Strategic mechanisms of water diplomacy

Based on (but going beyond) technical mechanisms of cooperation, in the last decade under the NBI process, the riparians have also been deploying strategic mechanisms of water diplomacy, at least along three different fronts: (1) having the riparian countries jointly developing strategic options for improved basin-wide management based on a collaborative water resources assessment (called simply Strategic Analysis hereafter); (2) moving toward a basin-wide multi-sectoral investment program incorporating projects of regional significance (referred to as the Nile Investment Agenda hereafter); and (3) promotion of cross-institutional cooperation between riparian countries beyond the (strict) water sector, namely on projects of regionalsignificance such as energy, environment, trade, and ultimately regional integration.

The NBI process is moving toward a joint basin management and planning framework that consolidates many of the partial elements developed over the last few decades. In a nutshell, joint basin planning is aimed at providing a mechanism for coordination of water resources management and development interventions in the basin. Joint planning serves two interrelated goals: to contribute toward harnessing the opportunities across national boundaries and to reduce tensions among riparian countries. Ultimately, a comprehensive planning framework will be instrumental to guide future water development and management in a manner that is optimal and sustainable, and that therefore decreases the likelihood of conflicts.

The foundation for the current strategic work being developed by the NBI was laid in the “NBI Strategy 2017-2017” (also known as the ten-year strategy).32 The strategy builds on the achievements of the last decade, but aims to translate the NBI’s Shared Vision into a more concrete agenda for the basin and defining the NBI’s specific niche in delivering this agenda. The “new” NBI strategic pillars are summarized in Figure 7.5—they are broad enough to encapsulate the agendas of all actors and back up a broader vision of regional economic cooperation as set out by the first Nile Basin Heads of State Summit in 2017.33 A joint planning framework is consequential for basin cooperation in the long run. However, articulation and adoption of an agreed upon joint planning and management framework implies

NBI strategy 2017-2027

Figure 7.5 NBI strategy 2017-2027: the six cooperation pillars.

Role of the Nile Basin initiative 157 building consensus regarding the (current and future) pressures, risks, and threats the common Nile water resources face.

The three primary strategic mechanisms are Strategic Analysis, the Nile Basin Investment Agenda, and cross-institutional cooperation in a multi-level, multi-actor context—each of which is discussed in turn below. First, in terms of Strategic Analysis, since 2016, all riparians except Egypt have endorsed and have been involved in an in-depth collaborative assessment of water supply and demand (irrigation, municipal and industrial use, hydropower, wetlands, etc.) which will inform the process of exploring strategic options for future developments.34 The motivations for this process come from: first, the fact that unless water resources development planning is coordinated, the basin is very likely to face severe water shortages; and, second, that there are technical solutions through which greater water use efficiency can be achieved and water shortages substantially alleviated.

Therefore, this strategic mechanism serves two purposes: (1) to establish a mechanism for regular update of the baseline and future water resources development that can be used to inform basin planning; and (2) to provide strategic recommendations for improved water resources management. These recommendations are to be consolidated into a basin framework management plan that will provide orientation and reinforce the rationale for the emerging regional investment agenda.

Second, in terms of the Nile Basin Investment Agenda, the development of multisectoral investment programs is one of the ongoing strategic mechanisms involving the NB1 and other regional institutions. The NB1 process has fostered sub-basin approaches to identifying investment projects of regional significance that are embedded in the basin agenda, such as taking into account cumulative effects, addressing priorities for sustainable and efficient water resources management and that have the collective buy-in from riparians. An example is the Rusumo Falls Hydropower Project (jointly owned by Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania), which has been developed to showcase opportunities around jointly owned infrastructure. One of the challenges for the NBI has, however, been that it has not been able to attract the major projects of regional significance to its platform, mainly due to countries’ concerns around the ability of the NBI to build consensus around them without unwarranted delay. For example, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam or GERD (launched in 2011) has been implemented outside the NBI framework when it could have been under ENTRO/NBI auspices.35 Building a basin-wide consensual investment agenda on priority projects is therefore also oneof the strategic directions for the NBI, which, however, is also highly contingent on the political process.

Third, the NBI process has increasingly recognized the multi-level and multi-actor context of cooperation. The NBI has therefore established cross-institutional cooperation with other intergovernmental mechanisms that also have a mandate related to the basin’s development. This is in an effort to coalesce around a broader Nile agenda. In particular, there are two regional institutions that cut across the basin: the Lake Victoria Basin Commission (LVBC) and the Water Unit of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (1GAD).36 Regarding the infrastructure and trade agenda, these are under the broader framework of the African Union and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (such as the East African Power Pool and the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa). Also, attempts are made to strengthen cross-border cooperation on sub-basins between countries under their respective cooperation arrangements. Moving forward, a comprehensive agenda for regional investments is at the heart of all these processes, as the recently developed strategic Eastern Nile Multi-Sector Investment Opportunity Analysis (MS10A) shows.37

These strategic mechanisms of water diplomacy are highly political and face challenges. The Strategic Analysis is progressing but Egypt is not participating in the assessment. Hence it will make the task of translating the recommendations into policy more complex. As for the Nile Investment Agenda, it requires numerous iterations among institutions, and it will need to transcend the common problems related to cross-institutional cooperation. The high-level engagement, such as high-level representatives of ministries of relevance and even heads of state, will be crucial for countries to jointly move forward with the agenda of regional development and integration.

In conclusion, the ongoing processes highlight the constructive proactive role that the NBI currently has, and can be expanded, to guide the Nile riparians toward regional, basin-wide, and holistic strategic thinking and action(s)—wherein the benefits are understood, generated, and shared, and transboundary costs, impacts, and risks minimized.

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