Publication Date

April 2015


Michael Nelson




English (United States)


What explains the patterns of conflict and cooperation in the Nile River basin? There are 263 global transboundary river basins that are prone to resource depletion due to the economic phenomena of the Tragedy of the Commons. Thus multilateral cooperation around freshwater resources is vital to stopping depletion of these scarce resources. The current research on determinates of cooperation and conflict in transboundary river basins is inconclusive, but tends to focus on structures of power, economic linkages, and levels of water stress to explain the presence or absence of cooperation. In doing so, the literature fails to acknowledge the significance of individual state action, and the actions of international financial institutions (IFIs). This project uses a case study of the Nile River and data from personal interviews with senior government officials, professional negotiators, scientific experts and scholars from Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan and Uganda. This project yields findings that complicate and challenge the prevailing explanations for conflict and cooperation in transnational freshwater basins. This study points to the following findings: 1) domestic prioritization of water policy can significantly influence cooperation basin-wide particularly following a period of domestic reconfiguration, 2) IFIs play an important role in transnational freshwater cooperation, and 3) increased water stress is not necessarily correlated with increased conflict. The implications of these findings provide insight for those interested in sustainable management of global freshwater. They highlight that transnational cooperation can be influenced by intentional actions by domestic governments and international actors.



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