River-basin politics and the rise of ecological and transnational democracy in Southeast Asia and Southern Africa

Chris Sneddon
Department of Geography and Environmental Studies Program, Dartmouth College, USA; christopher.s.sneddon@dartmouth.edu

Coleen Fox
Department of Geography, Dartmouth College, USA; coleen.a.fox@dartmouth.edu

ABSTRACT: In recent years, debates over 'deliberative', 'transnational' and 'ecological' democracy have proliferated, largely among scholars engaged in discussions of modernization, globalization and political identity. Within this broad context, scholars and practitioners of environmental governance have advanced the argument that a democratic society will produce a more environmentally conscious society. We want to make a volte-face of this argument and ask: to what extent does engagement with environmental politics and, specifically, water politics, contribute to processes of democratization? After reviewing some of the contributions to debates over 'ecological' and 'transnational' democracy, we explore this question within the context of conflicts over river-basin development in Southeast Asia and southern Africa. We argue that there are multiple pathways to democratization and that, in some cases, the environment as a political issue does constitute a significant element of democratization. But notions of 'ecological' and 'transnational' democracy must embody how both 'environment' and 'the transnational', as mobilized by specific social movements in specific historical and geographical circumstances, are politically constructed.

KEYWORDS: Ecological democracy, transnational democracy, Mekong river basin, Zambezi river basin, environmental politics