Disagreements Behind an Agreement

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This case focuses on the complex political structure of managing a riparian resource in developing countries. The case asks students to identify the political problem or problems threatening a technically sound environmental plan for the Zambezi River, which flows through eight African nations. Some class time should be spent on mapping the complex protocols and decision-making authority under a United Nations-sponsored environmental initiative. A large map of Southern Africa will help focus the discussion, as well as a concise description of how difficult it was to punitively isolate apartheid South Africa in such an underdeveloped region of the world. It is appropriate for advanced graduate students in international development and resource management courses.

Miki, a hydrologist for the United Nations Environment Program, serves on the Secretariat staff of the Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Environmental Management of the Common Zambezi River System. The aim of the conference is to ratify the Zambezi Action Plan, developed by a working group of water experts from the Zambezi River Basin countries and the UN. But the plenipotentiaries in attendance fail to agree to the Plan as is, and propose controversial changes. The specter of South Africa may be affecting behind-the-scenes negotiations. Another organization of African nations regards the Secretariat as redundant to its own water resource management body. An environmental law expert remarks that '[f]or the first time throughout this process, we are confronted with the real decision makers.' On the last day of the conference, Miki and his colleagues must find a way to save the Plan. The plenipotentiaries in attendance, after long discussion, adopt the Plan, but with conditions that render it ineffective.

This case was sponsored by the Foundation for Advanced Studies on International Development.