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Legacy Agreements and Treaties on the Nile Basin

Updated: Feb 15, 2021

The 1902 Nile Water Agreement

  • Britain signed a treaty with Ethiopia on the utilization of Nile waters in 1902, but it was never ratified by Ethiopia due to variations in meaning between the English and Amharic versions.

The 1929 Nile Water Agreement

  • The Nile Commission was formed in 1925.

  • It defended the crucial role of the Nile River in the development of Egypt and Sudan since 1894.

  • Consisted of representatives from Egypt, Britain, and an independent chairman.

    • The outcome of the commission’s discussions was an exchange of notes between the governments of Britain and Egypt that became the Anglo-Egyptian Nile Water Agreement of 1929. By this agreement, Egypt received the lion’s share of the Nile waters—48 million cubic meters—and Sudan got a paltry 4 million cubic meters.

  • The 1929 agreement completely ignored the interests of the upstream peoples in the Great Lakes region, and it did not even mention the sovereign nation of Ethiopia, despite the fact that the Blue Nile originates in Ethiopia.

The 1959 Water Agreement

Egypt and Sudan established the 1959 Water Agreement for the full utilization of the Nile Waters.

  • The Agreement addressed other riparian nations only by stipulating that Egypt and Sudan present a unified front to them on any matter regarding the use of the Nile waters, including any water-related projects on the Nile and any of its tributaries.

  • The Agreement completely disregarded the utilization of the Nile waters by any country except Egypt and Sudan. It unilaterally asserted the principle of prior use: that is, essentially, that the signatories were entitled to total control of the waters of the Nile because they “had them first.” Egypt controlled 66 percent and Sudan 22 percent– Ethiopia zero percent.

  • This bilateral deal ignored and restricted the nine countries that share the Nile Basin. This eventually led to demands from the upstream countries for a new, equitable Nile waters regime.


Source: Aaron Tesfaye. “The Politics of the Imposed and Negotiation of the Emerging Nile Basin Regime,” International Journal of Ethiopian Studies, 7(1&2), 2013, pp. 57-76.

Source: Verhoeven, Harry. Black Gold for Blue Gold? Sudan’ Oil, Ethiopia’s Water and Regional Integration, Chatham House, AFP BP 2011/03, June 2011.

Source: Nasr, H., & Neef, A. “Ethiopia’s Challenge to Egyptian Hegemony in the Nile River Basin: The Case of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam,” Geopolitics, 21(4), 2016, pp. 969-989.



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