Roncoli, C; Dowd-Uribe, B; Orlove, B; West, CT and Sanon, M (2016): Who counts, what counts: representation and accountability in water governance in the Upper Comoe sub-basin, Burkina Faso? NATURAL RESOURCES FORUM, 40 (1-2):6-20; 10.1111/1477-8947.12095 FEB-MAY 2016
Abstract: This article examines the unfolding of integrated water resource management (IWRM) reforms in southwest Burkina Faso, where water resources are subject to conflicting claims by a diversity of users. We first describe the establishment a local water user committee, showing how choices regarding composition and operations grant varying levels of recognition to different stakeholders. We then discuss the implications for key dimensions of decentralized governance, namely representation and accountability. In particular we focus on: (a) how the interplay of political agendas and policy disconnects shapes the committee's viability and credibility and (b) how tensions between techno-scientific and local knowledge affect participation and transparency. We argue that in contexts defined by contentious politics and neo-patrimonial practices, representativeness is better ensured by the direct inclusion of user groups rather than elected officials. Though limited discretionary power, information access, and technical capabilities of committee members inhibit accountability, rural producers uphold their claims through social mobilization and reliance on local knowledge. Recognizing the opportunities offered by the country's recent democratic turn, we formulate recommendations aimed at addressing structural drivers and enabling citizen agency in decentralized water governance. At the same time, further research is needed on local people's understandings of representation and accountability, to ensure that they are involved in institutional design and practices in ways that affirm what they value and what they know.