Day 1: Feminist Activist Coalition tells of Tanzania's World Bank-imposed water privatisation Print E-mail

Monday January 22 2007



Scroll down to also read of the launch of the African Water Network at the WSF in Nairobi

Zarina Geloo

NAIROBI - Latin America is not alone in witnessing growing protests against privatising public utilities. In Africa, a Tanzanian dispute has ended up in British lawcourts.

Global issues around water privatisation flowed at the World Social Forum on Sunday when a Tanzanian feminist coalition outlined its concerns.

City Water, a consortium of Biwater in Britain, Gauff in Germany and a local company Superdoll, took over the supply of water to Dar Es Salaam in a $102 million, 10-year contract it signed with the Tanzanian government in 2003.

Two years later, the government – pressured by consumers who complained of poor services – terminated the contract. Biwater, acting on behalf of the consortium, then applied to the British High Court for an injunction to prevent the Tanzanian government from unlawfully terminating their contract. The company also sought compensation.

Deus Kibamba, co-ordinator of the Feminist Activist Coalition in Tanzania, narrated the saga at the World Social Forum on Sunday, during a session which sought to discuss a common international civil society strategy on ‘Promoting the Human Right to Water.’

Forced Privatisation?

"The privatisation of water was a condition of the International Monetary Fund’s Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility and from 2000 to 2003 it was a condition of an IMF Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility. So the government was practically forced into privatisation of water," said Kibamba.

"People were revolting against the firm’s poor performances," said Ruth Munshi from Tanzania, adding that popular resentment against private water monopolies was not just confined to Tanzania but was a world-wide phenomenon.

Anti-privatisation demonstrations have rocked parts of Latin America in recent years, and protests have also taken place in Africa, the Caribbean and Asia.

According to the World Bank, Tanzania is one of the most heavily indebted countries in the world, with an external debt of about $7.5 billion. At least 27 percent (9.8 million people) of Tanzania's population do not have access to safe water. The UN Children’s Fund says 40 percent of children under five suffer from diarrhoea as a result of drinking unsafe water.

Mushi says City Water was supposed to be the flagship water privatisation scheme in Africa but it failed because it was more interested in its "bottom line" – meaning profits.

The Tanzanian government says it terminated City Water’s agreement because the consortium had failed to honour the terms of its contract. However, in previous reports, City Water has said it had received inaccurate information on critical issues such as the extent of damaged infrastructure and the number of active consumers.

Kibamba said civil society must put pressure on the Tanzanian government not to give in to privatisation of public utilities: "There was no consultation with the people over such an important issue … We will not relent."

Issue #696 31 January 2007

Water network launched at WSF in Kenya

On January 24, water activists at the World Social Forum in Nairobi announced the formation of the African Water Network, to campaign against water privatisation. Hundreds of activists from groups and campaigns in more than 40 African countries committed to the new initiative. According to Ghanaian activist Al hassan Adam, “The launch of this network should put the water privateers, governments and international financial institutions on notice that Africans will resist privatisation. We demand governments provide access to clean water through efficient public delivery.” The network pledged to: fight against water privatisation; ensure participatory public control and management of water resources; oppose all forms of pre-paid water metres; ensure that water is enshrined in national constitutions as a human right; and ensure that the provision of water is a national project solely in the public domain.