Joint Management as an Emerging Norm in International Watercourses Law: The Case of the SADC

Authors William Attwell

ISSN: 2026-8556
Affiliations: Principal Policy Analyst, City of Cape Town
Source: SADC Law Journal, The, 2013, p. 117 – 138


This article examines how the joint management approach to the governance of international watercourses — and its institutional expression: the international river basin organisation or IRBOs — is gaining traction as a norm in international watercourses law in the context of the SADC’s legal and policy architecture. It posits that, in response to the acute water insecurity facing the region, SADC member states have increasingly moved towards an integrated approach to international watercourses law and governance, one that places a strong emphasis on trans-boundary joint management regimes. This is underpinned by legal developments at international, regional and national levels. At an international level, the SADC member states that are party to the UN Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses have committed to the principles of equitable and reasonable utilisation, as well as provisions promoting the establishment of joint institutions. This has shaped regional international law, notably the 2000 SADC Protocol on Shared Watercourses, with its emphasis on institutional cooperation; as well as the attendant SADC policy documents shaping trans-boundary water governance. The article uses a case study of the Okavango states (Angola, Botswana and Namibia) to assess how the concept of joint management of trans-boundary watercourses has been incorporated into water law at a national level. The paper concludes by examining developments in contemporary international jurisprudence regarding the joint management concept and joint institutions by analysing two cases where the role of such institutions became a prominent theme in judgments handed down by the International Court of Justice.