The History of an Association with a Continental Calling
The African Water Assocition, originally known as the UAWS (Union of African Water Suppliers), was created after many negotiations, which predicted an uncertain future. Slowly but surely, it built an identity for itself by becoming an essential association among water, sanitation and environment professionals. Its 31-year existence was filled with a rich past and many achievements.
Part One: The Beginnings
- Motivations and Objectives
Because of the continued decrease in rainfall, increase in population, and health and sanitation problems, UAWS’s founding fathers paved the way for the future UAWS during a preparatory meeting in Abidjan on Wednesday, February 7, 1979. Given the never-ending problems that plague the water sector, this Union appeared crucial.
- Approaches and Negotiations
Several presidents from throughout Africa have shared the honor of presiding over the fate of UAWS, thus lending that Union the continental calling that its founding fathers assigned it.
- Ivoirian Marcel Zadi Kessy (1980-1990)
- Moroccan Fouad Mohamed Djerrari (90-92)
- Gabonese François Ombanda (92-94 et 97-99)
- Ghanaian E.K. Y Dovlo (94-96)
- Beninese presidents Geofroy Chekete (February-December 96) and Tamama Roufaï (January-June 97)
- Senegalese Abdoulaye Bouna Fall (2000-2002)
- Tunisian Abdelaziz Mabrouk (2002-2004)
- Congolese Pene Shako (2004-2006)
But what difficulties there were at the beginning! Indeed, the February 1979 meeting mentioned earlier was held only after aggressive and long-term diplomatic dealings throughout Africa and the world.
Part Two: Developing the Union
- The First Congress at Hotel Ivoire (February 4 – 8, 1980)
The first Congress was held from February 4 to 8, 1980 at the Hôtel Ivoire in Abidjan. The Abidjan Congress was a tremendous success, well beyond what the founding members expected, with a promising new membership rate (18 Members) and an agreement on the various views for the issues raised.
Thus on February 8, 1980 at the close of the Abidjan Congress, the appointments of the important positions in the Union were made to everyone’s satisfaction.
- Structures and Members
For its operation, UAWS created several bodies.
- The Congress, which takes place every other year, is a scientific and technical forum during which the Assembly takes stock of the development in the water, sanitation and environmental sector in Africa.
- The General Assembly, held once a year, brings together mandated representatives of the Regular, Affiliated and Honorary Members. As the top organ of the Association, it ratifies the decisions or proposals put forth by the Executive Board.
- The Executive Board manages and represents the political entity of the Association. It proposes the actions and the decisions to be discussed by the General Assembly. It is responsible for managing and attending to the business and common interests of the Union.
- The Scientific and Technical Council studies all of the problems arising in all of the fields of activity for the public production and supply of water or sanitation.
- The Administrative Secretariat is the permanent executive agent of the Executive Board. In this capacity, it accomplishes tasks assigned to it by the latter. It dispatches information on current business, takes care of correspondences and keeps the minute books of the Union.
There are three types of members: Regular, Affiliated and Honorary Members. From 18 Regular Members in 1980, that number has increased to 37 since the Cape Town General Assembly held in 2003. There is also an increasing trend for Affiliated and Individual Members, as UAWS’s international calling is further asserted as time goes by.
Regarding the resources, the Union mainly relies on the contributions of its Members but also on gifts and aids from international agencies.
As far as communication is concerned, UAWS set up in the early days (as early as 1982) a quarterly bulletin known as UAWS-INFO. This journal, which is more than 21 years old, has always acted as liaison between Union Members.
- A Continental and International Calling
On April 5, 1982, the second Congress of UAWS was held in Rabat, following the constituent assembly held in Abidjan. The theme chosen was: Pricing, Subscribers’ Management and Vocational Training.
Beyond the success of that Congress, there was the landmark call by Mr. Divungi Di Ndinge, a UAWS founding Member and new Minister of Energetic and Hydraulic Resources of Gabon. This call held the attention of congress participants because it called upon all decision-makers, all African governments, and on the UAWS and its members.
This call issued in Rabat elicited favorable reactions in June 1985 in Libreville on the occasion of the third Congress as the Ministers supervising a few UAWS Corporate Members decided to discuss the Union’s activities.
On the other hand, the theme of the Congress, “The Decade at Mid-Term” was UAWS’s call on international conscience following the call by the United Nations.
- Change of Headquarters (March 1988)
Following the Bangui Extraordinary General Assembly in March 1988, several decisions were made:
- The headquarters of the Union was from then on located in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.
- The functions of the Administrative Secretary would be taken care of by the Société de Distribution d’Eau de la Côte d’Ivoire (SODECI, the water supply utility of Cote d’Ivoire).
- The General Assembly decided to keep the composition of the Executive Board as it was (as it was last renewed in March 1986) until the General Assembly scheduled to be held in Abidjan in February 1990 on the occasion of UAWS’s 5th Congress.
Another change occurred in Bangui at the level of the presidency of UAWS. President Marcel Zadi Kessy did not want to seek another term of office. Indeed, two years later, during the 5th Congress held in Abidjan, the first president of UAWS handed over his seat to the Moroccan Fouad Mohamed Djerrari.
- Many Congresses Held
Twelve congresses (including the Accra Congress) have been held since the inception of the Union. The congresses are international forums during which experts from all over the world come to present their experiences on several topics dealing with water, sanitation and the environment.
Besides the congresses, many seminars and workshops were organized on interesting topics in the Corporate Members’ various fields of activities.
- Many Actions Carried Out
Given the objectives that UAWS set for itself, it has succeeded in:
- providing its members with results of studies, research and surveys in all fields of activity;
- arousing general interest and desire to improve the means of the profession;
- maintaining close relations with all the regional, continental and international agencies related to the objective of the Association;
- organizing congresses, colloquia, seminars, workshops and technical sessions;
- instituting awards and distinctions in order to promote and encourage Members to perform better.
Third Part: The New Lines of Action
The reorganization of UAWS was initiated in 2000 right after the Durban Congress and materialized by setting up an Ad Hoc Committee of experts and consultants, including Mr. Traoré Zakari. The process consisted of trying to find out what could be the new mission and lines of action of the Union.
Noting that new partners, such as water vendors or small water supply systems that are not part of general water managemen, have emerged because of slow investments or the shortage of equipment in our countries, Mr. Traoré Zakari thought that a new partnership was necessary “to cover the areas which have remained untouched, and ultimately to enable consumers, be they dependent on our services or on other services, to be satisfied.”
- Change of Course
On April 25, 2003 in Cape Town, South Africa UAWS changed its course. The statute and by-laws were modified. The purpose was revised to take into account general environmental issues.UAWS changed its name to become the Association Africaine de l’Eau (AAE) in French and African Water Association (AfWA) in English.
- More Dynamic Organs
To become more dynamic and achieve the means to meet its new challenges, UAWS restructured its organs.
- Since 2000, individual members (private individuals or corporate bodies, namely professionals, scholars and researchers, whose works are related to the potable water, sanitation and environmental sector) joined the Union.
- The number of Executive Board members has increased from 10 to 12 since February 2002 in Libreville.
- Since the Cape Town General Assembly (2003), the Administrative Secretary has become the General Secretary.
- Water Utility Partnerships (WUP)
The Water Utility Partnership (WUP) is an African regional capacity building programme with a focus on urban (including the urban poor) water utilities. It is a joint Programme initiated by the institutions: the African Water Association (AfWA); the Regional Center for Low Cost Water and Sanitation (CREPA); the Training, Research and Networking for Development (TREND); and the World Bank. The Programme was launched in July 1996 during an international conference on Reform of the Water Sector in Africa. In addition to these founding agencies and in the broader context of programme implementation, the WUP considers all agencies providing support for the implementation of this programme as Partners.
After 31 years, UAWS decided to change its course by initiating another stage of its growth. Now known as the African Water Association (AfWA) it wants to win the challenge of a partnership for African populations’ sustainable access to potable water and sanitation services.