Under the umbrella of the Our Water, Our Right Coalition (OWORAC), Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) in collaboration with Corporate Accountability, hosted a two-day virtual training for journalists and media practitioners in Africa on Human Right to Water and Threats of Water Privatization in Africa. The workshop which held on the 13th and 14th of July 2022, was conducted in three languages: English, French, and Portuguese attracted forty-two (42) participants including twenty-five (25) journalists from Cameroon, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Uganda.[spacer height=”25px”]
In 2019, research findings from a survey conducted by CAPPA, Corporate Accountability, Public Services International, and Transnational Institute established water privatization as one of the major threats to human rights to water in Africa. The disturbing levels of privatization pressures from giant water corporations, state authorities, and international financial institutions uncovered in the survey inspired the commitment to empower media practitioners with the requisite background knowledge to understand, conduct high-impact investigative findings, analyze and produce evidence-based reports on issues concerning water security for public interest.[spacer height=”25px”]
As shared in a welcome remark delivered by Akinbode Oluwafemi, Executive Director, CAPPA, the training underscored the importance of the fourth estate of the realm acquiring a sufficient understanding of trends in access to water in Africa in order to prioritize critical analyses and reporting of issues emerging from the water sector. While the OWORAC, a network of water justice organizations and labour unions continues to work together to pushback attempts by the private sector to grab the management of water resources and supply in Africa, it is equally important to publicly document the various activities of water privatizers and how they counteract the realization of human rights to water in Africa.[spacer height=”25px”]
In a presentation titled Water Privatization: Dangers and Drivers, Neil Gupta, Director of Programmes, Corporate Accountability unpacked the pitfalls and dangers of water privatization in Africa whilst citing the failures of big private water corporations such as Veolia and Suez to ensure adequate access to water for populations in Africa. Across the world, privatization of water services has often led to unaffordable tariff hikes, service shutoffs for low-income households, labour abuses, and dangerous cost-cutting. This is because private water corporations are more interested in maximizing profit than providing good water service which ultimately leads to a lack of access to water for communities and other associated challenges. Privatization of water services is usually negotiated via full system sale, long-term lease, public-private partnerships, and private sector participation.[spacer height=”25px”]
During his presentation tagged Understanding Water as a Human Right and the Role 0f the Media in Reporting the Water Sector, Phillip Jakpor, Director of Programmes, CAPPA, educated participants on the role of the media in the advancement of the human right to water. While highlighting missing links in water news reporting, he charged journalists to strive for an effective reporting of the water sector by embarking on fact-finding missions, speaking with water experts, exploring human-interest stories in order to ask penetrative questions, unearth facts and amplify solutions.[spacer height=”25px”]
Two investigative journalists, Amos Abba of the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), and Monica Mark shared their experiences in conducting research on water issues including corporation-driven abuses against the human right to water in Nigeria and elsewhere around the world. Whereas Amos Abba’s experience-based presentation titled ‘’My experience investigating Nestlé’s abuses: What you should know’’ enlightened participants on methods of gathering data and information to expose the unhealthy operations of private water corporations, Monica Mark discussed lessons from her coverage of Veolia in Flint Crisis and the water corporation’s attempt to partner with Lagos State, Nigeria, to manage its water sector. She encouraged journalists to explore news stories from the lenses of human rights in order to overturn the operations of giant multinational corporations that stifle human rights and freedoms.[spacer height=”25px”]
Everline Aketch, Sub-Regional Secretary for English Speaking Africa, PSI, spoke on the Rise of de-privatization and public alternatives which underscores the falsehood of private water control and failures of privatization. Across the world, the failure of water multinationals to deliver promised improvements is driving local communities, water activists, and even politicians to consider remunicipalisation which focuses on establishing public and democratic-driven alternatives for water governance.[spacer height=”25px”]
Fatou Diouf, Project Coordinator of Public Services International also reviewed the impact of privatization of water resources on workers. Time and again, the downsizing of the workforce, decreasing salaries, and impeding unionization are some of the reoccurring issues that happen when multinational water corporations take over public water utilities. Even when private water corporations claim that downsizing reduces operational costs, they neglect to also proclaim the savings (profit) that comes from laying off workers or the fact that downsizing often leads to service problems, and loss of valuable institutional experience and expertise.[spacer height=”25px”]
Wrapping up the event, Aderonke Ige, Associate Director, CAPPA, also examined case studies of failed water privatization projects in Africa promoted by International Financial Institutions (IFIs) such as the World Bank. From Cameroon, Ghana, Gabon, and Mozambique to Tanzania, privatization of water infrastructure failed to realize improved access and affordability of water for citizens, forcing state authorities to overcome legal and financial obstacles to de-privatize.
The Our Water, Our Right Africa Coalition earlier published an exposé, Africa Must Rise & Resist Water Privatisation, which examined the unavoidable legacies of colonialism and imperialism rife within the current system. The backing that water privatization schemes enjoy from the World Bank and her partners has equally encouraged two of the world’s largest private water corporations, Veolia and Suez, to continue prospecting for so-called opportunities in Africa. The recent merger between the two companies in 2021, represents the biggest consolidation of corporate control over water in decades and sets the stage for them to use their heavy influence on African governments to grab the continent’s water resources.[spacer height=”25px”]
At the end of the highly interactive workshop, participants confessed that they had gained valuable knowledge on human perspectives to explore in telling water stories. They further reached a resolution to embark on investigative findings to unveil the actors driving the corporatization of water resources in Africa and the impacts of such activities on the human right to water. The two-day training equipped journalists and other participants with a pool of resources: information, research materials, and other tools to enhance their critical engagement and reportage of people-focused and human rights-based trends in Africa’s water sector.