Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Water and reconstruction in Africa: an agenda for transformation

What is hidden from the Wise and Prudent will be revealed to babes and sucklings.

In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight. Luke 10:21 –

Islam ascribes the most sacred qualities to water as a life-giving, sustaining, and purifying resource. It is the origin of all life on earth, the substance from which God created man (Qur’an 25:54). The Qur’an emphasizes its centrality: "We made from water every living thing"(Qur’an 21:30). Water is the primary element that existed even before the heavens and the earth did: "And it is He who created the heavens and the earth in six days, and his Throne was upon water". (Qur’an 11:7).


I have quoted from the Bible and the Koran because once one begins to deal with water one is dealing with the fundamentals of life. In all major religions and forms of spiritual reflection, water plays a central role. Whether it is the religion of the African ancestors or the newer religions such as Christianity or Islam, water is presented in real or symbolic forms. Water as a symbol of life as well as a means of cleansing or purification is of particular importance in the traditions of Africans. In nearly every African society, the water spirit is one of the most positive and forceful spirits in the community. It is because of the importance of this spiritual energy that the external exploiters always wanted to control this resource, bot at the spiritual level and at the material level. The lakes and water resources served as a spiritual and ritual space for the peoples in so far as the importance of water was understood in spiritual terms of giving life.

Those who believed in the ‘mami wata’ spirit were accused of witchcraft and oftimes cast out of communities. Those who remember the imperial partitioning of Africa will recall that for the dominant imperial force at that historical moment, the race was to reach the source of the Nile. The conquest of the peoples in the Nile valley was always central to imperial objectives in Africa. After using the water to support colonial mining, agriculture and industrial uses to the detriment of the vast majority of the peoples, colonial overlords left schools of engineering and hydrology that repeated discourses about “Global water crisis.” It was in Southern Africa where this was most obscene. Settler colonialists consumed vast amounts of water for irrigation, sprinkling elegant gardens and for their swimming pools while there was water shortage for the majority. Irrigation schemes had been established by the settlers to provide water for the farms and the political and economic power of settler colonialism had been stamped in the building of the Cabora Bassa and Kariba dams. During the period of apartheid, the minority government in cooperation with the World Bank invested in the Lesotho High Water Dam to dispossess the people of Lesotho for industries and big corporate entities in South Africa. As in South Africa, so all over Africa these schemes benefited the rich while there were books and papers on the “Global Water Crisis in Africa.” International relations experts then produced reams of papers on future water wars.

Today we are now being told the truth about the abundance of water resources in Africa. In reality, the publication last week by the British on the large underground supplies of water is only news to those in the West who had built an industry out of consultancies on water shortages in Africa. The peoples of Africa always knew of the tremendous wealth but we will use the publication of the British Geological Survey and University College London (UCL) to reflect on the tasks of building the kind of infrastructure of canals and water systems for the unification and for the health and well-being of the peoples of Africa.
As reported on the BBC web page,,

'Huge water resource exists under Africa ... Scientists say the notoriously dry continent of Africa is sitting on a vast reservoir of groundwater. They argue that the total volume of water in aquifers underground is 100 times the amount found on the surface. The team have produced the most detailed map yet of the scale and potential of this hidden resource.’ Read more