Our Water, Our Right: African communities, workers, and civil society join hands across continent urging regional leaders to stave off water privatisation threats

This week, civil society and labour activists are urging African leaders to be the bulwark against a rising tide of threats to communities’ access to water, with particular attention to the insidious threats that water privatisation and corporate capture pose to the human right to water.

The Our Water, Our Right Africa Coalition (OWORAC) – led by civil society and trade unionists from nearly a dozen African countries – makes this call as the coalition celebrates its third annual Africa Week of Action Against Water Privatisation through grassroots community sensitisation and stakeholder engagement. The theme for the 2023 commemoration is Holding Hands to Protect Africa’s Water From Corporate Capture, which centres on the need for collaboration by government, civil society, and grassroots communities in confronting privatisation and privatisation threats.

In the face of growing threats to water, the OWORAC is calling on African leaders, including those representing the African Union, ECOWAS, SADC, EAC, and ECCAS, to stand in defence of the right to water and emphatically reject privatisation schemes.

“Water is not a commodity to be traded, bartered, or sold to the highest bidder,” said Akinbode Oluwafemi, Executive Director of Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa and member of the OWORAC. “The rich countries of the Global North must stop funding neocolonial commodification practices in Global South countries, especially in Africa, disguised as benevolent development aid and interventions. The capitalist pillage of Africa’s waters, masquerading as innovative solutions, is a crime against the people and is unacceptable.”

During this week, in which community leaders celebrate and work to protect the human right to water, those pushing dangerous privatisation schemes will descend upon the continent for the annual meetings of the World Bank & International Monetary Fund in Marrakech, Morocco. The fact that these meetings – organised by two of the institutional architects of the rampant corporate capture seen across the Global South – are taking place on the continent for the first time in fifty years and despite the devastating earthquake which occurred in the country just two months prior, indicates a sharpened focus on shaping the future of Africa in the image of corporate control.

“Corporate greed has turned Africa’s water into blue gold mines, deepening inequalities and leaving communities parched, even when surrounded by an abundance that is rightfully theirs,” said Sani Baba Mohammed, Public Services International’s Regional Secretary for Africa & Arab Countries. “This is the shameful failure of market-centric water management approaches. Only community-driven solutions rooted in democratic decision-making and control of water resources for public good can guarantee water access, equality, accountability, and security of jobs.”

The failures of private water multinationals such as Veolia and Suez are well-documented around the globe and across the African continent, ranging from unaffordable water tariffs to labour abuses. Despite this, international institutions led by the World Bank and Global North agencies including USAID continue to use their power and influence to steer African
governments towards this false solution.

“Commodification of water in Africa will come at a huge price and that price will be paid by communities whose access to water will be severely restricted, women who will not be able to afford the huge costs and will have to seek unwholesome alternatives, and also children who will be severely dehydrated from unquenchable thirst”, said Everline Akech, subregional
secretary for English-speaking Africa for Public Services International.

In the face of the challenges of lack of access to water and emerging privatisation threats, the OWORAC stands in solidarity with all impacted communities across Africa. Together with our people, we insist that the democratic and inclusive management of Africa’s water resources and systems is non-negotiable. We reject the commodification of this essential life source and speak in united voices that the right and access to water for every African is not for sale. Our governments have a crucial role to play in this regard. More than ever before, the OWORAC is determined to ensure that water remains a shared heritage, a public good, and a fundamental human right, now and for all generations to come.

Please see below for additional solidarity messages from comrades in the Our Water, Our Right Africa Coalition:

“In Africa as everywhere in the world, water is a strategic commodity. It’s therefore essential and indispensable for the survival of human beings on earth. Any government that privatizes this essential resource endangers the lives of the populations it is supposed to protect. In Cameroon, the government which for ten years experimented with the privatization of public drinking water service has just made the progressive decision to adopt the option of renationalization of the water company (CAMWATER Utilities Corporation).

The SYNATEEC trade-union which follows the water situation with great attention and which is both a member of the platform the CAMEROON WATER and OWORAC coalition, welcomes this government option but, remains aware that this decision may be negatively influenced at any time by Cameroon’s bilateral partners and others international donors. We therefore stay vigilant!”

Chief Godson Ewoukem, Executive President of SYNATEEC trade-union, Cameroon

“One voice for water access is a voice for millions of thirsty mouths without a voice.”
Geoffrey Kabutey Ocansey, Convenor, Water Citizens Network, Ghana

“The theme of this year’s Africa Water Week, ‘Holding Hands to Protect Africa’s Water From Corporate Capture,’ is a timely and urgent call to action for African governments. This is a reminder that the issue of governance and transparency is central to guaranteeing universal access to water and ensuring that the benefits of water development are shared equitably. We, at the African Center For Advocacy, urge African governments, especially Cameroon, to stand against water privatization in all its forms, strengthen water governance institutions to ensure the meaningful participation of all stakeholders in water decision-making and prioritize sustained public funding in the water sector.”

Sandra Ndang, African Center for Advocacy, Cameroon

‘‘The planet is in a state of emergency and privatizing water would result in further aggravating the crises we are facing, particularly in our continent. Water is a common good, a fundamental human right which should never be privatized for profit. We have the duty of protecting this precious resource for future generations too. During this week of action against water privatization, we unite to protect communities from the devastating impacts of water privatization. We will continue to emphasize the importance of this cause and organize actions against water privatization. The struggle against water privatization is also a fight for justice, equity and the wellbeing of all, safeguarding the lifeline that ensures our survival.’’

Anabela Lemos, Director, Justiça Ambiental, Mozambique

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