2. Dammed or Damned? Development, Dilemmas and Disputes

E-mail of panel organiser: terje.ostigard@nai.uu.se

There is hardly any development processes raising such strong opposition and activism as large dam building. The Bujagali Dam in Uganda, the Merowe Dam in Sudan and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in Africa are three very different dam projects that have attained a lot of international attention. However, in the period from 1945 to 1990 more than thousand large dams – with a height at least 15 meters or with a reservoir capacity of 3 million cubic metres or more, were built in Africa for irrigation and electricity purposes. These dams supply 22 percent of Africa’s electricity in total, but specific countries like Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia receive more than 80 percent of their power from dams.
Thus, on the one hand, there is an increasing need for energy and irrigation for food security, but on the other hand, dam constructions come at a high cost financially, socially and environmentally. This probes to the heart of development processes and the question of governance. Are states misbehaving and jeopardizing the needs and the future of behaving citizens or are dams a sensible solution to development? Moreover, it also raises questions of who determine African development: African states or international actors (such as activists or NGOs)? While the dam discourse to a large extent has been dominated by activists opposing dam constructions, this session invites papers to critically discuss the role of dam building in Africa from an academic perspective.


1. Govern dams pastoral goal in Atacora East in Benin: who benefits?

Authors: Chabi Cyrille ETEKA (University of Liège, Belgium), Roch MONGBO (University of Abomey, Benin) and Marc PONCELET (University of Liège, Belgium)


In the early 80s, the former GTZ has supported the Government of Benin through a Project Promotion of Livestock in Atacora. Twenty medium-sized dams were made in three main communities with high beef production. Lack of municipal authorities at the time the beneficiary communities of the books are named as the owners and managers of such dams. Committees ethnic connotation (Bariba, Fulani) and professional (breeders, farmers) are put in place to ensure management. With the establishment of municipal councils in 2003, the law on decentralization gives the common skills in several areas including water infrastructure. But the state of decay and filling dams authorized to question management methods and forms of ownership of these works by municipalities and beneficiaries. Specifically, what role are the municipalities in this new institutional context management of these structures. This scientific concern structure a chapter of my thesis on the forms of ownership of rural development operations in Benin.

The study is based on empirical and historical approach made field surveys and data mining second hand. Ethnographies collected on the management of two dams in the municipality of Péhunco show a private management by some leading members of committees at the expense of communities and municipal authorities who also struggle to play their roles.

This paper attempts to focus on the modes of governance of common resources from the analysis of individual and collective strategies of actors down to control these resources. It thus contributes to the understanding of public perceptions of decentralization reforms.

2. There is enough water for all – why not work together?

Author: Hamdi Hassan (Small Arms Survey, Switzerland)


The Nile is the River par excellence, its basin of over 3 million km2 and 6700 km long. It consists of 11 countries: Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda. The main source of tension involves Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, with Egypt and Sudan being highly dependent on flows that originate in Ethiopia. Following tension over the construction of the High Aswan Dam in 1959, Egypt and Sudan were allocated 55.5 km3 per year and 18.5km3 per year of water respectively. These agreements excluded upstream countries, who have increasingly argued for their rights to use water from the River Nile. In recent years, there had been a promising move towards basin-wide co-operation, particularly with the launch of the Nile Basin Initiative in February 1999.  In 2010, the Cooperative Framework Agreement (the Entebbe Agreement) was signed only by the upstream countries, with strong opposition from Egypt and earlier from Sudan.

There a consensus within Egyptian public opinion, who is relatively engaged in the Nile Basin issue, that the consecutive Egyptian government have shown remarkable incompetence in reaching out to Nile Basin Country, especially Ethiopia. This dispiriting lack of basin-wide agreement reflects changes in the balance of geopolitical powers in the region. Egypt’s historical hegemonic position is being challenged by emerging regional powers such as Ethiopia.  Egypt has been particularly concerned that the dam, now more than 30 % finished, will hugely affects its share of the Nile, the country's main source of potable water. Situated near the Sudanese border on the Blue Nile, a Nile tributary, the hydroelectric dam will be the biggest in Africa, capable of producing 6,000 megawatts of energy. There have been a reluctance from the two major actors, Ethiopia and Egypt to enter into a constructive dialogue over the regulation of the water resources.

This paper examines the interplay between politics and water in the Nile Basin. It attempts at exploring, moreover, a fair exchange of benefits within the Nile Basin’s countries.

3. Large scale schemes with small scale management:Lessons in irrigation management transfers in Africa

Author: Mats Hårsmar (Expert Group for Aid Studies, Swedish Government Offices) mats.harsmar@gov.se


Investment in dams and irrigation schemes are classic means to raise agricultural productivity and production. Traditionally, most irrigation systems in sub-Saharan Africa have been of relatively small-scale and often managed by rural communities. This has been a precondition for, and enabled functional interaction with, customary land tenure systems and local water management practices.

Lately, new practices are evolving. Ethiopia is a case where investments in large-scale dam and irrigation schemes rapidly are increasing. This includes initiatives where the government is investing in and constructing irrigation facilities in a top-down manner and irrigation is assumed to be undertaken by small-holder farmers. Issues such as land tenure, water access, canal management and water administration emerge in this context as essential to small-scale farmers. To operationalize the schemes, efforts are undertaken to delegate land and water management into blocs of small-holders, which in turn are organized through cooperatives.

This paper aims to take stock of lessons from large-scale dam and irrigation schemes and their effects on small-holders when it comes to the management of, and access to, key productive resources such as land and water. Review of the current state of knowledge in irrigation management transfer processes, with cases from Mali and Burkina Faso, countries which have long experiences in large-scale irrigation schemes involving local people, will be explored and compared with the emerging Ethiopian situation. In particular, the case of Office du Niger in Mali will be discussed. What institutional solutions emerge and through which processes? What are the main challenges and prospects for local management of productive resources within grand irrigation schemes?

4. The Bujagali Dam in Uganda: technology, cosmology and global discourses

Author: Terje Oestigaard (The Nordic Africa Institue, Sweden)


The Bujagali Dam in Uganda has been seen as one of the most controversial dams in modern history. Globally, this has to be analysed in the context of the World Commission on Dams and its recommendations, and the dam was the one of the first battlegrounds where anti-dam activists and the World Bank met after the report was launched in 2000. It has also to be analysed from the perspective of Uganda as an autonomous state and the role of China as a major dam builder. The global and local discourses were highly interconnected. Apart from the general opposition against large dams, the main argument used by anti-dam campaigners was that the dam would destroy the local religion of the Busoga Kingdom and in particular the Budhagaali spirit residing in the water falls. This river spirit embodies one particular healer – Jaja Bujagali, who is like an ‘arch-bishop’ and one of the most powerful ritual specialists in the kingdom. The spirit, through its healer, blocked the dam construction for years. The solution from the Government was to bring in another healer to conduct the seemingly necessary appeasement ceremonies relocating the spirit so the dam could proceed. Having met these healers, and many others, the role of religion and indigenous culture will be discussed in relation to the role of the state and other international actors defining what is good for a particular country when it comes to choosing development strategies.

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