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University of Amsterdam (2019)

A gift of water ? : visions, promises and understandings of development around Kenya’s Masinga reservoir

Clelland W.

Titre : A gift of water ? : visions, promises and understandings of development around Kenya’s Masinga reservoir

Auteur : Clelland W.

Université de soutenance : University of Amsterdam

Grade : Master of Science (MSc) International Development Studies (Research) 2019

Visions of societal transformation frequently dominate decisions surrounding large infrastructure projects in the global south and success is often hastily declared through the (mis)use of aggregated metrics. Such visions are often utilitarian in nature – the benefits accruing to large, relatively affluent groups while the costs are borne by marginalised communities. These approaches obscure the heterogeneity of encounters with such projects and fail to consider longer-term impacts on communities whose lives they can significantly disrupt. Further, it is seldom considered that such communities also need to anticipate the future to manage the disruptions they will experience or be in a position to take advantage of opportunities. Drawing on five-months of ethnographic fieldwork at Masinga dam and reservoir in Kenya, the research has privileged local experiences and longer-term views of this major hydropower development, 40 years after construction work began. Incorporating a survey, extensive semi-structured interviews, and group discussions, a mixed methods research design has been used to examine the visions of planners, the promises of politicians and the perspectives, both past and present, of a nearby community, in order to understand how Masinga reservoir and the associated development discourse have been assimilated locally. The study found that, despite the many issues associated with Masinga, the “gift” of water, as represented by the construction of the dam and flooding of the reservoir, has been overwhelmingly embraced by the community. However, the failure to maintain constructive stakeholder relationships has meant the project failed to act as a catalyst for subsequent equitable and sustainable development. Past and present conflicts over access to water have impacted the capacity of the community to work together and mature an inclusive vision of development. Additionally, the people consider Masinga reservoir from their own local perspective and have not made the connection that the water helps maintain a healthy ecosystem and supports communities across the river basin. The study concludes that for infrastructure projects, such as the Masinga dam, to stimulate inclusive development, the longerterm impact on social relations must be considered by decision makers. Moreover, development authorities should explicitly increase the visibility of issues faced not just by nearby communities but by a much wider range of stakeholders. With a resurgence of interest in large hydropower schemes in the global south, developing a common vision of what lies beyond a project is critical to achieving equitable and sustainable change.


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