Bridging Waters: Uniting Activists for Bottom-Up Solutions

Water Justice activists from Kenya and South Africa recently convened in Cape Town for the inaugural Bridging Waters event, a collaborative initiative organised by the Africa Water Justice Network in collaboration with the Blue Planet Project, the African Water Commons Collective and the Nairobi Water Justice Working Group. The gathering marked a significant departure from the traditional top-down governmental dialogues and instead emphasised grassroots movement- and community-driven inputs to water delivery and management challenges.

Bridging Waters

The Bridging Waters idea began as a counter action to meetings between City of Nairobi and City of Cape Town government officials to build capacity for effective water management. The African Mirror noted that the challenges they plan to collaborate on range from city organization and water and sewerage management to urban settlement and development and joblessness. The new collaborative approach could go a long way towards propagating common development strategies. Indeed, it was post-visit adulation by officials of the City of Nairobi about Cape Town water management that caused questions to be asked, mainly by Kenyans in the Africa Water Justice Network, about the truth of the reports. The South African members of the Network were quick to offer more context around the situation of so-called effective management of water delivery in Cape Town, which, simply put, means effectiveness for only the rich and privileged and in essence an effective class-based water apartheid. These discussions continued and a suggestion came up to explore the possibility of a meeting between people of different cities and countries just as the governments are also meeting. The objective of such meetings is for people to learn and share from each other’s water struggles and, most importantly, how communities are responding to such struggles and their practical approaches to ensuring households and individuals are water secure. Fortunately, the Wallace Global Fund thought the proposed people’s meetings were possible and here we are with the first Bridging Waters event which lived up to its objective.


The meeting brought together six water justice activists from Kenya and 20 from Cape Town. Of the Kenyan participants, four came from the Nairobi Water Justice Working Group, one from Mombasa and the other from Mgori. The Cape Town participants were mainly members of the Western Cape Water Caucus and the African Water Commons Collective from the Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain areas of Cape Town. Though the event was planned for activists from Nairobi and Cape Town, two persons were brought from the neighboring counties of Mombasa and Mgori to preempt similar actions there as in Cape Town.


One of the pivotal moments of the event was the sharing of insights into ongoing campaigns and successes. The Nairobi activists spoke about their successful protests and campaign to stop the passage of a bill to privatise Nairobi Water. The activist from Mombasa showed a video of the terrible conditions of access to water and sanitation for many communities. He said water had already been privatised in their county and the company in-charge in the county is Veolia. The activist from Gregori also presented the deplorable conditions of access to water in their county and, though the system has not been privatised, the threat exists.

Meanwhile, their South African counterparts demonstrated the strength of their community mobilisation and coordination. Their key concerns shared with the Kenyans include automatic water disconnections of low income households with smart prepaid water meters and sewerage blockages resulting in effluents flowing into the streets in mostly low income areas. They presented to the Kenyans that this is the “effective water management system” the city of Cape Town wants to export to other African cities.

A study visit to communities in Cape Town showed how poor access to water and bad sewerage conditions for both African and so-called Coloured townships. The site visits to neighborhoods further underscored the urgent need for equitable water distribution and improved infrastructure. 

Strategies and Solidarity

Crucially, the Bridging Waters event fostered a spirit of solidarity and collaboration among activists from different countries and cultures. Recognizing the common challenges and shared goals, participants committed to mutual support and knowledge exchange in their ongoing organising endeavors. Specifically, they  decided to collaborate around strategies of community mobilisation and effective public participation with an important focus on budget advocacy. 

Looking Ahead

The Bridging Waters initiative holds immense promise for building a closely knitted regional and global water justice network and voice to fight against the agenda of transnational corporations to privatise water services and resources everywhere. Specifically, the initiative will help link and unite the advocacy of communities deprived of water because of the actions of  privatisation-exporting and receiving countries on the continent. This will advance the cause of water justice across Africa and beyond. By amplifying the voices of marginalized communities and promoting grassroots solutions, activists are showing the gaps and contestations around the so-called effective policies of governments.

The impact of the first Bridging Waters event will surely go beyond the shores of Cape Town and Nairobi. It has pointed the way to a people-to-people meeting guided by the primary principles of equity and solidarity instead of profits and commercial viability. All people everywhere have the right
to live and the attempt to use market principles to ignore or neglect low income households and
communities is fundamentally wrong and immoral.

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