West Africa

UNWC's Global Relevance

The Global Water Partnership- West Africa, Green Cross International, the Centre for Water Law, Policy and Science, and WWF embarked on an initiative to promote the entry into force of the UN Watercourses Convention by facilitating dialogue and raising awareness among governments, UN bodies, NGOs, and other actors across West Africa. As part of this initiative, the above organizations commissioned a regional assessment that analyzes the benefits and implications for basin countries of adopting the Convention, in light of existing watercourse agreements or arrangements or of their absence.

The assessment focuses on the following West African states: Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo.To date four West African states have become party to the UN Watercourses Convention (Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau and Nigeria); the Ivory Coast is also a signatory, but never completed the ratification process. During the Convention’s adoption at the UN General Assembly, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone voted in favor. Ghana and Mali abstained from voting. Benin, Guinea, Mauritania, Niger, and Senegal were absent during the voting procedures. No West African state voted against the Convention. The voting records contain no reference to the position of three other states in the region: Togo, The Gambia, and Guinea Bissau, which most likely had no representative participating in the session of the UN General Assembly that adopted the Convention.The study concludes that the UN Watercourses Convention is of relevance to West Africa because, if states were to widely adopt it and implement it in the region:

  • The Convention would govern basins not covered by water management treaties and, where appropriate, promote and underpin the adoption of interstate agreements and arrangements as instruments for the peaceful management of watercourses and for the implementation of the convention’s substantive rules and principles.
  • The Convention would supplement and aid in the interpretation and application of existing treaties, most of which do not contain key principles and rules of international water law. In some cases, the Convention might progressively spur the revision of such agreements.
  • The Convention would pave the way for the adoption of a regional protocol governing international water systems among the Members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), following the example of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC). The Convention would still serve as a common framework for cooperation with non-member states bordering the region and to which such a protocol would not apply.

The UN Watercourses Convention can thus govern, reinforce, foment, and inform interstate cooperation on the peaceful management and sustainable use of international watercourses in West Africa. Widespread support for the Convention among states in the region is thus of great importance.

Additional Resources

- Download Case Study (English)

- Download Case Study (French)

- Relevance of the UN Watercourses Convention in Africa (AMCOW Information Brief)

- Sharing the water, sharing the benefits: Lessons from six large dams in West Africa


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