Discussion Paper

Revisiting hydro-hegemony from a benefitsharing perspective: the case of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

Tawfik, Rawia
Discussion Paper (5/2015)

Bonn: German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE)

ISBN: 978-3-88985-669-2
Preis: 6 €

Over the last decade, hydro-hegemony has gained currency as a theoretical framework for analysing transboundary water conflict and cooperation. This study argues that, although hydro-hegemony provides a useful analytical tool for understanding hydro-political interactions around transboundary rivers, it has not sufficiently questioned the tactics used by counter-hegemons. Rather than taking counter-hegemony for granted as a means towards a more equitable order for sharing water and benefits, the study highlights the importance of weighing up the advantages and disadvantages of counter-hegemonic tactics in general, and of large dam projects in particular, and examining their objectives, along with the nature of the emerging order that results from their enforcement. In doing so, it presents the first attempt to employ the concept of benefit-sharing to assess the impacts of counter-hegemonic tactics on the hegemon, the non-hegemon(s), the prospects of cooperation between riparian states, and the river. It uses the case of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) constructed on the Blue Nile to examine the opportunities and challenges created by counterhegemonic tools. The study argues that although the GERD is a ‘game changer’ that challenges Egypt’s long-standing hegemony in the Nile Basin, Ethiopia’s approach in constructing the dam has increased uncertainties about the project’s impact on Ethiopia, on downstream countries, and on prospects of cooperation in the Eastern Nile on and beyond the project. Increasing the dam’s size and its storage capacity compared to earlier plans opened a debate on whether the objective of the dam is actually more about controlling water flow than about the production of hydropower. The political tensions around the project have led to the formation of new regional relationships to protect or contest the construction of the dam, a tendency that continued even after the agreement between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan on general principles to reduce tensions over the project. Contrary to the predictions of hydrohegemony scholars, a less stable order characterised by ‘contested control’, rather than an equitable order of ‘shared control’, may emerge if Eastern Nile countries fail to address the outstanding issues related to the project. The study finally suggests steps to build trust and translate the recent Declaration of Principles between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan into a benefit-sharing deal.

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