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Counter Streams: Organizing the Dakar 2022 Alternative World Water Forum

January 18, 2023

Transition, Issue 133, 2022, Indiana University Press

Koni Benson and Meera Karunananthan

Every African has the responsibility to understand the system and work for its overthrow.

Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, 1972

We need an anti-colonial, intersectional feminist climate justice movement.

Laila Malik, Association for Women's Rights in Development, 2019

By OFFERING A detailed account of the inner workings of colonialism and post-colonial imperialism in his 1972 classic, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, the assassinated historian, Walter Rodney sought to denaturalize African poverty: "If we can determine when underdevelopment came about, it would dismiss the lingering suspicion that it is racially or otherwise predetermined and that we can do little about it." If Walter Rodney were alive today to write a sequel to his seminal book, we believe it would be about water. On the one hand, the most violent expressions of global capitalism can be seen in the acts of depriving the most marginalized populations of water, whether through corporate control or structural reforms imposed by international financial institutions on debt-ridden governments. Water is at the heart of the climate crisis, the hunger crisis, and the crisis of armed conflict on the African continent. Its unequal distribution is not natural or neutral. On the other hand, frontline communities throughout the continent and around the world have called out ways in which wealth is accumulated through neocolonial relationships of dispossession and have fiercely and effectively resisted the privatization of water and pollution of water sources.

Anuradha Mittal is the director of the Oakland Institute working to expose land investment deals in the Global South, which have revealed disturbing patterns around access to water. Research, advocacy, and international media coverage of this work has played an important role in organizing. In advance of the AWWF, we approached the Institute to investigate land and water grabs in Africa. This resulted in the publication of a report, "Drying Out African Lands: Expansion of Large-Scale Agriculture Threatens Access to Water in Africa."

Solidarity-based research like that of the Oakland Institute map the material, fiscal, and power dynamics of water grabs and support movement efforts to hold governments and public institutions to account for the abuses of multinational corporations, including mining companies, big agriculture, and big beverage companies. In the post-colonial world, the World Bank and the IMF have played a tremendous role in establishing and protecting corporate water interests.