Transboundary Water Politics: Conflict, Cooperation, and Shadows of the Past in the Okavango and Orange River Basins of Southern Africa
Sebastian, Antoinette G
Conca, Kenneth L.
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Rival use of limited water resources among riparian states is often problematic and politically contentious. The hydro-politics for transboundary rivers links its riparians in complex multidimensional networks of environmental, political, economic, and security interdependencies. In regions where water is politically scarce, expected to become hydrologically more so, and shared, it may be considered more valuable, thus potentially rendering cooperation or conflict prospects more significant. Given the number of agreements, basin organizations, and joint and permanent commissions/ committees, transboundary water cooperation amongst southern Africa basin riparians is considered high. Still, a riparian state's competing claims for limited water resources is often problematic and politically contentious because: (a) water agreements are often not about water, (b) cooperation does not equal a lack of no conflict, and (c) understanding the strategic interaction among riparian states as signatories to transboundary river agreements requires a contextual framework. Water may not be the only story and history and hydro-hegemony are important. In this research, the contextual framework focuses on understanding when and under what circumstances the past, the problem, and the politics interfere with the prospects of cooperation, or enables riparian behavioral change which, in turn, produces the desired levels of cooperation. It identifies and explains how South Africa as both basin and regional hydro-hegemon is driving hydro-cooperation and pursuing its own self-interests. This research explores how the geopolitical interests and history condition the types of environmental cooperation possible in the Orange and Okavango river basins in Southern Africa. It posits a Maslowian perspective to navigating a hierarchy of obstacles blocking the journey towards reaching quality cooperation outcomes in order to create spaces for positive conflict. Several of the actors are the same in both river basins. There are, however, differences, which have their origins in history--the shadows of the past. The cases illustrate how history matters. It drives contemporary politics by forcing governments to face difficult choices among sets of priorities, which may appear to compromise one group, unmet needs, or issues over others. History suppresses knowledge, aligns power, and shapes identity by framing the language of politics and power. By doing so, it influences hydro-political dialogue.