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Zambezi Commission Comes of Age

Posted on 07 June 2012

Siphosethu Stuurman

HARARE, June 7, 2012 (TerraViva) The road towards the establishment of the Zambezi Watercourse Commission was a long one, but it was a journey that led the eight countries that share the Zambezi – and the whole region – towards vital agreements and institutions for managing transboundary river basins.

ZAMCOMNegotiations to establish ZAMCOM started in the late 1980s, but the Commission was only formally established in June last year.

“The Zambezi process has been a long one, and the main reason is simply that the Zambezi river basin is shared by eight countries,” says Leonissah Munjoma, the Information and Communications Specialist for the Interim ZAMCOM Secretariat.

“If you can have a long process when only two countries are sharing a basin, what would one expect when there are eight?”

Even when an agreement was reached in 2004, she said, only seven of the eight countries signed it.

“Zambia did not sign for the simple reason that it was going through a process of water reform… their Water Act at the time did not allow – or rather did not have provisions for – shared water resources,” Munjoma told IPS.

“So they’ve had to revise their Water Act. And now they’ve completed the process and they are working towards acceding to the agreement.”

Munjoma told IPS that while negotiations over setting up a basin-wide commission began nearly 30 years ago, they did not continue uninterrupted.

There was a pause at one point, recognising that the agreement was being negotiated in the absence of a broader, binding treaty on shared water resources for the Southern Africa region. So the Zamcom process was suspended to give way around the revised protocol on shared water resources which is now in force.

ZAMCOM finally came into force in June 2011, and many of its necessary organs have not yet been set up. The Commission is a club where members sit down and discuss issues concerning the Zambezi river basin which ties them all together. However the member states have not yet come to discuss critical issues: they will only do so when all of ZAMCOM’s decision-making bodies are in place.

“Our main focus right now is to establish the requisite organs that take decisions. The organs of ZAMCOM are the council of ministers, the technical committee and the permanent secretariat. We are an interim secretariat helping to set this up,” said Michael Mutale, Executive Secretary of the Interim Zamcom Secretariat, Mike Mutale.

“The process is ongoing and we hoping to present this if the council is constituted before the end of the year.”

Last September, the Interim Zambezi Secretariat and the SADC secretariat were given a year in which to set up ZAMCOM’s outstanding bodies. Botswana is the interim host, but member states still need to bid to be the host country for the permanent secretariat.

The mighty Zambezi River is the fourth largest in Africa and is home to more than 40 million people. It starts in northwestern Zambia and then flows into Angola before turning east to flow through Zimbabwe and Botswana and then on through Botswana the way through the other countries before it gives way to the delta in Mozambique.

“People when they hear about the Zambezi river, they think of this huge mighty river, but one thing that’s interesting about the Zambezi river is that it’s source, where it comes from… it’s so small and insignificant when one looks at it,” said Munjoma.

“One would think this it’s just a trickle of water from a marsh, but within a few metres it just opens up to the whole world.”


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