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Monday, 28 May, 2001, 14:58 GMT 15:58 UK
Africa's rivers: Productive or neglected?
One of the world's biggest rivers, the Congo, is being opened for business after a two-and-a-half year closure due to the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The re-opening of the River Congo would bring economic and social regeneration to towns and villages along its course.

There are several other rivers, big and small, along the length and breadth of Africa that could do the same.

But does Africa make the best use of its waterways? How can they be used to benefit its people?

This Talking Point is now closed. Read your comments below.

Opening up river transportation could be a lasting solution to transportation difficulty in many African countries privileged with rivers. African governments should encourage private companies to exploit this cheap and ancient means of transport by bringing in modern steamers, boats and ferries such that never endangers innocent lives. Today in my country there is no river transportation between the South and the north. Sudan has yet possibility of gaining economically from our God-given River Nile.

If we don't take care of our natural resources they will not take care of us

Molly, Africa
I don't think African rivers are ever taken care of. Take the Nairobi river for instance. It has been misused and abused by the top companies and factories who dump their industrial waste to the poor man/woman in the slums who use for drinking from, bathing in and as a toilet to say the least. If the governments took care of their people by making viable economic reforms then they would be able to provide the basic needs of their people. If we don't take care of our natural resources they will not take care of us - period.
Molly, Africa

Like most of our resources, the most crucial of all, African rivers are neglected. They are neglected so much so that, finding documented reports about the basins they cover is uncommon. Africa needs to address 'Development' as its centre of politics. Such a politic will give its due concern for natural resources. But unfortunately, our politics is centred on abstract and difficult concepts like 'language'/'culture' etc, etc. Concepts difficult even to full time scholars. That is at a higher level but at the grass roots a lot can be done by cleaning village streams, preparing books about river basins etc. Rivers are a source of poetry and unity in Africa. In Ethiopia people say ' we fetch from the same river ' to show how close a relationship between neighbouring communities is. It transcends language, religion and other difficult categories. In connection to the Nile, the above saying also works for the people of Sudan and Egypt ... after all we fetch from the same river.
Genene Endale Geda, Ethiopian in the US

Africa boasts of some of the world's best yet abused rivers

Lilian Kimeto, Kenya
Africa boasts of some of the world's best yet abused rivers. Farming along rivers, cuttting of forests and other illegal activities have caused a slow death to these once thriving rivers. In Kenya for example, the Tana which is a great source of electricity will soon be no more because of siltation and clearing of forests around the Mount Kenya region (the source of the Tana). Africans must appreciate the importance of rivers and tend them. These rivers are our sources of food (fish), electricity and short routes between trading towns. If Africa cared for and made use of all her rivers, how much would be achieved? That is what we will experience with the re-opening of river Congo - an economic revival.
Lilian Kimeto, Kenya

In a continent ruled by cruel, corrupt and selfish dictators it is pointless even to think about how to exploit and make use of the water resources. Most African leaders do not care about those who suffer under day to day reality of poverty. Before we talk about any form of development in Africa, it is vital we stress the Importance of democratic, efficient and responsible government elected through a true democratic process. Take Ethiopia for example the current government came to power after overthrowing the military junta. They promised a lot of economic and political changes. After consolidating power, however, they turned out to be even worse than the junta. Economic development without responsible government is unthinkable.
Mike, Canada

We Africans should blame ourselves for not properly utilising our natural resources. As an example, Ethiopia is endowed with big rivers that spawn through most parts of the country. There are lots of possibilities to utilise them for the generation of power, irrigation and to some extent for navigation. Proper harnessing and utilisation of water resources could make a big difference between poverty and a better living.

The issue is how should one approach the problem. In my view, genuine development programs that aim at the participation of the people at the grassroots level can do much in using the rivers for the alleviation of poverty. I am also confident that such approaches will bring a new light of hope to Ethiopians in all walks of life and will do away with the unnecessary political intrigues that has shackled us in poverty.
Dagne Tolla, Ethiopia

To use the rivers effectively Africa needs stability

Makumba, Ethiopian/ in USA.
To use the rivers effectively Africa needs stability, that is when economy of a country grows. Africa needs effective management, good governance and technology to use its resources. We lack all of the above, at least in most African countries. Take Ethiopia, rotation of cruel and corrupt governments with none of the people's support.
Makumba, Ethiopian/ in USA.

I don't think African rivers are even taken care of. Take the Nairobi river for instance. It has been misused and abused by the top companies and factories who dump their industrial waste to the poor man/woman in the slums who use it for drinking from, bathing in and as a toilet to say the least. If the governments took care of their people by making viable economic reforms then they would be able to provide the basic needs of their people. If we don't take care of our natural resources they will not take care of us period.
Molly, UK

With modern inventions, there is a glimmer of hope that one day Africans will learn that the world's wealth lies not only on the land that they see, but beneath the labyrinth of the sea, lakes and oceans. Risk taking is necessary if we Africans are to harvest what lies beneath the waterways.
Henry Williams, New York/ Sierra Leone

African rivers have not been fully exploited for economic purposes

Maji Mazuri, Canada
Firstly, Africans have utilised these rivers to harness hydro electric power for modern living. Secondly, these rivers provide a source of livelihood of fresh water fish that are sold either fresh or preserved. For transportation some of these mighty rivers like the Nile have high powered passenger boats that ferry people especially tourists to see the wonders of the world like pyramids in Egypt. There is a saying in Uganda that "No Nile no Egypt". The irrigation that takes place in the fertile Nile valleys keeps the Egyptians and Northern Sudanese with bread and butter. Despite this rosy picture, African rivers have not been fully exploited for economic purposes. However, it is not too late.
Maji Mazuri, Canada

Our lack to fully utilise African rivers is a good example of how Africa has failed to take advantage of its natural resources. With the proper political leadership we can accumulate enough capital and the technology that will allow us to use our rivers for transportation, irrigation, and power generating purposes. Who is to blame when we cannot even take advantage of what nature has endowed upon us? Certainly, we are to blame, especially those who claim to be our leaders.
George Mutua, Kenya

I have lived in Uganda since 1995. The country is crossed by one of the two world's main rivers: the Nile. Two portions of the Ugandan part of the River Nile could be used for cargo and passengers transport - from the north of Bujagali Falls all the way down to the South of Karuma Falls- from Lake Albert (Congo and Uganda sides) all the way to Nimule (South Sudan).

The Nile was used as a waterway during the colonial period, as the abandoned Masindi Port or the rusting ships in Butiaba (Lake Albert) bear witness. River navigation collapsed after independence. It would be worth reviving it, in order to reduce the number of dangerously overloaded trucks on the limited Ugandan road network. I guess it could even become a cheaper alternative, and also become a tourist attraction.
Hervé Cheuzeville, Uganda

It seems somewhat incredible that Ethiopia, a country "famous" for its history of drought and famine, is the place where the Nile River originates. In fact tributaries emanating from the Ethiopian highlands contribute to much of the Nile water. But due to technical, financial and political constraints, we Ethiopians are not blessed to make use of it. Instead of criticising the government for not doing enough to feed its own people (even though it makes some sense), it is better for donor countries and organisations to endeavour in development activities such as irrigation projects. It's only then that famine will confine itself to the back of history books.
Emmanuel Yohannes, Ethiopia (currently in Vienna)

River transport is not new to Africans, but education on modern river transport methods is needed.
Gustav Jeme, U.S.A.

Africa is poor because African head of states do not want to share the environmental friendly resource for the benefit of African people. The African continent's water bodies, both inland and oceans, could serve as the cheapest and easiest means of transport from east to west coast, and north to south coast if they were used for productive reasons. Furthermore, Africa has fifty percent of the world's renewable and none renewable resource. For example, the River Nile, the Congo River, Zambezi River, River Volta etc can produce too enough electricity power that could meet the increasing demand for energy in African industries, hospitals and homes.
Dave Sokiri,Sudan

Rivers are cheap means of transport, compared to roads and railway. But most rivers in Africa are not navigable due to water falls, weeds and being seasonal. Africa need to combine forces to utilise this rivers for irrigation, hydro electric power and combat the big problem of transport by overcoming weeds and waterfalls.

In Tanzania the River Ruvuma which forms a boundary between Tanzania and Mozambique can be made navigable by the two countries combining their resources as happened between the Tanzanian and Zambian railways which join the two countries.

It is strange with all these rivers most countries are not sufficient in food and most parts of the continent are in the dark with the transport being the poorest in the world. Africa unite and combat this disgrace.
Henry S Mpunga, Tanzania

I lived in Nigeria for three years; two were in Yola on the banks of the Benue and a further year at Idah just south of the point where the Benue joins the Niger. Although both rivers are seasonal, I never saw a ferry or barge on either at any time. Considering the state of the roads and railway, taking heavy items by river seems like a sensible alternative.
L G Bowden, UK

See also:

21 May 01 | Africa
Congo River reopened to traffic
16 Jan 01 | Africa
DR Congo's troubled history
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