Nile Discourse

Join the Discourse

The International Discourse on Development in the Nile River Basin is open to anybody who is interested to know more and keep in touch with developments in the Nile River Basin and is run by an independent Steering Committee drawn from NGOs, academics, journalists and other civil society representatives from the ten Nile Basin countries and the international development scene.

To subscribe, go to the Discourse web site.

The Discourse has initial funding from Canadian CIDA and is establishing an office in Entebbe, Uganda which will be separate from the NIB Secretariat. The Discourse project is initially being administered by the IUCN.

Objective of the Discourse

The objective of the International Discourse on the Nile River Basin is to promote a broad based, open dialogue, discussion and sharing of views on development in the Nile River Basin, mainly through the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), between all role-players, stakeholders and affected parties including civil society, academia, NGOs, the private sector, communities and governments at national, regional and international levels in all areas including poverty, conflict, the environment and development.

 

Background

The Nile River is the world's longest river and has played a central role in human history for many centuries. In modern Africa the Nile river basin contains all or part of the territory of ten countries - Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.

In 1992 the Council of Ministers responsible for water from the Nile countries began an initiative to promote co-operation and development in the Basin. Since then there has been an extensive process including the establishment of the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) in February 1999. For a detailed history of the process see the NBI web site History section - for information on the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), go to the Nile Basin Page - for a summary visit the introduction to the NBI.

The NBI is likely to result in a range of projects and activities, some of which will be basin-wide, involving all countries in the basin, and some of which will involve groups of two or more countries. Some of the projects will be 'soft' comprising capacity building, confidence building, policy development etc., whilst others are likely to comprise 'hard' development of infrastructure, river management, flood protection, watershed restitution, hydropower etc.. These projects will have an impact on the people of the Basin and on global interests - it is important that as wide a group as possible are involved in this process.

Activities

In January 2001 the IUCN, WWF and World Bank jointly hosted a workshop in the IUCN Headquarters in Gland, Switzerland, which was financed by the Rockefeller Foundation, in order to investigate the establishment of an International Discourse on the Nile. The workshop was attended by 27 participants from Nile basin countries, international organisations and the hosts. It was agreed that the concept of a establishing a Discourse was important.

In June 2001 the 2nd Discourse workshop was held in Entebbe, Uganda at which it was agreed that the IUCN would host the project and provide a legal status for the proposed Discourse Desk to be established in Entebbe, Uganda. At the workshop a statement was prepared for the first meeting of the International Consultative Conference on the Nile (ICCON) - a donor meeting to raise funds for the NBI held in Geneva in June 2001. The Discourse was represented by 4 participants nominated at the workshop.

In June 2001 the Discourse was represented at the ICCON meeting in Geneva by 4 people, supported by the IUCN. The Discourse presented a Statement at the meeting (see the statement here) which was read by Dr. Patricia Kameri-Mbote of the African Centre for Technology Studies, Kenya. It is significant that the voice of civil society was heard at this meeting, the first time that the official Nile Basin Initiative was formally presented to the public. The statement highlighted that the representatives of Civil Society and NGOs engaged to that point in the Discourse supported the Nile Basin Initiative in its Vision and emphasised clearly that all people affected by the Initiative should have a voice and be heard.

In March 2002 Canadian CIDA approved a grant of 1 m Canadian $ for the first year activities of the Discourse as a grant to IUCN to set up the Discourse Desk, recruit initial staff for the project and begin initial activities.

In June 2002 the 3rd Discourse Workshop was held in Cairo, Egypt from 25 - 27 June 2002. The event was attended by 37 participants including academics, journalists and NGO representatives from 8 Nile countries, 2 international NGOs and representatives from international development agencies.

Rationale

Development is a multi-faceted process which defies precise definition - it means different things to different people depending on the perspective from which an individual or a community views the process. The larger the scope of proposed development, the larger the number of people involved and the greater the possible impacts. In large and complex systems such as an international river basin with varying political terrain, broad cultural diversity, a wide range of interdependent ecosystems, complex hydrology, fragile economies and enormous potential, activity in one field may have unforeseen and profound consequences in a range of other areas. It is for these reasons that it is critical that great care and wisdom is exercised in venturing down the development road. It is also imperative that as many voices from as many different perspectives as possible are given an opportunity to add their views, hopes and concerns to the whole. The more voices that are heard, the more likely it will be that a full and composite picture is built from which to meet the needs of the greatest number of parties.

Each party is more or less articulate and more or less capable of influencing the perspective of the whole. The articulate and those who are able to use modern communication tools to their advantage are not necessarily those with the greatest legitimacy or those who will be most immediately impacted by development, in fact the converse is usually the case. It is particularly important, if a complete picture is to emerge, that the voice of the inarticulate and the poor is heard. This is often done on a proxy basis with the articulate speaking on behalf of the voiceless, particularly in the case of the very poor and sectors such as the environment. It cannot be assumed however, that the agendas of those who purport to speak of behalf of the voiceless are congruent with the agendas of the voiceless. It is always preferable to find ways to enable the poor to speak for themselves.

It is a considerable challenge to create an environment where parties are able to share their perspectives and hear the views of others. It must be premised on the basis that everyone has a part of the picture and that there is no single truth in which all the aspirations of all parties come together. Instead there are many truths, the proponents of which need to interact, seek to understand each other and make compromises for a future which is inevitably inter-linked.

Creating the environment in which such a dialogue can happen presents a number of challenges. The process of catalyzing a discourse and providing resources to ensure its effectiveness is itself inevitably going to influence the process. The discourse is not owned by any party or group of interests - it has no physical location - it is open-ended and has no forgone conclusions. It is a collective exercise through which opinions are modified and perspectives are broadened.

In the particular instance of the Nile Basin, there is a great deal at stake and there are a great many different and divergent interests, both from within and from outside of the Basin. The voices of all interested and concerned parties need to be heard. Louder voices do not imply greater legitimacy or that the agendas of the articulate will promote the interests of the poor in the basin. The Nile river has important local, regional and global dimensions which results in there being a large number of interested parties concerned about the direct consequences and the externalities of poverty, conflict, environmental degradation and development. The discourse will involve civil society at large, NGOs, academia, the private sector, development agencies and governments.

Facilitating the establishment and ongoing functioning of the discourse will be a delicate process which will need to be handled with care. The role of the World Bank and its partners in the Nile Basin Initiative will be critical. This will need to be the subject of ongoing discussion and planning.

Links

Visit the Nile Feature Page on TheWaterPage

Visit the Home page of the Nile Basin Discourse - an independent civil society action program www.nilediscourse.org