The Politics of Water in Africa; Domestic Politics and Drought Relief in Africa

In This Review

The Politics of Water in Africa: Norms, Environmental Regions and Transboundary Cooperation in the Orange-Senqu and Nile Rivers
by Inga M. Jacobs
Bloomsbury Academic, 2012
256 pp. $130.00
Domestic Politics and Drought Relief in Africa: Explaining Choices
by Ngonidzashe Munemo
FirstForum Press, 2012
217 pp. $59.95

Conventional wisdom holds that the African wars of the twenty-first century will be fought over resources, especially water. These two very different books inform readers about the political implications of water—and of its absence. Jacobs’ book focuses on the international cooperation that has developed around the management of two major river systems in Africa, the Nile River basin and the Orange River basin. She finds that an array of international conventions and conferences have allowed a set of norms to be progressively internalized by most of the states involved, despite a great deal of variation in the ability and willingness that those states bring to the task of managing shared water resources. Jacobs is thus reasonably optimistic about the role of such resources in encouraging international stability on the continent. She grants perhaps too much space to academic theories that will not interest the general reader, but her empirical materials are rich, and the book provides a good introduction to the international dimension of these issues.

In contrast, Munemo’s book on drought relief reminds one that for much of Africa’s recent history, domestic politics have often been more conflict-prone than relations between countries. Munemo asks why African governments have responded to similar drought conditions in such different ways in recent years. He disagrees with the common assumption that limited resources and corruption prevent African governments from responding meaningfully to droughts and the attendant risk of famine. He contends that African governments do, in fact, put together coherent policies to respond to such crises. But why do these responses vary so widely in their efficacy? Munemo’s sensible answer is that African states’ responses to droughts are shaped more by the political situation of a government’s leader and the strength of his or her hold on power than by agricultural policy or state capacity issues, the factors on which analyses of drought relief typically focus. Munemo tests his theory in three careful and very informative cases studies of droughts in Botswana, Kenya, and Zimbabwe.∂