The international Senegal River Basin

Similar in basin and population sizes to the Columbia, the Senegal River Basin, located in Western Africa, has a drainage area covering 448,379 km2, a population of around 7.4 million in the basin, and is shared by four riparian nations—Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, and Senegal.21 These four countries were under French colonial rule until 1962 and represent an ethnically diverse area.22 This region has experienced “geopolitical turmoil”23 including, at times, violent conflicts.24 Despite this, cooperation in the basin over water resources has developed over time, leading to the creation and evolution of the basin’s current IRBO.

The road to an IRBO and benefit sharing in the Senegal River Basin

“[C]ooperation to develop the basin on an integrated basis started in the colonial era when the Senegal River Basin Development mission was set up in 1935.”25 In 1963 the four riparians signed the Convention Relating to the General Development of the Senegal River Basin, which established an Inter-State Committee (Article 1), charged with the promotion and coordination of studies and development work onthe Senegal River. Under the convention, the Senegal was declared an international river in 1964.26

In 1972, Mali, Mauritania, and Senegal signed the Convention Relating to the Statute of the Senegal River and the Convention Establishing the Senegal River Basin Organization.27 The current IRBO, the Organisation pour la Mise en Valeur du Fleuve Sénégal (OMVS), was created by the latter convention. In 2006 Guinea joined the OMVS.28 In relation to joint/common works in the basin, the members of the OMVS29 have adopted both the 1978 Convention Concerning the Legal Status of Common Works30 and the 1982 Convention Regarding the Methods of Financing Joint Works.31

Partly in response to pressure from local populations32 and various problems, including an “increase in waterborne diseases...destruction of native fish stocks and the elimination of traditional flood-recession agriculture,”33 as well as to address a situation “of relative legal vacuum,”34 the 2002 Water Charter of the Senegal River (2002 Water Charter)35 was adopted by the members of the OMVS to supplement the existing legal regime.

Cooperation and benefit sharing in the Senegal under the OMVS

The Senegal and the OMVS are often cited as compelling examples of cooperation and equitable benefit sharing associated with transboundary shared international watercourses. This is because the management of the Senegal employs a unique and innovative approach to the ownership and operation of infrastructure, which is embodied in the above-mentioned Convention Concerning the Legal Status of Common Works and Convention Regarding the Methods of Financing Joint Works. These agreements provide for the “common and indivisible ownership” and management, by the members of the OMVS, of several shared infrastructure projects. The former convention lists these joint works, which include the Manantali and Diama dams. The rights and obligations of the co-owner states are founded on principles of equality and equity.36 The legal technique of using joint works cements the concept of the community of interests in the Senegal.37 The shared ownership and management of these joint works “is far more than would be expected under the most cooperative theories of basin management or good neighborliness.”38

Remarkably, some of the jointly owned works in the Senegal are located entirely within one riparian’s territory, such as the Manantali Dam in Mali. Thus, three countries jointly build, own, and operate a

Benefit-sharing arrangements 115 dam in one country. The financing and benefit sharing of these joint works are linked to each other as outlined in the Convention Concerning the Legal Status of Common Works; the investment and operating cost contributions of each “co-owner state” for these joint works, are proportional to the benefits received by these same co-owner states.39 The Convention Regarding the Methods of Financing Joint Works further elaborates on the financing arrangements for these shared projects.

These joint works are an innovative example of benefit sharing on a shared international watercourse,40 and illustrate “the high level of integration between States and their acceptance to leave the management of the River and its resource to the OM VS for the common good of States.”41 The OM VS and the Senegal have justifiably received much attention for this novel arrangement.42

The Senegal situation also reflects the duty of riparian states to cooperate in the management of shared international watercourses under international law.43 For example, the shared ownership and management of joint infrastructure in the Senegal reflects an international legal obligation to cooperate. The commitment to cooperative management in the Senegal is also reflected in the 1972 Convention on the Statute of the Senegal River and the 2002 Water Charter, which requires prior approval by contracting states for the implementation of certain projects. In the Senegal, “Senegal, Mali and Mauritania (as well as Guinea) established an extraordinary framework of cooperation, including joint ownership of key river-regulation infrastructure and a river basin organization with extensive decision-making power.”44

 
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