It is the world’s longest river; a 7,000km life-line for almost 400 million people.
Flowing north, the Nile runs through 11 countries, including South Sudan, from the highlands in the heart of Africa to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.
It is a source of sustenance, but also of tension – and even potential conflict.
For centuries, Egypt has sought to be Master of the Nile – seeking to tame the river’s unpredictable flow and ensure exclusive control over its use.
“We are wholly dependent on the Nile. We have no other water sources. So, the truth is any threat against the Nile waters will result in the reduction of Egypt’s share. This would threaten us with thirst and death …. We don’t have hostile intentions against anyone. We don’t go to war just for the sake of fighting. But if someone is going to stop the water, Egypt will die of thirst. Then we will fight … with all means available”
Hussam Swailam, former Egyptian military general
But today, countries upstream are challenging this dominance and are pushing for a greater say and greater share of the River Nile.
“I know that some people in Egypt have old-fashioned ideas based on the assumption that the Nile water belongs to them and that Egypt has the right to decide … who gets what of the Nile water and that the upper riparian countries are unable to use the Nile water because they will be unstable and because they will be poor. These circumstances have changed and changed forever”
Meles Zenawi, Ethiopian prime minister
This three-part series examines the historical roots and present-day realities of the Struggle Over the Nile – exploring the efforts of some to tame the unpredictable river, the colonial decisions that remain a point of bitter dispute and the geopolitical rivalries playing out today.
‘Africa’s large dams have not reversed poverty, they have not dramatically increased electricity rates, they have not dramatically improved water supply for people living there … What they have done is help create small industrial economy that tends to be companies from Europe and elsewhere and so these benefits are really really concentrated in a very small elite.’