In this Special Issue we present findings and conclusions from the Norwegian Research Council funded project ‘Flows and Practices: The Politics of IWRM in Africa’. The project explored at various levels how ideas of IWRM, as constructed at the global and European level, have been and are being translated and adapted into narratives and practices in the countries of Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Uganda. All but Uganda are members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
Specifically, the Special Issue addresses the following questions: How has IWRM as an idea travelled from Europe to southern Africa? Who have been the key actors in the varied articulations and translations of IWRM at the global and regional level and in the countries of study? Why has IWRM been so influential in southern Africa? How do abstract ideas of IWRM, which evolved in global institutions, cope with plural, overlapping and competing formal and informal legal and customary systems in Africa? Has IWRM succeeded in addressing issues concerning equity,class, race and gender? How does it contribute (or not) to wider developmental initiatives concerning poverty reduction and equitable growth?
The 14 original articles in this collection explore the on-the-ground complexities of IWRM implementation, interpretations and adaptations. Grounded in social science theory and research, this special issue demonstrates the importance of politics, political economy, history and culture in shaping water management practices and reform. It demonstrates how Africa has clearly been a laboratory for IWRM in the past two decades.
While a new cadre of water professionals and students have made IWRM their mission, we show that poor women and men may not have always benefitted from this. This is because IWRM may have resulted in an unwarranted policy focus on managing water and ‘software’ issues instead of enlarging access to the resource and developing water resources. In some cases, IWRM has also offered a distraction from more critical issues such as water and land grabs, privatisation, the negative impacts of water permits and a range of institutional ambiguities that prevent water allocations to small and poor water users.
By critically examining the interpretations and challenges of IWRM, this Special Issue will hopefully contribute to improving water policies and practices and making them more locally appropriate in Africa and beyond.
 Uganda was added as a country of focus because it is considered to be one of the pioneers of IWRM in Africa. Even though it is in Eastern Africa, participation from Uganda is encouraged in the WaterNet network.