Academic journal article Journal of Social Development in Africa

Towards Empowered Stakeholder Participation in Water Resource Management in Zimbabwe

Academic journal article Journal of Social Development in Africa

Towards Empowered Stakeholder Participation in Water Resource Management in Zimbabwe

Article excerpt


This paper considers why stakeholder institutions mandated to manage water resources in Zimbabwe in a participatory manner, have failed to perform according to expectations. A central argument of the paper is that this failure is because of the absence of a clear development agenda, which can facilitate effective participation by the disadvantaged black population. This scenario cannot be achieved by merely changing the water legislation. The paper cautions that any new attempt to design an appropriate institutional model to enhance stakeholder participation, as happened in the Limpopo river basin in south west Zimbabwe, runs the risk of failure, unless fundamental empowerment issues are clearly appreciated and judiciously addressed.

KEYWORDS: Management, water, stakeholder, participation, Zimbabwe, bottom-u


At least half a dozen southern African countries, Zimbabwe included, embarked on water reforms in the 1990s in line with Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) principles (Manzungu, 2004). IWRM is defined as a process through which water, land and related resources are managed in an integrated manner for maximization of socioeconomic and ecological benefits (GWP, 2000). Stakeholder participation is one of the core principles of IWRM. As a consequence, several stakeholder institutions were established or were in the process of being established. These would constitute a platform that would enable all water users to participate on an equal footing in various aspects of water management, including water allocation and catchment planning (Zimbabwe, 1998a).

A decade and more after the said reforms were announced, questions are being raised with respect to whether the objectives of the reforms have been achieved, are being achieved, or are even achievable (Wester et. al, 2003; Manzungu, 2002). Examples of effective broad-based stakeholder participation in water resource management are hard to find because of conceptual and practical impediments (Manzungu, 2004). For some, the southern African region is not well served by the largely donor-driven IWRM mantras (Merrey, 2008). This has tended to leave a sour aftertaste among those who believe that IWRM represents an opportunity to do away with the business -as- usual approaches to water resource management, such as organizing water management along sectoral lines (Van der Zaag, 2005). It is worth pointing out that the increasing skepticism regarding the usefulness of IWRM is not unique to the region - worldwide, disaffection with IWRM seems to be increasing (cf. Biswas, 2004; Merrey, 2008; Molle, 2008), although there are conciliatory calls for bridging the polarised discourse involving IWRM (Saravanan, et al, 2009).

Despite the growing chorus of disapproval, it is unlikely that southern African countries will abandon IWRM simply because of inertia - much investment has already gone into the approach at the individual country and regional levels. At the regional level, are IWRM-informed regional policies and strategies in the shape of the Southern African Development Community Protocol on Shared Watercourses (SADC, 2000), the Regional Water Policy (SADC, 2005a), the Regional Water Strategy (SADC, 2006) and the Regional Strategic Action Plan on Integrated Water Resources Development and Management (SADC, 2005b).

Since southern African countries are unlikely to abandon IWRM without suffering serious withdrawal symptoms, the question that arises is: what modifications can be made to the IWRM-informed interventions, particularly stakeholder participation, because of its democratization overtones. The paper assesses efforts aimed at achieving effective broad-based stakeholder participation in water resource management. It uses Zimbabwe as a case study since the country was one of the first in the region to implement IWRM (Manzungu, 2004). In 1998 the Zimbabwe government promulgated the Water Act, and the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA) Act (Zimbabwe, 1998b). …

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