A Hybrid Approach to Decolonize Formal Water Law in Africa

October 2018
IWMI Research Report 173 (Barbara van Koppen and Barbara Schreiner)

In recent decades, many countries in sub-Saharan Africa have pursued national water permit systems, derived from the colonial era and reinforced by “global best practice.” These systems have proved logistically impossible to manage and have worsened inequality in water access. This study traces the origins of these systems, and describes their implementation and consequences for rural smallholders in Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe. The authors  propose a hybrid water use rights system to decolonize Africa’s water law, lighten the administrative burden on the state and make legal access to water more equitable. This would strengthen smallholder irrigation, which is vital for boosting Africa’s food production and making it more resilient in the face of worsening drought.