Since the very early years of the twentieth century, colonial powers (Britain, France, Germany) had diplomatic exchanges on the navigation of the Niger River, and its principal tributary, the Benue.

After independence, the first act regarding navigation and economic cooperation between the “States of the River Niger” was concluded in 1962, followed by the establishment of the Niger River Commission in 1964. In the following years, focus quickly shifted from navigability to other uses of water resources.

Due to a sharp decrease in rainfall, the basin experienced a prolonged period of low runoff starting in the late 1960s (and lasting until the early 2000s), with the average annual flow in Bamako (Mali) falling by 30 percent compared to the period 1905 1970. This period has recently been followed by a period of increased runoff, and these periods can broadly be related to political cycles of increased and decreased attention towards the NBA.12 In fact, the dramatic consequences of low runoff raised attention around the need to better manage the transboundary resources of the river, albeit with a lag. The inability of the commission to provide answers to the drought in the 1970s triggered a reorganization of the institution, which was renamed NBA. It took until 1987 for a revised convention to be adopted with a new mandate. An initial ambition to focus the mandate on coordinated infrastructure development of the basin was scaled back in favor of an emphasis on coordination and fundraising. The 1987 convention13 is still the legal basis of the NBA and grants its legal personality.

While it does not make explicit mention of conflict management, the concept of diplomacy over shared water and land resources is captured in the rather general expression “promoting cooperation.” “Integrated development,” “harmonize and coordinate,” and “joint projects” all point to a vision of collaboration and cooperation, while conflict resolution and legal disputes are not mentioned.

With the legal basis of the NBA strengthened, the following decade, the 1990s, was dominated by issues affecting another critical aspect of the river basin organization’s functioning capacity: finances. Arrears in member state contributions largely caused by the debt crisis meant that the very functioning of the NBA Secretariat was jeopardized.

As economies regained strength starting in 1999, member states returned to plans for large infrastructure (mainly multipurpose dams serving energy, irrigation, and flow regulation needs), refocusing attention on the need to coordinate the impacts of such projects between upstream and downstream.14 A renewed global focus on international and regional cooperation brought new momentum and a real high-level drive to the NBA.

The April 2004 conference of heads of state and government in Paris, responding to an invitation by President Jacques Chirac of France, built momentum for the “Shared Vision Process.” The Shared Vision was elaborated between 2002 and 2008 through an inclusive consultation process supported by the World Bank, Canada, the European Union, and France.

The Shared Vision created the conditions and further momentum towards the adoption of the Water Charter in 2008 and the Action Plan for Sustainable Development (PADD) in 2007, which substantiate the political Shared Vision in legal agreements and technical tools

The Niger Basin 131 to implement it.15 The PADD is the economic and environmental framework stemming from the preferred scenario of infrastructure development (centered around the flow regulation effect of the three multipurpose dams of Fomi, Taoussa, and Kandadji, in Guinea, Mali, and Niger, respectively) that was confirmed and adopted by the council of ministers and still is the official development plan of the basin.

The Water Charter, signed and ratified at the highest level in all basin countries, is the legally binding framework for cooperation on sustainable water resource development, complementing the 1987 convention. Arguably the main tool for water diplomacy in the basin, it includes the obligation for riparian countries to preserve the quantity and quality of the basin’s water resources and its environment, to exchange information and consult each other on planned measures, and to notify other states in the event that measures may have “significant adverse effects” on other states. The charter foresees five annexes,16 three of which have been completed and adopted, while the remaining two are currently being drafted (Figure 6.3).

Applying the Mirumachi framework to the Niger River Basin

Figure 6.3 Applying the Mirumachi framework to the Niger River Basin.

Source: Author, adapted from Mark Zeitoun and Naho Mirumachi, “Transboundary Water Interaction I: Reconsidering Conflict and Cooperation," International Environmental Agreements 8, no 4 (2008).

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