Developing the basin and preventing conflict

The development of CICOS over the 20 years of its existence can be described as a slow but steady upward curve, a continuously growing success story. Water management and navigation are two urgent issues that have dominated the agenda, with the latter serving as the entry-point which paved the way for a further deepening of successful cooperation. Navigation remains a central pillar, while CICOS has addressed further challenges, gained additional competences, and taken on more tasks over time. The official expansion of the mandate in 2007 turned CICOS into an RBO assigned for the planning and implementation of a basin-wide IWRM. This major step allowed it to focus better on the opportunities and potential benefits from the river. Gabon and Angola joining the organization in 2010 and 2016, respectively, illustrating that CICOS’ development has attracted new member states. With hydropower and infrastructure development CICOS is also concerned with more controversial areas that might lead to conflict. With regard to its capacity and ability to contribute, implement, or even guide water diplomacy in the Congo Basin, CICOS shows several strengths as well as various shortcomings, discussed below.

On the technical side, CICOS is working on various projects to improve scientific monitoring, data collection, modeling and assessment, and forecasting, as well as reporting, to create a sound basis for informed decision-making. Particularly GETRACO was a success story that established an information management system in the first project phase.29 When CICOS was first established most of the data available was poor and often outdated; systematic and basin-wide collection only started some years later. While these efforts are an important step for informed decision-making in the future, basin-wide relevant data from CICOS countries are not necessarily acknowledged or taken into consideration in countries that are part of the basin but not of CICOS.

Looking into the functional scope of CICOS, the comprehensive and broad mandate after 2007 has allowed it to address various diverse water(-related) challenges through an intergovernmental body, from navigation to hydropower development. Still, the approaches rely on de facto separate projects and programs, supported, funded,

and implemented by different partners under different regulations, which might hamper the consistency of CICOS’ strategic direction. It remains also rather vague (or varies from case to case) to what extent CICOS itself can actively shape these projects and programs, has financial competences, or has actual power and standing to act individually.

In addition, CICOS has a legitimacy issue, claiming basin-wide competences and action but representing only six out of the ten riparian states. While the absence of Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Zambia had been plausible under the 1999 agreement and the mandate focusing on navigation, since navigation does not extend into the southeastern parts of the river system, it is rather problematic under the amended and more comprehensive and inclusive mandate of 2007, as IWRM ideally requires the cooperation of upstream states.30

Institutionally, CICOS provides a quite elaborate organizational structure (see Figure 8.2). It is based on the standard model for RBOs that consists of (a) the decision-making body, the Council of Ministers that meets at least annually and sets out the general and broader policy direction; (b) the advisory board, the Steering Committee, composed of national delegates preparing the ministers’ meetings; and

Organizational structure of CICOS (in French)

Figure 8.2 Organizational structure of CICOS (in French).

(c) the General Secretariat under the leadership of the secretary-general, appointed by the Council of Ministers and in charge of executing all CICOS activities and projects. While the political level functions relatively smoothly, the executive side has been suffering from underfinancing and staffing problems.31

The institutional set-up below the General Secretariat allows it to independently address different issues to achieve CICOS’ overall goals, such as infrastructure, pollution, and ecosystems protection. To what extent and how various stakeholders are engaged in policy-making and project implementation remains unclear beyond the case-to-case project basis. CICOS is a quite flexible organization that implements programs and projects by cooperating with different partners. It has been politically backed and financially supported by a broad spectrum of international actors, such as the European Union, Germany, France, the African Development Bank, and the World Bank. Several of these have been engaged with long-term commitments. But this flexibility might implicitly bring conflicts of interest between different projects. CICOS provides an appropriate forum to get together and to negotiate water-related issues in the basin on various levels—including interministerial committees. But the political and legal components of cooperation do not play a central role in the overall institutional set-up, neither are intersectoral conflicts appropriately addressed.

In relation to strategic considerations, CICOS has proven partially successful, in the way it has set-up basin-wide planning, developing comprehensive strategies and guidelines. This is particularly illustrated in the area of navigation, which combines investments in infrastructure, such as signals and port, and capacity building, such as training for captains, pilots, and mechanics.32 The generally cooperative atmosphere in the basin when it comes to water-related planning is advantageous here—national plans and strategies have so far neither undermined nor contradicted the efforts of CICOS.

The organization generally stands for a basin-wide direction and perspective with the aim of optimizing benefits. Still, diverging national interests time and again block development of joint approaches between riparian states, which applies, for example, to the DRC, which still prefers bilateral cooperation over basin-wide regulations. Plenty of the hydropower discussions and developments also take place— often bilaterally—outside of CICOS, which only marginally addresses this topic. The DRC has, for instance, already agreed to supply South Africa with 2,500 MW generated at the planned Inga 3 dam—more than half of its output.33 While the efforts in navigation have proven to be long-term and have a basin-wide orientation, delivering concrete and tangible results, this is not as obvious in other areas.

On the political side, the support for and backing of CICOS in the basin has constantly increased over time. The DRC, for instance, did initially not necessarily promote a transboundary RBO for a river perceived as its own. But the increasing interest in and speculations from other riparian states and outside the basin on how the water could be used changed the position in Kinshasa.34 While two more riparian states joined later, Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Zambia are still not members of the organization. So, despite the fact that 90 percent of the basin is in the territories of CICOS member states, its legitimacy is undermined or limited when it comes to strategic basin-wide planning—even if the non-members are at least not opposing CICOS. Zambia and Tanzania are reportedly considering whether to join the commission.35 Still, long-term financial support from the basin and external partners, as well as the shift of sovereignty to CICOS for transboundary planning, implementation, or conflict resolution has not materialized.

The new mandate of 2007 brought a shift from the dominating interstate dynamics towards a community of interest with different preferences; changing also the basically technical character of the initial navigation focus to a broader, multi-sectoral, more political one addressing 1WRM and regional development. Still, while the CICOS member states agree on the principles of 1WRM and the expansion of the mandate, they oppose the transformation of the commission into a transnational authority. This can limit the role of CICOS as a regional actor and leaves decision-making on the Congo in the realm of interstate politics. A structural obstacle hampering deepened cooperation is that CICOS members are part of historically overlapping and competing regional blocs and organizations, i.e., the Southern African Development Community, the East African Community, the Economic Community of Central African States, and CEMAC.

In relation to international awareness, support for CICOS has constantly been increasing over the last two decades. Still, the Congo Basin and CICOS receive comparatively little attention since relations and the (hydro)politics between the Congo riparian states are not as strained or perceived as worrying a security threat as, for instance, those along the Nile, Euphrates, and Tigris, or at the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers in Asia. Further awareness raising with regard to the importance of the basin and its challenges is badly needed, for instance with regard to the Water Transfer Project. The latter would have dramatic effects on the river system, particularly accelerating the decreasing water levels in the north of the basin.36

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