Designing a transboundary multistakeholder platform in the Incomati: Learning from other African basins

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By Setsabile Thwala, Ryan Nehring, and Jonathan Lautze

The CGIAR Initiative on NEXUS Gains convened a three-day workshop in Maputo, Mozambique, on “Transboundary multistakeholder platforms (MSPs) and the Incomati Basin.” The objectives were to learn from the experiences of other MSPs in shared basins throughout Africa; identify the role of an MSP in the Incomati Basin and how one could be incorporated within the existing governance structure; and clarify how to build on the capacity of existing stakeholder activities in the three countries of the basin.

The event, which took place in March, was organized by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), with support from the Incomati and Maputo Watercourse Commission (INMACOM).

The workshop was attended by stakeholders from the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), Zambezi Watercourse Commission (ZAMCOM), Inkomati-Usuthu Catchment Management Agency (IUCMA) and the Commissioner of International Water in Relations South Africa; the South Regional Water Administration (ARA-Sul) in Mozambique; the Principal Secretary of The Ministry of Natural Resources and Energy in Eswatini; the Joint River Basin Authorities – Project Board (JRBA-PB) in Eswatini.

Learning from other transboundary basins

The Executive Secretary of ZAMCOM, Mr. Felix M. Mgamlagosi, explained how the MSP within ZAMCOM plays a pivotal role in promoting equitable resource sharing and facilitating stakeholder engagement. The MSP serves as a conduit to link the ZAMCOM Secretariat with stakeholders, support implementation efforts, and organize stakeholder fora.

There is a drastically different approach in the Nile Basin. Engineer Sylvester Matemu, the Regional Manager of the Nile Basin Discourse (NBD) and former Executive Secretary of the NBI, spoke about how the NBD is independent of the NBI, the latter of which is an organization with member state interests. The NBD, on the other hand, provides a platform for civil society participation and dialogue among stakeholders across the basin. These lessons from the Zambezi and Nile Basins helped fuel discussions throughout the workshop.

Challenges in the Incomati

Each of the three countries in the Incomati Basin has a catchment management agency (CMA). During the workshop, representatives from these agencies illustrated the unique regional challenges. While the CMAs play a crucial role in stakeholder engagement across the basin, their activities are largely unstructured and underfunded, and would benefit from more transboundary interaction.

Drawing from experiences in the Zambezi and Nile Basins, participants discussed the organizational structure, funding mechanisms, and modalities of stakeholder interaction that have contributed to the success of existing transboundary MSPs. The primary challenges facing the basin include issues with differing legislations in each country, which may not always align or complement each other – potentially hindering effective cooperation. Participants also alluded to the lack of harmonization in data collection and sharing methods, making it difficult to have a unified understanding of water resources across the borders.

Maragra Sugar site visit

Maragra Sugar is one of Mozambique’s largest Incomati stakeholders. Participants toured the site during the workshop and observed the consequences of a major flood in March 2023. The flood destroyed a majority of Maragra’s sugar production, significantly impacting the livelihoods of thousands of Maragra’s outgrowers, and setting back the company’s operations for several years. These impacts underscored the need for improved monitoring, information dissemination, and improved management of the Incomati Basin for flood control.

From the bank of the river, participants witnessed the rebuilding of dikes in the floodplain. Many upstream participants had not previously visited downstream portions of the basin, let alone with the chance to have sustained, direct engagement with a downstream stakeholder.

Next steps: The Incomati MSP

Ultimately, participants confirmed the need for an Incomati MSP and converged toward MSP modalities. The group recommendations were put forward regarding the proposed framework, which entailed placing the envisioned MSP under a Communication and Stakeholder Task Team within INMACOM. This specialized team would include representatives from local organizations (JRBA-PB, IUCMA, and ARA-Sul); INMACOM would appoint a convener/secretary, subject to resource availability; and the MSP would operate following approved Terms of Reference from INMACOM. The MSP would comprise task teams, such as Technical, Finance, Legal, Communication, and Human Resources Task Teams. Initially, the committee would convene quarterly, with a plan to transition to bi-annual meetings as it matures and as financial resources are secured.

In reflecting on the outcomes of the workshop and site visit, Mr. Oscar Sibia, Division Director of ARA-Sul, expressed his gratitude. He stated, “The shared experiences of ZAMCOM and Nile will contribute to the establishment of the MSP in the Incomati Basin, which already has a platform [REMCO] that is the basis for the active participation of different stakeholders in the perspective of transboundary-integrated management of water resources.”

Participants also highlighted how the creation of the MSP would support their work by providing a structured platform for communication, coordination, and decision-making among stakeholders. Looking ahead, they expressed their commitment to implementing the recommendations and working collaboratively to address water management challenges in the Incomati Basin.

The workshop has emphasized the need for the formalization of an MSP structure anchored within INMACOM and supported by multisectoral stakeholders. It offered an invaluable opportunity for knowledge exchange and collaboration among stakeholders, river basin organizations, and international partners, to lay the foundation for the development of an inclusive and effective MSP in the Incomati Basin.

Setsabile Thwala is based at the University of Cape Town; Ryan Nehring is an Associate Research Fellow at IFPRI; and Jonathan Lautze is a Research Group Leader at IWMI.

This work was carried out under the CGIAR Initiative on NEXUS Gains, which is grateful for the support of CGIAR Trust Fund contributors:


Header image: Workshop field visit to Maragra Sugar on the Incomati Basin floodplain.

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