Water values and moral economic practices in Kunene, Namibia

Diego Augusto Menestrey Schwieger
University of Cologne, Department of Social & Cultural Anthropology, Cologne, Germany; diego.menestrey@uni-koeln.de

Richard Dimba Kiaka
Jaramogi Oginga Odinga of Science and Technology, Bondo, Kenya; rkiaka@jooust.ac.ke

Michael Schnegg
University of Hamburg, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Hamburg, Germany; michael.schnegg@uni-hamburg.de

ABSTRACT: In Namibia, the institutional framework for governing rural water infrastructure has changed profoundly over the last decades. Following a community-based water management (CBWM) strategy, post-independence policies transferred the responsibility for providing water from the state to local user groups. This turned water from a public good into a common good, and today all pastoral communities must collectively cover the costs of water. In this article, we explore the economic consequences of these developments in the Kunene region of north-western Namibia. Our analysis reveals that CBWM places a significant burden on all households but that, at the same time, the effects differ across the region. In the northern part of the research area the poor pay a high share, while in the south they find ways to resist. Our analysis reveals that 'moral economic practices' such as food sharing can account for those differences to a significant degree. Communities in the north are characterised by very strong reciprocal patron-client networks, which give the poor relatively little power to oppose pricing rules that are preferred by their wealthy neighbours. In the southern part of the Kunene region, by contrast, social networks are based on sharing norms and are much more egalitarian. Along with other factors, those differences help to explain why the poor in the north find it much more difficult to resist their wealthy neighbours than do the poor in the south. In the end, the actual price of water differs across the region as it intersects with different moral economic practices.

KEYWORDS: Pastoral communities, community-based water management, moral economic practices, institutional multiplexity, Kunene, Namibia