
to develop the waterways in its territory away from Ethiopia. Though Ethiopia
rejected the legitimacy of this treaty they did not have the military or
political strength to regain control for the development of the waters of the
Nile’s tributaries in its territory.


1925 Italy and Britain had an exchange recorded in notes regarding Lake Tana. Relevantly,
these notes stated “…Italy
recognizes the prior hydraulic rights of Egypt and the Sudan… not to
construct on the head waters of the Blue Nile and the White Nile (the Sobat)
and their tributaries and effluents any work which might sensibly modify their
flow into the main river.” Ethiopia opposed this agreement that the
British and Italians had formed. They notified both Britain and Italy of their
opposition to the agreement. To the Italians they said, “To the Italian
government: The fact that you have come to an agreement, and the fact that you
have thought it necessary to give us a joint notification of that agreement,
make it clear that your intention is to exert pressure, and this in our view,
at once raises a previous question. This question which calls for preliminary
examination, must therefore be laid before the League of Nations.” To the
British they said, “To the British government: The British Government has
already entered into negotiations with the Ethiopian Government in regard to
its proposal, and we had imagined that, whether that proposal was carried into
effect or not, the negotiations would have been concluded with us; we would
never have suspected that the British Government would come to an agreement
with another Government regarding our Lake.” The League of Nations
demanded an explanation from both Italy and Britain and they both denied challenging
Ethiopia’s sovereignty over Lake Tana. The League of Nations, however, had no
way to enforce any ruling it made and therefore was not able to help Ethiopia
that could not compete with colonial powers. Ethiopia had no way of enforcing
their sovereignty even with the League of Nations.


and Anglo-Egyptian Sudan came to an agreement signed on May 7 in 1929. The
agreement included several important points. Egypt and Sudan can use 48 and 4
billion cubic meters of the Nile’s waters per year. Between January the 20th
and July the 15th, which is the dry season, Egypt has exclusive
rights to the flow of the Nile. Egypt has the right to monitor the flow of the
Nile in upper riparian countries. Egypt has the right to develop the waters of
the Nile without the consent of any upper riparian countries. Egypt has veto
power on any projects upstream that would have a negative impact on them. Essentially
what this meant was that Egypt had total control over the Nile’s waters during
the dry season, which is when its waters are most in demand. Sudan was left
with very little water resources guaranteed for them and no other riparian
country had any water resources allotted to them if it was from one of the Nile’s


1959 Nile Waters Agreement was signed between Sudan and Egypt that set out the complete
utilisation of the Nile’s waters. This new agreement included many note worthy
points. The agreement allowed Egypt the right to construct the Aswan High Dam
which is located close to the Egypt’s border with Sudan. It can store an entire
annual flow of the Nile river in reserve. The Nile’s flow agreed to be be approximately
84 billion cubic meters at the Aswan High Dam. The amounts Egypt and Sudan are
allowed to use were also change. Egypt was now allowed to use 55.5 billion
cubic meters and Sudan was allowed to use 18.5 billion cubic meters. It was
decided that a quantity of water representing the amount lost through
avaperation as well as other factors would be deducted from the amount that was
assigned for Egypt and Sudan to use. This was calculated to be roughly 10
billion cubic meters.