The water war debate : swimming upstream or downstream in the Okavango and the Nile?

Jacobs, Inga (2006-12)

Thesis (MA (Political Science))--University of Stellenbosch, 2006.


Water is a vital resource essential to human survival and for which there is no substitute. Additionally, whilst water is still seen as a ‘renewable resource,’ reality seems to dictate that there is only a finite quantity of water available in water-scarce regions. As a result, ‘water’ and ‘war’ are two topics that have begun to be assessed together with increasing frequency. Water disputes have indeed been labelled as one of the “New Wars” in Africa, comparing it to the likes of other resource wars such as those over oil and diamonds. Placing water discourse within a theoretical framework of International Relations, this thesis attempts to ground the water war debate in the Fourth Great Debate of rationalism (downstream) and reflectivism (upstream), through a comparative analysis of Anthony Turton’s positivist approach, and Larry Swatuk and Peter Vale’s post-positivist sentiments embedded in reflectivism. The research aim can, therefore, be phrased as: to examine the debate surrounding the inevitability or impossibility of water wars by means of a comparative analysis of the works of Turton and Swatuk/Vale, as applied to the case study of the Okavango River basin and a tentative assessment of the Nile River basin. This study hypothesises that whether you swim upstream or downstream, a water war erupting in the Okavango River basin is never inevitable and quite implausible as argued by both theoretical perspectives. A bridge-building exercise is therefore conducted in an attempt to find commonalities between the two supposedly incommensurable perspectives of Turton and Swatuk/Vale. Furthermore, based on the tentative assessment of the Nile River Basin, this thesis also postulates that while the potential for water conflict is greater in this region, it is unlikely that a full-scale water war will erupt. Indeed, contrary to what doomsday soothsayers predict, interstate cooperation of shared water resources, such as the shared river basins of the Okavango and the Nile rivers, is more prevalent than conflictive situations.

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