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Interview: Hamed Diane Semega, High Commissioner of the OMVS

“The World Water Forum at Dakar must generate the impetus of individual and collective empowerment”.

 With the 9th World Water Forum scheduled for 21 March 2022 at Dakar, Hamed Diane SEMEGA, the High Commissioner of the Senegal River Development Organisation (OMVS) and member of the IFGR, sheds light on the challenges of this meeting in order to better take into account the issue of water on the international level, and on the key role played by basin organisations. On the occasion of OMVS’s fiftieth anniversary, the High Commissioner wants to gain recognition for this model of river governance, by putting forward its candidacy for the Nobel Peace Prize, an initiative supported by IFGR. 

For the first time sub-Saharan Africa is welcoming the 9th World Water Forum in Dakar from 21 to 26 March. What are your expectations?  

First, we’re very happy to host this world event. It’s the first time it has been held in sub-Saharan Africa, in Senegal, which is also the home of two basin organisations: the OMVS, (which, moreover, provides the secretariat of the ANBO (African Network of Basin Organisations), and the OMVG (Gambia River Development Organisation). It’s with great pleasure that we welcome all the participants, including our friends from IFGR, the advocate of rivers, the voiceless, of which we’re honoured to be a member.


Our expectations are many but realistic. We know that we can’t do everything, even with the best intentions in the world. However, this meeting is clearly positioned under the sign of solutions, according to the desire of the organisation committee of Dakar 2020/2022, with the encouragement of the President of the Republic, Macky SALL, and in partnership with the World Water Council.

Everyone speaks of water as a source of life, an element of prime strategic importance, but for all that it is not treated as a central environmental issue, whether from the standpoint of infrastructures or that of management upstream of conflicts.


The essential issue of water is not an issue to be dealt with only by experts, it’s an issue that involves everyone.

What should be done so that water becomes a major political concern and not just confined to experts speaking to each other? In my opinion, every citizen in the world should become aware and change their behaviour to this resource. In Africa, where many areas suffer from water shortages, we don’t feel that this issue is taken into account with the gravity it deserves. The Dakar Forum must generate the impetus for individual and collective empowerment, that of the international community.

The theme chosen is that of water security for peace and development. In what ways is this Forum essential for the international political process, in view of the United Nations Conference on Water in 2023?

Water will be increasingly at the centre of strategic challenges and risks? giving rise to major conflicts. The Fouta-Djalon massif in Guinea is an obvious example. It’s at the heart of the problem of water source availability for the whole of West Africa. The source of the Senegal River lies there, as are the sources of ten other rivers. It continues to become more fragile due to climatic events and human activities. But I don’t have the impression that there is any awareness of the urgent need to stop the damage: the same acts continue to occur at a scale that threatens everyone.

The Senegal River – IAGF

We expect concrete solutions from this Forum. It will be the occasion for the basin organisations to make their voices heard. It’s difficult to make the cause of rivers heard. I hope it will be louder at the Conference on Water in 2023 at the United Nations.

Do you think that the voice of river basins has failed to make an impact at previous forums?

Somewhere, this voice was enveloped in global themes. At the Dakar Forum, a whole day will be devoted to hydrographic basins. In my opinion, these basins that group several countries or several communities are the most appropriate level for building a sustainable peace, in any case for that which concerns the preservation of ecosystems linked to rivers, and to generate a spillover effect on other sectors of activity.

Peace must be built at the level of hydrographic basins. They allow weaving relations that can consolidate peace.

How can the OMVS represent a model for river and freshwater resource management?

The OMVS model is unique due to its legal basis which serves to guide all its actions since the creation of the organisation on 11 March 1972. It upholds the river as an international asset.

Furthermore, the structures that have been built along its course belong to the countries indivisibly and severally. For example, a structure built in Mali does not belong to Mali alone: it belongs to Mali, Mauritania, Senegal and Guinea.


The Senegal river belongs to all of us and everything that’s done on the river must be done with the consent of everyone in the OMVS.

This unique model overrides the question of territorial possession. It explains why, 50 years later, the organisation is a source of stability and peace. A lot of people ask how can a cross-border river be managed in a region of the Sahel highly vulnerable to climatic hazards. The availability of water resources is becoming more and more problematic. On the contrary, their utilisation is increasing exponentially at the same time as the demography. The potential for conflict is therefore huge. It’s not a river in a temperate country; it’s neither the Rhone nor the Rhine!

Despite that, there is no conflict linked to using the river’s water resources, quite the contrary. Thanks to the legal basis like the Water Charter-supranational law to which all the uses of the Senegal river’s water are subject – and the permanent dynamics of dialogue, inextricable links have been woven between countries. We share a common destiny.

Is that the explanation of why the history of the OMVS has not been marked by any conflict during its 50 years of existence?

Yes, that’s right. But it must be emphasised that this legal corpus is the manifestation of very strong political determination. Those who replaced the founding fathers of the OMVS could have called this vision of things into question. On the contrary, they consolidated it. We have a heritage that nobody wishes to deteriorate since it is the reason for our strength. Everyone measures the seriousness of an action if it threatens this common heritage.

To go further, I’d say that the OMVS is an act of faith, faith in the future.

For 50 years, this will to cooperate has not been countered by the organisation’s members, despite the vicissitudes of political life.

With the OMVS, we have built the basis of cooperation using a unique legal corpus born from very strong political determination. This model has not only guaranteed the peace of our countries for 50 years, it has also generated wealth.

Quelle orientation prévoit l’OMVS pour les 50 prochaines années ? L’acte de foi sera-t-il renouvelé ?

The Conference of Heads of State held in 2020 at Bamako issued a declaration aimed at consolidating the gains made by the organisation and combating the destruction of ecosystems. Obviously, underlying all that was the idea of ensuring peace through cooperation and still more integration. Over the last fifty years, we have built a family around the Senegal River.

A prospective document is being prepared. The aim is to identify all the sectors in which the OMVS’s action can be used as a lever for integration and speeding up development in the next 25 years.

The structural projects include that of restoring navigation between Saint-Louis and Ambidedi. Where does it stand at the moment? 

This project is the missing link in the dynamics of developing the Senegal River basin. We want this space to become a place of economic and human integration that prefigures African integration on a larger scale. The navigation project is the most structural project as it gives real substance to all the other projects that have already emerged (irrigated farming and hydroelectricity). The project is progressing and IFGR is helping us substantially. We are currently waiting for the funding to be finalised, and it’s on the right track.

The first phase of the project will last three years. It entails dredging the river along 905 km, from Saint-Louis to Ambidédi, and building a channel and a river-maritime port at Saint-Louis to transport goods to Mali. On either side of the two banks, in Senegal and Mauritania, in the second phase we want to develop mineral transport. The mines are not viable at present due to the cost of transport. It’s an ambitious project but our political determination matches our ambition. It will be carried out for the well-being of the basin’s populations, and especially historic towns like Podor and Matam, which should recover their economic vitality.

The OMVS is a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. Is this candidacy, supported by IFGR, motivated by this founding model?

Like Switzerland, the symbol of hydro-diplomacy on the global level, we want “blue peace” to be the reference. The peace of river basins is the substrate on which more global peace can be built. When sharing water, especially in a situation of scarcity, we develop synergies that lead to finding consensus on other subjects. Rivers must be vectors of peace.

The OMVS has proved the solidity of its model, a generator of peace and wealth. The investments in structures, which require sacrifices, have led to the development of irrigated farming: hundreds of thousands of hectares of farmland have been developed by slowing down the advance of saltwater thanks to the Diama dam, for example. Dams like that of Manantali also provide hydroelectricity that we sell to the electricity companies of the member States. Also, cities like Dakar in Senegal and Nouakchott in Mauritania, depend on the river for their drinking water. The electricity lines that transport the current inland to Mali and to the capitals on the coasts are another good illustration.

If the OMVS wins the Nobel Peace Prize, what progress will it enable for managing water resources elsewhere in the world?

It would be a wonderful echo for the peace of river basins. It could inspire others to build a similar model: the basins of the Nile, Mekong, and Jordan, for example. Men have built this model, not supermen.

And it’s possible! Our model has already inspired that of the Gambia River Development Organisation (OMVG), which has also become a reference. The expression of the political determination to ensure peace could have been nothing more than a pious wish if it were not accompanied with concrete acts. It is these acts that give substance to this vision of cooperation and stability.

The Nobel Peace Prize will permit shedding light on the fact that, for 50 years, we have cooperated in the harsh environment of the Sahel on an increasingly rare resource without going to war with each other.

Learn more : IAGF participates to the World Water Forum

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