Understanding political will in groundwater management: Comparing Yemen and Ethiopia

Frank van Steenbergen
MetaMeta Research, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands; fvansteenbergen@metameta.nl

Assefa Kumsa
CoCoon Groundwater in the Political Domain Team, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; akumsa@metameta.nl

Nasser Al-Awlaki
CoCoon Groundwater in the Political Domain Team, Yemen; former Minister of Agriculture of Yemen.

ABSTRACT: This paper explores the role of politics in water management, in particular, comparing groundwater management in Yemen and Ethiopia. It tries to understand the precise meaning of the often-quoted term 'political will' in these different contexts and compares the autocratic and oligarchic system in Yemen with the dominant party 'developmental state' in Ethiopia. The links between these political systems and the institutional domain are described as well as the actual management of groundwater on the ground. Whereas the Ethiopian state is characterised by the use of hard power and soft ideational power, the system in Yemen relies at most on soft negotiating power. There is a strong link between the political system, the positioning of different parties and access to power, the role of central and local governments, the propensity to plan and vision, the effectiveness of government organisations, the extent of corruption, the influence of informal governance mechanisms, the scope for private initiative and the political interest in groundwater management and development in general. More important than political will per se is political capacity – the ability to implement and regulate.

KEYWORDS: Groundwater, conflict, cooperation, politics, governance, Yemen, Ethiopia