On July 28, 2022, the Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) in collaboration with the Our Water Our Right Africa Coalition, African Women Water Sanitation and Hygiene Network (AWWASHNET), and Ecumenical Water Network of Africa (EWN/A) hosted a webinar in commemoration of the 12th anniversary of the United Nations (UN) Resolution declaring water and sanitation a human right (Resolution 64/292). The webinar attracted members of the public, trade unionists, civil society practitioners, the media, and a plethora of African water justice campaigners from across countries in Africa, including Cameroon, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Uganda, as well as the global community with solidarity from the Africa Water Justice Network.[spacer height=”25px”]
The highly engaging webinar featured a diverse pool of speakers like Anne Maina, Coordinator of Biodiversity & Biosafety Association (Kenya), Chief Ewuokem Atabong of SYNATEEC (Cameroon), Fatou Diouf of Public Services International (PSI), Oumar Ba of the Senegalese Water Workers Union, Veronica Nwanya of Africa Women Water and Sanitation Network (Nigeria) and Vickie Urema-Onyekuru of Child Health Organization (Nigeria).[spacer height=”25px”]
Aderonke Ige, Associate Director, CAPPA described the webinar as a “diagnostic assessment of the state of water resources in the African region since the United Nations’ Resolution 12 years ago”.[spacer height=”25px”]
The panelists, while sharing in-country experiences on the conditions of water governance also examined the intersections of justice, gender, health, biosafety, human dignity, inclusion, and rights of workers with water. All the speakers unanimously identified privatization as a major threat to water justice in Africa with drivers of the privatization agenda being international financiers like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, African Development Bank, and others.[spacer height=”25px”]
According to Anne Maina, Communities in Kenya have been facing threats of privatization for decades with Veolia and Suez identified as the major corporations at the forefront of water hijack in Kenya. She revealed how labour and civil society have been pushing the corporate grab of water in Kenya and defending the rights of large communities for whom the subject matter of water connotes a life and death survival.[spacer height=”25px”]
Chief Ewoukem Atabong decried the menace that the activities of Cameroon Water Corporation (CAMWATER) have generated in Cameroon which range from poor management to inefficiency among other issues. According to Chief Ewoukem, it is important to flush corruption out of the water sector in order to achieve efficiency. For the foremost labour activist, Cameroon has experienced both worlds in terms of public management of water and privatization of water resources, and with the terrible experiences of the privatization regime, it is only logical that the country shuns any process of commercializing water infrastructure.[spacer height=”25px”]
Gender and Water are Connected
Outlining the connection between water and gender, Veronica Nwanya stated that the gendered nature of water crisis, like many other social, economic and political challenges cannot be wished away. Nwanya noted the importance of formulating policies and governance programmes that accommodate the concerns of women. She maintained that women are culturally saddled with most of the water-based responsibilities and chores within families and communities, and are therefore the worst hit when water is not prioritized or entrenched as a human right.[spacer height=”25px”]
Water Privatization Impacts Workers Negatively
Speaking about the movement-building efforts in Senegal, Cameroon, and the rest of Francophone Africa, Fatou Diouf challenged the incessant water crises experienced by poor communities across these countries. On the impacts of privatization on workers, Diouf said that privatization not only threatens job security but also strips off the status of public servants and worsens the conditions of workers and their ability to collectively organize and unionize. She pointed out that in such situations, governments unfairly prioritize the interests of public-private partnerships above the payment of workers.[spacer height=”25px”]
Unfair Policy Stirs Crisis
Recounting the specific struggles of the labour force under the current privatization regime in Senegal, Oumar Ba, said it cannot be claimed that privatization is a solution to the water crisis on the soil. According to Oumar, workers in the water sector are currently on strike due to several ills in the water sector ranging from poor remuneration to unwholesome working conditions, and the unfair prioritization of “expatriates” above indigenous workers even while overstretching the same local workers. Oumar also pointed out that in Senegal, Suez is the water company that has controlled the country’s public water system under a 15-year contract.[spacer height=”25px”]
Water is Life
Vickie Uremma-Onyekuru restated the need for countries in Africa to resist the pressure and bait to commodify water. She maintained that water is life and if water is taken away from the existence of a people, it would be tantamount to taking away their lives. She, therefore, charged African governments to prioritize people above profits and consider dimensions of inclusiveness in water governance.[spacer height=”25px”]
Panelists and attendees at the webinar observed that even after twelve years of the declaration of water as a human right, many African countries still struggle with issues of water availability, affordability, and access, which has contributed to the deteriorating living conditions of large swathes of people on the continent. The increasing commodification of water resources in Africa with all its negative consequences on peoples, communities, and workers was equally described as absurd and unacceptable.[spacer height=”25px”]
No to Water Resources Bill
The webinar also spotlighted the controversial Nigerian “Water Resources Bill” which resurfaced in the country’s legislative house in June 2022. Aderonke Ige informed participants that the unpopular Bill has continued to receive condemnations from Nigerians who consider it draconian and unpopular.[spacer height=”25px”]
The session ended with specific recommendations directed at African governments, private water corporations, regional intergovernmental bodies, and international financial institutions for the actualization of water as a human right. They include the charge to:[spacer height=”25px”]
- African governments to rise to their obligations to respect, protect, and fulfill the human right to water for all people by prioritizing robust and meaningful public investment and participation in water governance.
- African governments to always consider the perspectives of minority communities often left out of water decision-making, such as women, low-income, and rural communities.
- State authorities in Africa to foster regional solidarity and collaboration by supporting Public-Public Partnerships in the water sector.
- Regional and intergovernmental bodies in Africa to always intervene with both financial and diplomatic when the human right to water is threatened in member states.
- International financial institutions to stop pushing for the privatization, commercialization, and financialization of water in Africa, through advisory services, baits in form of loans and grants.