Lost in Translation: State Policies and Micro-politics of Water Governance in Namibia

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Water governance in rural Namibia has profoundly changed since the early 1990s. After independence and in accordance with global environmental policies, it became a central theme of Namibia's environmental legislation to transfer the responsibility for managing natural resources to local user associations. In this article, I explore the emergence of new social forms at the intersection of existing cultural models and new rationalities for governance. Doing so combines an analysis of state legislation with the micro-politics of water governance in 60 pastoral communities. The ethnographic analysis reveals that different actors, including state bureaucrats as well as rich and poorer herd owners, have different understandings of how to share water. While the poorer often agree with the state policy that water is an economic good and should be paid for accordingly, only in about half of the communities do corresponding institutional regimes emerge. Using critical institutionalism as a theoretical guide, I offer a contribution to understanding how more than 20 years after Rio local institutions of resource governance emerge at the intersection of different, and often heterogeneous and intertwined, social fields.




Schnegg, M. (2016). Lost in Translation: State Policies and Micro-politics of Water Governance in Namibia. Human Ecology, 44(2), 245–255. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10745-016-9820-2

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