Published by World Politics Review,  March 27, 2015, and available in full on their website.

On Monday in Khartoum, the leaders of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia signed an initial accord on mutual water rights to the Nile River, removing another obstacle to Ethiopia’s massive Grand Renaissance Dam, which has been a source of tension with its neighbors since construction began just 10 miles from Sudan’s border in 2011. But the agreement is about a lot more than water. It may signal a seismic shift in the politics of northeastern Africa and could lead to a new axis of cooperation to manage, if not resolve, conflicts in one of the world’s most turbulent regions.

The accord’s details are not yet public, and it is likely that Egypt is still not ready to accede to an earlier 2010 agreement reached under the auspices of the Nile Basin Initiative, a partnership among all the riparian states, that increased upstream countries’ share of Nile waters, at Egypt’s expense. But no matter: The real significance of the deal is that the door is now open for Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia to cooperate on many more pressing political and security issues around them.


Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan have long histories of mutual suspicion to overcome, from tensions over sharing the Nile to being on opposite sides of many of the region’s conflicts. But the turmoil on their borders threatens them all, and the Nile water deal is the first sign that all three recognize the need for cooperation to face those hazards.

Alex de Waal is executive director of the World Peace Foundation and a research professor at the Fletcher School at Tufts University.

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