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Water governance decentralization patterns across Africa

Corrie Hannah1, Elizabeth Baldwin1, Abbey Fluckiger,2, Laura McCann1, Nupur Joshi1, Gabriela Silva Santa Rosa Macedo3, Andrew Zimmer1, Zack Guido1, Tom Evans1

1University of Arizona, USA
2Posner Center for International Development, USA
3University of Campinas, Brazil

Environmental and anthropogenic pressures on freshwater resources present ongoing challenges to food security and livelihoods across the world. Following internationally recognized policy frameworks to secure these scarce water resources for agricultural and domestic purposes, several countries in Africa have devolved water governance to local groups of water users to promote community-based water management. Several case studies of water sector decentralization in Africa have described devolution processes and subsequent outcomes. Yet, a knowledge gap remains regarding the full range of water governance decentralization across Africa. Based on systematic coding of legal water documents from the FAOLEX database and synthesis of additional sociopolitical and agroecological secondary data, we identify which countries in Africa have legally adopted (and not adopted) national decentralized water governance policies. We performed an event history analysis to characterize water governance decentralization at the country-level and found a diffusion of geographic and temporal trends in decentralized water policy adoption. Characteristics most related to administrative water governance decentralization include the legal origins of water governance, greater areas of arable land per capita, total renewable water resources per capita, and aridity, with some nominally significant influence of democracy and overseas development assistance. Future water governance strategy for African countries will benefit from knowing how countries have pursued decentralization policies in the past, especially with respect to the historical legacies of water policy origins and agroecological conditions.

Modèles de décentralisation de la gouvernance de l'eau en Afrique

Corrie Hannah1, Elizabeth Baldwin1, Abbey Fluckiger,2, Laura McCann1, Nupur Joshi1, Gabriela Silva Santa Rosa Macedo3, Andrew Zimmer1, Zack Guido1, Tom Evans1

1 Université de l'Arizona, États-Unis
2 Centre Posner pour le développement international, États-Unis
3 Université de Campinas, Brésil

Les pressions environnementales et anthropiques sur les ressources en eau douce posent des défis permanents à la sécurité alimentaire et aux moyens de subsistance à travers le monde. Suite à des cadres politiques internationalement reconnus pour sécuriser ces rares ressources en eau à des fins agricoles et domestiques, plusieurs pays africains ont délégué la gouvernance de l’eau à des groupes locaux d’utilisateurs de l’eau afin de promouvoir la gestion communautaire de l’eau. Plusieurs études de cas sur la décentralisation du secteur de l’eau en Afrique ont décrit les processus de dévolution et les résultats ultérieurs. Pourtant, un manque de connaissances subsiste concernant l’éventail complet de la décentralisation de la gouvernance de l’eau en Afrique. Sur la base d’un codage systématique des documents juridiques sur l’eau provenant de la base de données FAOLEX et d’une synthèse de données secondaires sociopolitiques et agroécologiques supplémentaires, nous identifions les pays africains qui ont légalement adopté (et non adopté) des politiques nationales décentralisées de gouvernance de l’eau. Nous avons effectué une analyse de l’historique des événements pour caractériser la décentralisation de la gouvernance de l’eau au niveau national et trouvé une diffusion des tendances géographiques et temporelles dans l’adoption décentralisée de la politique de l’eau. Les caractéristiques les plus liées à la décentralisation administrative de la gouvernance de l’eau comprennent les origines légales de la gouvernance de l’eau, de plus grandes superficies de terres arables par habitant, les ressources en eau renouvelables totales par habitant et l’aridité, avec une influence nominalement significative de la démocratie et de l’aide au développement à l’étranger. La future stratégie de gouvernance de l’eau pour les pays africains gagnera à savoir comment les pays ont mené des politiques de décentralisation dans le passé, en particulier en ce qui concerne l’héritage historique des origines de la politique de l’eau et des conditions agroécologiques.


5 Responses

  1. This is a very good overview on decentralization in Africa. Maybe detailed follow-up case studies might help to better understand the variation. It might also be useful in order to understand the different decentralization outcomes and underlying reasons.

    1. Hi Everisto, Thank you – I completely agree, detailed follow up case studies would be helpful to understand the variation in outcomes and a logical next step. For my side, I’d be keen to know whether the different national legal governance systems underly the extent to which water users collectively engage in water governance within a country…. whether it water policy origins extend beyond the national legal/administrative frameworks.

      Especially, it would be very interesting to do cross-country case study of comparisons of water governance systems that are predominantly and administratively based on French civil law, English common law, Islamic customary law, and mixed origin (like in South Africa).

      As of now, I’ve come across a lot of case studies looking at places where WUA-type institutions have already been implemented, including their outcomes of effectiveness. But, I’d be curious to read more cases for what types of systems are in place in cases where WUAs have not been pursued.

  2. Would it be feasible to make a more detailed assessment of the extent to which WUA laws actually empower WUAs, not just to organize and be registered, but to control water distribution, improve infrastructure, determine permissible crops, etc?

    Similarly, would it be possible to assess the extent to which water rights provisions recognize customary water rights and enable collective water rights, for example held by communities or WUAs?

    1. I realized I’ve replied below and not directly to your comment.

      I also want to say that I’m eagerly awaiting the full results from Rights and Resources Initiative & Environmental Law Institute on “A Comparative Analysis of National Laws and Regulations Recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ and Local Communities’ Rights to Freshwater”.

      Although not only on Africa, their work takes a closer look at customary rights among several countries across the globe

  3. Hi Bryan, Thank you, I like your questions. I think it would be really helpful to know the extent to which WUA laws actually empower WUAs, and this would definitely require another assessment. In terms of feasibility, I anticipate that the topic could be challenging from a logistical standpoint to cover the continent of Africa, but possible for a few countries.

    First, the approach would need to define what empowerment means, and then be able have the means to assess this level of empowerment for WUAs within a country. While WUA laws provide the legal framework for WUAs to exist (which can help legitimize community-based governance), there is no guarantee that WUAs are empowered. On the other hand, there are definitely some cases of WUA development where WUAs are used as a means to control resources, where intentions to formalize decentralization-based structures simply re-iterate state governance. In this context, I imagine investigating WUA empowerment within a single country, would require some extensive contextual knowledge of a country and targeting investigation/observation of WUA empowerment at national, basin, and community levels, and across multiple stakeholders. Scaling this approach up for each country in Africa would be ambitious, but could possibly be done with a cross-case study based analysis for a few representative countries based on water policy origins and agroecological contexts.

    To your second question, the FAOLEX databased only notes whether a country has a water rights provision, but I think it would be possible (and with the right team) to review each country’s constitution to see whether and how customary water rights are recognized. Though, like trying to understand WUA empowerment, the challenge is being able to ascertain/measure how the recognition of customary water rights is actually upheld within a country. Yet, at the same time, I understand from the literature that for contexts across Africa where state/legal influences do not dominate water governance, customary forms of water governance are most often used regardless of whether they are recognized in the constitution, or used in parallel with other legally established forms of water governance. But, it would certainly be useful to know how customary rights are legally/nationally recognized across the African continent.

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