Alan Nicol - Institutions and convergence: Initial thoughts on river basins and regional integration in Africa

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Presentation at the STEPS Conference 2010 - Pathways to Sustainability: Agendas for a new politics of environment, development and social justice

Text of Alan Nicol - Institutions and convergence: Initial thoughts on river basins and regional integration...

  • 1. Institutions and ConvergenceInitial thoughts on river basins and regional integration in Africa STEPS Symposium September 2010 Alan Nicol

2. Introduction

  • When elephants fight the grass suffers
  • Thinking in the watery domain, does the same apply to large institutions involved in RBM and regional integration?
  • Is there a regionalist juggernaut?
      • Examine processes of river basin and regional economic community convergence
      • Consider the development consequences beyond the oft-repeated policy mantras of trade liberalism and market forces
      • Unpack some of the social and economic issues and address the complexities and implications for local livelihoods
      • Map out a research framework that can produce new insights and help in challenging the current policy landscape

3. Regional integration

  • Key features
    • Long history of attempts
    • Complex political-economic origins
      • Self-reliance / bloc-building / post-Colonial / Apartheid response / institution-building
      • Enshrined in key declarations
      • But little internal trade generated
    • Challenges and obstacles
      • Beyond a few economies, major reliance on commodity exports
      • Population employment environment relationships are critical; large-scale dependence on natural capital

4. River basin organisations

  • Lifelines for development increasingly so
    • Allcountries have shared rivers
      • 64 international basins cover 2/3 of Africa
      • 17 major basins shared by 31 countries (3 share 9+ countries)
      • Recent institutional development (partic. East Africa)
      • 14 major RBCs / 14 RECs
    • Account for 90% of the available freshwater
  • Significance of the RBM narrative
    • big water with a focus on infrastructure?
    • Pushing the post WCD institutional consensus
    • Benefit sharingbut what is this in reality?
    • What happens to small water users / other livelihoods
      • Stakeholder narratives are they incorporated?
      • Problemsheds arenotwatersheds? Where does IWRM fit
  • Relationships to RECs are increasingly important RECs are becoming economic drivers, but this is generating a Bolognaise of interrelationships


  • Network analysis
    • How do these interrelationships operate and at which levels
  • Answers will help in determing problem-solving approaches at different levels
    • Understanding institutional capital
  • Social/institutional network analysis can be used to asses impact of network/node types on development options and outcomes
    • Significance of more loosely, but widely networked versus tighter, but more closed

6. Key issues

  • Institutional overlap and complexity (a known)
  • New policy narratives
    • IWRM and development policy a new political economy of benefit sharing
    • New power dynamics between state and supra-national development vehicles
    • A contesting of new policy space within regional arrangements

7. East Africa / Lake Victoria

  • Heavily invested in as a regional benefit sharing opportunity and lauded as an example of convergence
  • EAC established at same time as NBI
    • Lake Victoria designated economic growth zone under EAC
  • Coordinated development key goal
    • LVBC now a specialised institution within the EAC
    • But relationship to NBI uneasy

8. Climate moderator in region Rich in biodiversity Largest inland water fishery Major inland transport linkage But huge development pressures Source of water 9. 10. ECOWAS/NBA

  • Older lineage
    • NBA established 1963 nine states
    • ECOWAS in 1975
  • High population pressure in basin and rates of urbanisation
  • Also complex downstream economic hegemon, upstream poverty relationship (above 50% income poverty in four countries upstream)
    • Challenges include: energy demand (upstream dams reducing flows), irrigation pressures on inland delta

11. 12. Increasing confidence

  • New Water Charter
  • Sustainable development action plan
    • Defines and orients integrated and shared development of the river
  • Investment program
    • Developent of socio-economic infrastructure
    • Protection of ecosystems
    • Capacity building and stakeholder involvement
    • Comprising four 5-year plans up to 2027
    • First phase is an intense phase of physical investments especially the construction of threetransboundary dams

13. Implications 1

  • Migration across and within basins
  • Changes in patterns of water use (quality and demand)
  • Commercialisation processes linked to emphasis on value chains and export
  • More rapid urbanisation in and around key water sources
  • Wider development of complexsheds (linking local water management decisions and impacts to global market forces)
  • Application of IWRM concepts, stakeholder engagement and resource valuation (pricing, rights regimes, value)

14. Implications 2

  • How to measure the strength of supranatoinal institutions?
    • Example of the recent Nile division into upstream/downstream processes
    • Are new faultlines emerging?
  • Need to link the political economy of regional development to the logic of resource protection and access to the poor
  • So far in regional analyses little on natural resources and regional economic integration poorly understood processes

15. Conclusions

  • Yes, the processes are meaningful and potentially important in terms of impacts on poverty
    • But little detail on the complex and fragile resource-livelihoods relationships (more understanding required)
  • Processes of stakeholder engagement are in their infancy, but genuine attempts are being made (some reluctance on both sides to overcome)
    • Are the goals and purpose sufficiently clear?
  • Provide further assistance to ensure regional integration processes and local development goals in line


  • Starting point: Towards
  • a Virtual Basin Model of
  • nodes and networks

that encompasses hydrological, institutional and political economic patterns and trends involved in shaping ownership, access, availability and quality of water resources 17. Thank you