On 30 September 2020, UNU-INWEH researcher, Dr Caner Sayan, participated at the virtual Regional Studies Association Workshop: Water Infrastructure and Regional Governance, organised to showcase empirical and conceptual research at the intersection of water governance, infrastructure, and regionalism. Dr Sayan joined the panel titled, Decision-Making and Engagement in Regional Water Governance, and discussed his paper, Soft Power, Discourse Coalitions, and the Proposed Interbasin Water Transfer Between Lake Chad and the Congo River‘, also co-authored by Dr Nidhi Nagabhatla and Ms Marvel Ekwuribe.
Following global trends that resulted in the decrease in funding of large-scale water infrastructure projects in the 1990s and 2000s, these projects have been reintegrated into the political agendas to bring technical solutions to major water-related problems such as droughts and floods and address developmental challenges at national and regional levels. They are reconfiguring regional politics and materializing national and regional agendas of several actors, agencies and institutions in large basins of Africa. For instance, the response to Lake Chad’s declining water levels since the 1960s, a monumental inter-basin water transfer (IBWT) project, aiming to connect the Lake Chad and Congo River Basins by constructing a 2400-km-long canal, has been singled out as the most feasible solution by the Lake Chad Basin countries, international and regional organizations and the private sector. This presentation focuses on this case study and discursively analyzes the infrastructure turn in water sharing discourse of the Central African region. Accordingly, we will demonstrate how the IBWT ideas are promoted, or objected, in the region by using soft power tactics and strategies such as agenda setting, knowledge construction, securitization, issue linkage and exclusion from negotiation processes and how the IBWT issue is used by several actors to push their broader national and regional agendas. Overall, this presentation will examine the transboundary water interactions between the two relatively socioeconomically and geopolitically complex basins (Lake Chad – Congo River) while highlighting how non-state actors (particularly large corporations) and financially intensive and politically sensitive ideas such as the IBWT in the course of time is reshaping transboundary water politics and regional political (in)stability in the Central African Region.