Water in Africa between the challenges of geography and political ambitions

African countries still suffer from a lack of information in the water sector; What necessitates taking the initiative to overcome this obstacle by providing adequate data, whether through an interrogation, a questionnaire, or scientific research that would enable the building of a holistic and comprehensive vision on water policies.

As a result of the new situation in Africa after independence, water played a decisive role in the geopolitical parameters of political units on the level of abundance, scarcity and distribution of water resources, and the abundance of transnational rivers, which had a clear impact on the causes and causes of invulnerability and strength or vice versa.

There are many considerations of water given that it is an economic geographic given and that it represents a strategic political paper for governments, and from here it enters into the continental and global geopolitical equations through transboundary waters or by bridging hydrogeographical international corridors, which necessitates a participatory approach that takes into account the geographical neighborhood and the international dimension, then A global topic discussed by national bodies, organizations and plans in their bilateral and multilateral programs and policies.

Fresh water resources in Africa are estimated at about 9% of the global total of these resources (1) , and many African countries did not improve the exploitation of this strategic resource after independence to serve the demands of their peoples. Nor is its groundwater at a time when its spring does not stop or squeak, due to what is seen of long distances and tours of tanks between neighborhoods to bring and distribute water for daily domestic use as well as for “comprehensive development” and on the other hand, sometimes caused conflicts and conflicts.

The issue of managing water affairs in Africa is no longer subject to postponement or absurdity that has characterized the policies of successive governments for decades. Today, it is seen as a matter of life or death for peoples. This prompted the leaders to adopt some urgent solutions such as the African Water Vision 2025 in parallel with other horizons beyond 2050 and Agenda 2063. of the African Union.

Moreover, the water scarcity and the resulting drought in the 1970s contributed to drawing the African urban landscape in many cities and capitals, which exacerbated the displacement from villages and rural areas to urban areas, bringing with it poverty and random housing. Security, economic and environmental.

Water issues such as irrigation, health, energy, development of concern and daily work throughout the year are raised, and great attention is required to water, whether it is related to the political, economic or urban aspect.

The importance of the issue lies in the fact that African countries depend in general on agricultural and pastoral economies, which makes water the basis of economic life on the green continent, and its capacity to turn into the food basket of its peoples.

We ask here in this paper about the water map and its geopolitical extension? And African water policies? And the prospects for water resources in the green continent in light of a changing world?

The first axis: the African water map and its geopolitical extensions:

The continent is located between the two great oceans, the Atlantic and the Indian, in addition to the northern watery divide between the continent and Europe, and the eastern maritime isthmus “Red Sea.” In the past, the forested areas hindered communication between some parts of the continent.

There are many sources of water in Africa, some of which are mentioned:

a) Rivers:

Water resources are one of the necessary and influential elements in the power of states and their political weight. Hence, every state is keen to secure sufficient water sources to meet the people’s need for various uses, whether for drinking, agriculture or industry. Therefore, those countries in which rivers flow have a commodity. Rare in international politics, rivers in the geopolitical field constitute the veins and arteries of the state, and the astronomical geographical location of Africa has led to the division of the continent in terms of rivers into two parts :

 * The large number of rivers in the south of the continent because it is surrounded by the Atlantic and Indian oceans and this situation has led to the multiplicity of river courses resulting from the heavy rains .

 * As for the northern part, it is on the contrary, because the Great Desert is located in this part of the continent, and therefore the smallness of the river’s running water, in addition to that, it is located on its edges often (2) .

The total of the rivers reaches 17 rivers (3) , and the greatest continental sources are:

The Nile River: It originates from the depths of the continent, starting from the Kagera River (Lake Victoria), and crosses the land of ten countries from its source to its estuary.

The Congo River Basin: It contains about 30% of the continent’s waters, with a small continental population. It relies on the basin’s waters to solve the African water crisis in the future in the event of a combination of causes.

The Senegal and Niger rivers originate in Guinea Conakry, and together they cover most of West Africa, the upstream country can be a food stock for the Economic Community of West African States.

The Zambezi River: It originates from Zambia and crosses the Congo, Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, and is an environmental phenomenon in all its meanings.

The Orange River: It draws the image of a triangle in the far south, and the rivers form water masses that share the land, capable of creating a water balance between the regions, and their words are: all these peoples were born from one womb, and were breastfed from the same milk (4) .

In addition to moving between cities, cities and countries, it constitutes an economic resource, such as trade exchanges, tourism, and a food resource, whether it is fresh fish or dried fish.

A large part of the African countryside is still dependent on surface water, and it is feared mainly from pollution in the future due to the increasing use of technology in various aspects of daily life.

b) Ground water:

It constitutes 99% of the world’s fresh water, and represents about a quarter of the fresh water used (5) , and it is the largest fresh water resource in the world. The use of water to meet their basic needs. This is particularly true in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where the rural population is large but lives in scattered settlements (6) .

According to some experts, groundwater pollution is often impossible to remedy. When certain areas of groundwater aquifers are exposed to pollution, their water usually remains polluted (7) .

In sub-Saharan Africa, where the potential of vast shallow aquifers remains untapped, only 5% of the areas equipped for irrigation use groundwater (8) .

Among the famous lakes are: Lake Chad, Lake Malawi and Lake Victoria. As for Lake Tanganyika, it is the longest freshwater lake in the world, and it penetrates into Tanzania, Burundi, Congo and Zambia, and is a tourist area, which raises the economy of its riparian countries.

The lack of rain has led to a decrease in agricultural yields, for example, pistachios in Senegal and Nigeria, for example, and the fluctuation of rainfall leads to the adoption of modern agricultural models in line with the emergency climatic conditions, and as a result of the fluctuation of the water cycle, food prices increase, which may lead to the instability of political systems due to low Rainfall.

Climate changes (drought, floods, torrential rains, rising sea waters on the coasts…) directly affect the budgets and economies of African countries, which often know a sustainable deficit, which keeps the African debt dynamic and dependence on the outside, and their dire consequences for the sovereign and economic decision and the continent’s position in the system. International.

The high costs, low returns and financial losses related to water risks are very important. Risks associated with increasing water scarcity, floods and climate change include higher operational costs, supply chain disruptions, interruptions in water supplies, and impediments to growth (9) .

Which gives water its importance in the near future, keeping pace with the population increase and providing a livelihood for the people of the continent through agriculture, which consumes more than two-thirds of the resource, then industry, and finally household requirements.

The second axis: African water policies:

On the eve of independence, many African countries did not have a clear vision of water governance despite the fact that the continental economy was based on agriculture and grazing, which had consequences that prevented the use of water as well as its ideal investment, and the inability to win the development bet demonstrated the failure of countries in their hydrological policies. .

While African countries are hesitating between two dangers: the difficulty of accessing potable water in sufficient quantities on the one hand, and the exploitation of water if it is available on the other hand, which requires the decision-maker to take all measures to find solutions in light of a changing world.

Achieving peace and security in the various African regions has been a fundamental issue to move towards benefiting from wealth, as the cost of instability is exorbitant by all standards, which has characterized African political life in the past decades. Various resources, and water abundance can be observed in the middle with successive instability, which was an obstacle to valuing the resources in general.

The response of the regional and international financial partnership and investment in the vital resource was not enough to bring about a qualitative leap in the field, which caused a long-term stagnation, in which corruption and mismanagement are added. Sylvain Osher points out that a lack of political will and efforts to improve infrastructure are among the reasons why Africa is not making good use of its water resources (10) .

However, water management requires a diversity of planning and methods, considering that it is a daily and even temporary requirement, and the regions differ within one state as well as the states among themselves. On the quality of local water distribution networks, primarily, ensuring modern supply facilities, and ending water cuts completely.

The recurrent climatic crises has accelerated the sounding of the alarm and forced Africans to keep pace with the climatic effects, pay attention to water issues in particular, and adopt regional and national policies. At the end of the second millennium, regional regional policies began to take shape, accompanying the establishment of environmental councils in the nineties of the last century, “economic, social and environment councils.” It was motivated by adapting to new climatic conditions and looking ahead to the future, and resulted in the general layout of the African Water Vision 2025 with a group of partners from within and outside the continent.

As a result, access to water is a constitutional right, as in the case of South Africa 1996 Article 27: health care, food, water and social insurance.” Article 44 of the Tunisian Constitution, adopted in 2014, states: “The right to water is guaranteed. Conserving water and rationalizing its use is a duty of the state and society.

Nevertheless, the foregoing vision has proven its limitations in the reality of African life due to its nationally modest achievements, with the failure of the international community to fulfill its commitments to provide 100 billion US dollars by 2020 to implement mitigation and adaptation measures (11) .

Drinking water is only available to a small number of the continent’s inhabitants, not exceeding a quarter of it, according to international studies. As for access to water in sufficient quantity and at an affordable cost, they are still out of reach for the vast majority of the people of the continent.

The human health dimension should be considered as a key element in implementing integrated water resources management, for example, among water borne diseases is infectious diarrhea where infection is spread through contaminated drinking water or food, or from person to person as a result of poor hygiene. Also, acute diarrhea leads to fluid loss and can be life-threatening, especially in young children and people who are malnourished or immunocompromised (12) .

African countries have been calling for climate justice in the Western world for some time, the latest of which was at the Climate Adaptation Summit in Africa 2022 in the Netherlands, and according to regional reports, Africa is also the least able region in the world to adapt to climate change (13) , and the report estimates that since 1986-2015 Africa has lost between 5% and 15% of its per capita GDP growth due to climate change (14) , as the international community has lagged behind in support of climate change on the continent.

One of the requirements of using water is to maintain the vitality and dynamism of the resources and protect them from everything that may lead to their destruction or reduce their effect by depletion, sinking, pollution, and then the need to recharge depleted watercourses such as Lake Chad to reach the welfare of the peoples.

The third axis: the prospects for water resources in the green continent in a changing world:

The population of the continent has doubled since independence from 285 million to 1.2 billion, making Africa a real demographic challenge, but the continent still has untapped opportunities, and it should be noted that only 3% of the total agricultural land in Africa is south The Sahara is irrigated lands, and only 5% of these lands are irrigated by groundwater (15) .

The establishment of the free trade zone and the launch of its work in 2021 will allow further improvement of water management, based on the fact that most of Africa’s economies are based on agriculture, which requires good exploitation to increase agricultural yields to generate profits and stimulate trade movement between countries in an effort to achieve continental self-sufficiency.

Collective work is indispensable for cooperation in search of common solutions to water issues, and Morocco has the largest seawater desalination plant with solar energy. The coalescence of those resources and means to promote aquatic diplomacy for peace in line with the aspirations of development and the principles of the Union of African Solidarity.

African countries still suffer from a lack of information in the water sector, which requires taking the initiative to overcome this obstacle by providing adequate data, whether through interrogation, questionnaire or scientific research that enables building a holistic and comprehensive vision on water policies in the short and long term.

In order to overcome the obstacle, it is necessary to work on finding a sufficient number of human elements and then the means to diversify them. Perhaps these two matters depend on activating many African institutions and bodies to bear fruit. What is called in the administrative literature: enhancing competencies and capabilities, enhancing the values ​​of citizenship and transparency in managing public affairs.

The good use of water leads to overcoming the problems of young people, including immigration and unemployment, through the reclamation of arable lands and directing the young labor force towards agricultural projects, especially since many African immigrants work on European farms, whether in Italy or Spain and others.


Water is considered a vital resource essential for the future of Africa in light of the demographic increase and the requirements of development in its contemporary dimensions, whether economic, social or environmental, and the struggle of forces over its resources, and then water turns to be a sovereign issue related to achieving the demands of national security .

The approach of the strategic resource in this paper does not differ from that of other resources, which often puts Africans in a predicament with their many bounties and wealth, and perhaps the citizens’ “thirst” life is sufficient as a witness to the truth before the far and near.

However, one of the promising entry points for Africa towards its resources in general is to rehabilitate its people scientifically, cognitively and technologically: production, innovation, planning and proposing African alternatives in order to fulfill their duty and benefit from wealth; It is a necessary entrance and the pillar of any change or repair.

This is followed by training African youth on the good use of resources of any kind, citizenship and the public interest, and this requires improving higher education, especially scientific, and raising the rate of enrollment, knowing that the rate of higher education is not up to the required level.

About the author


Aaron Ba

 Senegalese researcher specializing in political scienceREFERENCE

United Nations Water Resources Development Report 2021 Estimating the value of water, p. 7. UNESCO website 2021, entry date 09/07/2022.


Harun Bah, West African Countries in the Geopolitical Balance, a thesis for the in-depth postgraduate diploma, Mohammed V University – Souissi, Moroccan Diplomacy Unit, University Year 2007-2008, pp. 16 and 17.


Mbaye Dieng, Water in Africa, the paradoxes of a highly coveted resource, site: Lead in Africa from January 2011, seen on September 12, 2022: shorturl.at/eln59

Aaron Bah, West African Countries in the Geopolitical Balance, previous reference, p: 19.

5- the bulletin of the forum, daily newspaper of the 9 world water forum, “Dakar 2022” seen on September 12, 2022: https://rb.gy/rumewl

United Nations World Water Development Report 2022, Groundwater: Unveiling the Hidden, p. 4. Date of entry 06/12/2022. https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000380726_ara

The United Nations World Water Development Report 2022, Groundwater, op. reference, p.: 2.

Previous reference, p.: 3.

UN Water Development Report 2021 Estimating the value of water, p: 6. Date of entry 07/09/2022: https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000375750_ara

10ـThe water dilemma haunts Africa, which is unable to exploit all its water resources, Al-Arab website on March 29, 2022, entry date 06/12/2022: https://bit.ly/3xmRh1x

11ـAfrican leaders push for adequate financial and technical support to help address climate change challenges in preparation for the 27th Climate Change Conference, African Union website on February 6, 2022: Entry date 09/06/ 2022: https://rb.gy/9ktotc

12ـEighth Water and Development Report, Sustainable Development Goals Related to Water in the Arab Region, United Nations 2020 – Beirut, p: 23. Date of entry: 06/09/ 2022: https://rb.gy/9ktotc

13ـLaunch of the African Economic Outlook 2022, African Development Bank Group Annual Meetings, Accra, Ghana, 25 May 2022, p. 6, dated 09/06/ 2022: https://rb.gy/hdbvxj

14ـPrevious reference, p.: 7.

15ـThe United Nations World Water Development Report 2022, Groundwater, op. reference, p.: 6.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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