The figure depicted on the cover of this issue of The Niles is called Sakimatwemtwe, or “the one with many heads”. It is a symbol of equity, wisdom, and discernment for the Lega people in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The multi-headed figure encourages us to see all sides of an issue and have knowledge of everything going on around us. It speaks to our inability to act alone. To move forward and overcome current troubles, we need the support of others.
Let’s apply this wisdom to today’s cross-border troubles in the Nile Basin. A border refers to both, a line that separates and distinguishes between two entities, and the edge or boundary of something. In this sense, borders help us delineate our own limits and compare ourselves to others. These benevolent definitions see borders as tools for knowing oneself and the other, eventually reaching more understanding of both.
We face challenges that no single entity can overcome alone.
In reality, however, borders are regarded as mechanisms of separation. Crossing borders becomes, at times, defiance of the status quo. Unlawful crossing of these borders triggers conflict, even violence. This framework of understanding the world might have functioned in the past.
Today, however, we face challenges that no single entity can overcome alone. Remaining stuck, for example, within our national borders while facing issues such as food insecurity, environmental degradation, climate change, and its effects is outdated and dangerous.
While the distribution of water within and among nation-states is and will be at the root of many conflicts amidst growing populations and climate change, it also is a central pillar of renewable energy generation in the region and the transition to a green economy – a prime example of the close nexus between conflict management and transnational sustainability.
Looking at the world, and the challenges we face, through the lens of interconnectedness and interdependence offers a deeper and more exhaustive understanding. It also points out solutions. Therefore, as the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) does, encouraging cross-border cooperation and joint projects is a firm step in this direction. NBI’s approach to dealing with conflict starts with getting beyond positions and interests, and identifying the basic human needs across the basin through dialogue and cooperation.
As the proverb goes, “Trouble don’t last always”. Looking at conflicts in the basin from a cooperative approach, in other words, looking both inwards and outwards for opportunities and solutions, opens the door to overcoming current troubles. It also offers a blueprint for settling disputes, what role regional organisations can play, and how to move towards agreement on concrete mechanisms.
To handle trouble smoothly, we need to set up channels for communication and cooperation, both within and across borders, whether physical, mental or even imaginary. Sakimatwemtwe, with its many heads, is a reminder that completeness and accomplishment can only follow when the connections one has to others are honoured and utilised.
Be like Sakimatwematwe.