Social implications of water pollution and shortage; water is a threat to democracy in Africa

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Social implications of water pollution and shortage; water is a threat to democracy in Africa

Water shortage is an environmental crisis, yes, but the problems with water will cause a totally different problem in Africa in general — it could kill democracy. These days, all those who occupy wetlands, encroach on forests, and take over river banks have something politicians need — the vote. In some countries, Kenya included, politicians actually support them in grabbing forests in exchange for votes.

So, when the environmental or forest authorities move to evict them, there are protests and the encroacher-backed MP takes the matter to Parliament. If not, they will go to court and a judge will grant them an injunction. And so, we are getting to a dangerous point. In many of the countries in Africa where there has been environmental recovery, the governments did not go and kneel and appeal to the nationalism of the encroachers to leave wetlands and forests. They sent in armed troops with bulldozers, guns, and trucks and carted off the peasants or encroachers forcibly.

Unless democratic interventions succeed, I fear that cities like Nairobi or Uganda's capital, Kampala, to name just two, could, in 10 years, reach a point where a strongman tells the city residents: "Choose, we either shoot people out of wetlands and violently break down homes that are blocking streams or you and your city die." You will be surprised how many starched white shirt and tie- wearing and church-going people will support the Draconian alternative.

TYRANNY It will not stop there. Any time an attempt is made to bring order to the roads, especially to the matatu(taxis) industry or regulate boda bodas(motorcycle taxis), there is chaos. The city MP who is dependent on their votes will raise a ruckus, and they will also go to court, and a judge will rule in their favour. One can see here too that the mess on our roads will, in the years to come, play into the hands of a disciplinarian autocrat.

Writing in the daily newspaper last week, Kwame Owino of the Institute of Economic Affairs, argued that one civilised way to deal with traffic congestion would be to impose a congestion charge. It is possible to make a congestion charge work in London, for example, in part because Londoners know that city officials will not use it to marry second wives.

A congestion charge in Nairobi would cause a civil war, and elected officials would oppose it. So, again, we can see that in the long-term, there is no way Nairobi city water problems or traffic congestion can be fixed in a democratic context. However, a tyrant who does not have to worry about the next election, and who is not a thief, would get support to use extreme measures to clean things up.

Of course, as we have seen with the environmental nightmare in China, even unelected illiberal regimes pollute and mess the earth. But you will not be able to tell a Nairobian who is dying of thirst in 10 years that it is wrong to shoot on sight anyone throwing his trash into the river. Bernard Wainaina is an Independent Agribusiness Advisor and CEO at Profarms Consultants®,Nairobi,Kenya. He mainly works with Agribusiness Youth Groups in Eastern African Region

By Bernard Wainaina CEO,Profarms Consultants® LinkedIn;