Water politics in the Nile basin – emerging land acquisitions and the hydropolitical landscape

Researchers: Terje Oestigaard and Mats Hårsmar, with researchers from SLU and SIWI.

Established in 2013

The Nile Basin is today shared by more than 400 million people. In 2030 they are expected to amount to 700 million. Meanwhile, water availability in the region will likely decrease as a result of climate change. Cooperation on the river's water is problematic. A cooperation agreement has been signed by six upstream countries, while Sudan and Egypt continue referring to the agreements concluded during the colonial period. The current political situation in the region is rapidly changing with the revolution in Egypt and the partition of Sudan. In parallel, several international factors, including rising food and energy prices, has led to a sharp rise of investment in agricultural land, particularly in Africa.  

This research aims to investigate the water and land nexus in the Nile Basin. More precisely it seeks to understand how the current surge in land acquisitions and investments by foreign countries, sovereign wealth funds and private corporations, as well as domestic investors, will affect transboundary water interaction in the region. Will new types of conflicts arise, and power relationships between countries change as a result?  

The research will be investigative in nature and focus on establishing connections between key land acquisitions and their potential impact on the hydropolitical situation. Being a multidisciplinary research problem we intend to draw theoretical tools from political science, international relations, sociology and economics. We will use an adaptive theoretical approach which recognises the interplay between the empirical and theoretical material. A qualitative case study approach will be used, where cases will be selected based on their geographical and hydropolitical relevance. Such a method is the most suitable when seeking to analyse dynamics between social and political processes where contentious issues are the concern. The countries selected for case studies preliminary include Egypt Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan and Uganda.

The project is of a strong significance. This is true both from an academic perspective as well as from a policy perspective. Academically the merging of the areas of land acquisitions and hydropolitics represents virgin territory. Just emerging in the academic literature are studies focusing on land acquisitions and their implications for food security, farmers and land. However, as noted above the linkage between land acquisitions and hydropolitical relations has rarely been made. The little research that has been done on land acquisitions and water relates primarily to the national level. From a policy perspective the research is likewise of great significance for a number of reasons. First, the current impasse in the Nile Basin riparian relations with the risk of escalating conflicts calls for greater understanding of this new dynamic in the basin. Second, the political turmoil in Egypt and the uncertain developments are reasons for greater understanding of this process. Third, the wider debate on food security and sovereignty as well as bio-energy would likewise benefit from increased knowledge about productive opportunities and limitations in the Nile Basin region. The policy implications are key to an improved understanding how to address these issues from a development perspective in that it will have implications from a poverty reduction perspective.

The project is being funded by the Swedish Research Council.

Land use
Mats Hårsmar
North Africa
Terje Oestigaard
Water resources
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