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Interview with Mohamed Abdel Vetah - OMVS High Commissioner

Interview with Mohamed Abdel Vetah – OMVS High Commissioner

Appointed in November 2022 at the head of the Senegal River Development Organisation, (OMVS), Mohamed Abdel Vetah, from Mauritania, former Minister of Oil, Mines and Energy of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania and PhD in computer science, succeeded the Malian Hamed Diane Seméga. The 8th High Commissioner of the OMVS spoke to us of the event dedicated to the Fouta Djallon Massif organised at the Water Conference held in New York in March, and of the current priorities of the OMVS and IFGR, which he joined as a member last November.


What was the objective of the event focused on protecting the Fouta Djallon mountains propose by the OMVS, IFGR and The Bridge Tank, organised alongside the Water Conference in New York last March?

The Fouta Djallon massif, located in Guinea, is the source of all the rivers of West Africa. It is commonly considered to be the water tower of this part of the continent. It is therefore of strategic importance but its ecosystem is vulnerable: it has been subject to decades of oppression with the effect of severe degradation, above all at the river sources. As a river basin organisation, we want to carry out actions to reverse this process of degradation and enable this massif to feed all these great rivers.

For more than 15 years, the OMVS has launched information and awareness programmes for the local populations and implemented agroforestry activities, headwater protection and water and soil conservation. However, these actions are not enough. Our aim is to mobilise as many actors as possible in the international community. This is the framework in which convergence with IFGR took place. The United Nations Water Conference in New York was a splendid opportunity to make this plea before an international audience, with the help of France, Guinea, where the Massif is situation, and IFGR and its chairman, Erik Orsenna, as well their partner The Bridge Tank, and the French Development Agency.

“The simple fact of having proposed an event dedicated to the Fouta Djallon Massif at the UN headquarters in parallel with the Water Conference already signals the first success”.

The Senegal River Development Organisation (OMVS) has just celebrated its 51st anniversary. What are your vision and priorities for your 4-year term of office as High Commissioner of the OMVS?

Indeed, we celebrated our 51st anniversary on 11 March. The OMVS has achieved much success, in particular regarding energy: some of the energy for Mali, Senegal and Mauritania comes from the dams built with the aid of the organisation. The drinking water consumed comes from the river, as is 60% of the water consumed in Dakar. Hundreds of thousands of irrigable hectares contribute to the food sovereignty of our countries. We can be proud of the result of the actions accomplished by the OMVS.

However, today we’re faced by real challenges. We have problems in finding the finance needed to continue carrying out our projects. We have to be able to continue mobilising resources in conditions that are acceptable to our governments in order to build our major structures: dams, navigation facilities, the climate investment plan. That’s the first challenge.

“My priority will consist in implementing a strategy to find funds that is both global and coherent”.

The second challenge concerns climate change. The whole world is facing it but its impact is even more acute in the framework of a basin organisation like ours. Our hydropower dams are directly impacted by the quantities of rainfall that arrive, whether they are plentiful or not. Farming is affected by both floods and droughts. One shouldn’t forget the impact on the lives of the inhabitants. Recently, floods caused hundreds of deaths close to the River Senegal. Our priority will therefore be to make our organisation more resilient in the face of these phenomena brought about by climate change.

“The challenge of facing up to climate change is especially critical for a basin organisation like the OMVS”.

Moreover, and this question is linked to funding, I think that our organisation is still relatively unknown. One has to remember that 51 years ago, in West Africa, the heads of state of the time decided to give up their sovereignty regarding everything that happens on the Senegal River, by encouraging the voice of collective consensus. Following this initial framework, a series of projects were carried out over the last 51 years, and the organisation remains dynamic. The last inauguration of a hydropower dams does not date back ten years but took place last December at the dam of Gouina, in Mali. When one knows that a model was set up and that it has functioned for more than 50 years, it deserves to be shared. We must do more to give greater resonance to the voice of this organisation whose governance is so special.

“Our success story must continue to attract the attention of the media so we can keep on working and inspire other populations”.

Exactly, how come that the OMVS is not better known?

The experts of the sector speak about it but not the general media, even in our own countries. An effort must be made regarding communication, especially to young people. Furthermore, this year we’re going to launch a programme intended for young people and startups in each of the countries of the organisation. It consists of a challenge focused on subjects linked to water, electricity, agriculture and the environment. We’ll give a prize to those contributing the most innovative projects from each country at a dinner organised in Dakar.

What are the challenges of the OMVS’s candidacy for the Nobel Peace Prize?

Strictly speaking, it’s not a candidacy: eminent people like Erik Orsenna and prestigious institutions like IFGR and the INBO (International Network of Basin Organisations) have proposed that the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to the OMVS since for over 51 years our organisation has shown that water can be a vector for peace and contribute to local development. The OMVS’s principles of organisation ensure the fair and sustainable utilisation of this shared resource. As I said earlier, we can profit from being better known, but I believe that the world would benefit by us being better known. It’s a question of hydro-diplomacy at present: the OMVS is a demonstration of this.

“Distinguishing the OMVS by this prize would be an encouragement for all basin organisations and every instrument for cooperation”.

In a lighter vein, how have you experienced your first months in IFGR?

I attended a meeting of IFGR’s international members in Lyon, in October, a few months before a took on my office, at the invitation of my predecessor, Hamed Diane Semega. Furthermore, I profit from this interview to render homage to the extraordinary work he accomplished during his mandate. I was surprised by the speed with which what I consider as a great family welcomed me in its midst. The real particularity of IFGR is the multitude of people it brings together from different horizons and its strength drawn from  their commitment to further the cause of rivers.

It was during this meeting of the members in October that we started to talk about our action in the Fouta Djallon Massif. Then everyone acted at their own level to make it possible.

“I consider that having an organisation as particular as IFGR and a person as dynamic as Erik Orsenna alongside us is an opportunity for the OMVS. It’s up to us to exploit it!”


* 80,000 km²: its surface area (nearly a 1/3 of Guinea, where it is situated).

* 6: the number of rivers in West Africa whose source lies in the Massif. This is the case of the

Tinkisso (tributary of the Niger), the Senegal, the Gambia, the Koliba, the Kogon and the Konkouré.

*: 1,000 m: its average altitude.

* 300 million: the number of people that depend directly on the good state of the Fouta Djallon Massif.

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