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The Practice of Transboundary Decision Making on the Incomati River: Elucidating Underlying Factors and their Implications for Institutional Design

Jill H. Slinger, Delft University of Technology
Marianne Hilders, DHV B.V. (Adviesgroep Water, Natuur en Ruimte)
Dinis Juizo, Eduardo Mondlane University

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Abstract

The Incomati River Basin is shared by Mozambique, South Africa, and Swaziland. In August 2002, the groundbreaking “Tripartite Interim Agreement on Water Sharing of the Maputo and Incomati Rivers” (the IncoMaputo agreement) was signed. Following reports that the use, availability, and adequacy of information posed problems for future decision making on this transboundary river, the Delft University of Technology initiated a 6-month study in 2003 in which 25 southern African researchers and officials were interviewed. The Joint Incomati Basin Study (Phase I from 1992–1995, and Phase II from 2000–2001) formed a central component in the investigation, because it was viewed by the parties involved as a successful experience that paved the way for the IncoMaputo agreement. Knowledge of the role that information played in this process and how decision making occurred was collated and analyzed. Network theory provided the guiding theoretical framework in interpreting the results. A number of problems related to information use in decision making were identified. More importantly, a web of underlying causes was identified, such as cultural and language differences, differences in perception, inadequacy of stakeholder involvement, variability in political commitment, lack of capacity, absence of operational experience, the weak mandate of the international decision-making body, and the paradoxical South African–Mozambican relationship. Two groups of factors in this web were identified as needing to change if the management of this transboundary river is to comply with the IncoMaputo agreement, namely the situational or institutional factors and the cognitive factors (particularly the perceptions each country holds of the other and the way they treat one another). Our analysis shows that, contrary to current international practice, when designing international institutional arrangements for water management, the sociopolitical interface should be considered as important as information flow to the water managers.

Key words

causal analysis; decision making; governance; information use; institutions; international water policy; Mozambique; networks; river-basin management; South Africa; southern Africa; Swaziland
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087