Diplomacy Talks -- Full English Transcript Interview: Abdoulaye Sene, Executive Secretary, 9th World Water Forum

Dakar Speaks In Advance Of Event 21 -26 March 2022

15 Feb 2022 by The Water Diplomat
DAKAR, Senegal

The full interview in French with English subtitles with Abdoulaye Sene can be viewed on the The water Diplomat website. Below is an English transcription of the full interview.

Abdoulaye Sene
Abdoulaye Sene

Abdoulaye Sene est le Secrétaire exécutif du 9ème Forum mondial de l'eau et le Président du Partenariat mondial pour l'eau en Afrique de l'Ouest. Il est ingénieur civil (École Polytechnique Thiès, 1978), spécialisé en sciences de l'eau avec un Master de l'École Polytechnique de Montréal, 1981. Il a été, de 2013 à 2017, président du conseil d'administration de la SOGEM, la société chargée de la gestion des barrages hydroélectriques de l'Organisation pour la mise en valeur du fleuve Sénégal (OMVS), conseiller technique principal du ministre des Mines, de l'Énergie et de l'Eau du Sénégal (2001-2002), chef de mission pour l'étude et la mise en valeur des vallées fossiles (1994-2000), directeur du génie rural et de l'hydraulique du Sénégal (1990-1994), directeur de la maintenance et de l'entretien des infrastructures hydrauliques (1984-1990).

Abdoulaye Sene a été membre de plusieurs conseils d'administration d'institutions nationales, sous-régionales et internationales travaillant dans les secteurs de l'eau, du développement rural, de l'environnement et de la décentralisation. Il a assuré divers cours, conférences, consultations et expertises au niveau national et international dans les domaines de l'eau, du développement rural, de la décentralisation, du changement climatique et de la gouvernance.


Abdoulaye Sene is the Executive Secretary of the 9th World Water Forum and the President of the Global Water Partnership for West Africa. He is a Civil Engineer (École Polytechnique Thiès, 1978), specialized in Water Science with a Master's degree from École Polytechnique de Montréal, 1981. He was, from 2013 to 2017, Chairman of SOGEM Board of Directors, the compagny in charge of the management of hydroelectric dams of the Organization for the Development of the Senegal River (OMVS),  Senior Technical Advisor to the Minister of Mines, Energy and Water of Senegal (2001-2002), Head of Mission for the Study and Development of Fossil Valleys (1994-2000), Director of Rural Engineering and Hydraulics of Senegal (1990-1994), Director of the Maintenance and Care of Water infrastructures (1984-1990).

Abdoulaye Sene was a member of various Boards of Directors of national, sub-regional and international institutions working in the water, rural development, environment and decentralization sectors. He has provided various national and international courses, conferences, consultations and expertise in the fields of water, rural development, decentralization, climate change and governance.

In this exclusive interview with The Water Diplomat, Sene shares a diplomatic insight into the goals and objectives of the 9th World Water Forum to be held in Dakar 21 to 16 March 2022. Register here


The Water Diplomat: The title of the 9th World Water Forum is “Water Security for Peace and Development”. The ambition of the 9th Forum is to develop a form that is effective at the social, political and economic levels - a Forum which seeks to accelerate the realisation of universal access to water and sanitation in line with the agendas, platforms and commitments made in terms of Sustainable Development Goal 6.  What are the main differences between this Forum and its preceding Forums?

Abdoulaye Sene: As you have indicated, Senegal, in the name of the whole of Africa, would like to welcome participants to a Forum of efficient responses.

To do this, we have developed a number of innovations.

First of all, at the level of the preparatory process, we wished to increase the level of inclusiveness and participation, without going back to the parallel processes of previous editions, in a decompartmentalised fashion. We wanted to achieve a unique and integrated preparatory process: all stakeholders including political actors, civil society organisations, the scientific community, the youth knowledge – were brought together within one platform to develop joint messages.

Secondly, we have launched what we call the Dakar 2022 Initiative. This process has enabled us to develop a number of concrete responses at field level in the form of earmarked projects which will be presented during the Forum to illustrate the concrete results which this Forum aims to achieve.

The third innovation is at the political level. In the context of the Forum, we will be developing a High-Level Segment which will bring in heads of state as well as prominent international institutions in order to renew the commitment of the international community in all its diversity and at the highest possible level to accelerate access to water and sanitation. As you know very well, the current trajectory for SDG 6 is not positive, and the COVID 19 pandemic has served to complicate the situation. In this context, Dakar presents a good opportunity to re-commit and re-engage.

Fourth, as you will see, we have worked to draw attention to sanitation through a ‘sanitation village’ which will be the focal point of responses in the field of sanitation and which will ensure that when we discuss water we do not just discuss household water and productive water but we will ask ourselves how water, after being used, can be treated in such a way that it can be reused and that the risks of pollution are minimised.

Lastly, we will do everything in our power to ensure that innovations which have an African dimension to them are also implemented.  In short, there are a range of innovations which we hope will bring a new vitality and a new dynamic to the commitments towards universal access, but also to the protection of the resource.


The Water Diplomat: Could I return to the topic of political involvement: it is my understanding that the Senegalese President, his excellency Macky Sall, wishes to have participation in the Forum at the level of heads of state.  How is this aspect envisaged currently?

Sene: As I indicated to you earlier, the political aspect is very important in the context of the Dakar Forum 2022. At this point in time, the declarations have been taken up to the Ministerial and Parliamentary levels, but this time the President would like to involve Heads of State as well as prominent international institutions through a declaration which will enable us to remind ourselves of a number goals, reformulate a number of them and recommit to them.

Heads of State have therefore been invited, international institutions have been invited, and we expect representation at the highest levels. I would also like to emphasise that, in addition to the declaration, we are calling on other political actors such as Ministers, members of Parliament, elected Councillors and River Basin Organisations to develop road maps for the implementation of the Dakar Declaration. We will therefore have the Declaration, which will therefore be the signpost, and the other political segments which will elaborate the plans of action for this declaration.

The sessions of the Forum will be designed with a view to provide content to the recommendations and facilitate the implementation of the Declaration at all levels: at local level, national level, but also at international level.


The Water Diplomat: There is therefore still quite a lot of preparation to be done in the phase before the Forum. There are now some five weeks left before the Forum commences, also to ensure that the Heads of State are involved. What can the different stakeholders that you mentioned do to help prepare an efficient and effective Forum?

Sene: First of all, we would request that Heads of State support and consolidate the political Declaration, which should at the same time contribute to the preparation of the global Water Conference which the United Nations is organising in 2023. For us this is an extremely important meeting for all the countries in the world and for Africa in particular.

Since the United Nations Conference on Water at Mar del Plata in 1977, we have worked hard in the water sector, but we have not had a conference at this level, so the UN conference is an occasion that is not to be missed and the Dakar conference should make its contribution and bring quality recommendations, so we hope that all political authorities will support and consolidate the Dakar Declaration. 

What can other actors do? We expect that from everywhere around the world Ministers, Parliamentarians, local Councillors and members of River Basin Organisations come to Dakar to support the plans of action our efforts. We also expect organisations from civil society, and the private sector to come to the Forum in Dakar - which will be a Forum that is mainly in person – to participate in the sessions, elaborate proposals, take initiative. We expect some very concrete proposals from heads of institutions to launch new programmes, and we expect each to contribute their own flavour to the exposition which is to be held in Dakar.

We also we ask that partners support and be open to the participation of youth in the Forum, as they are the carriers of our heritage and that of the Forum and we place a lot of importance in this intergenerational dialogue.

The Forum is very open: we wish to speak of the youth, we wish to speak of women, but we also wish to speak of  rural producers organisations.

One thing that I have not mentioned yet is that there will be emphasis on and priority for the links between water and rural development: how to improve rural life through universal access to water and sanitation, through the provisioning of water for agricultural production, for stock keeping and for the protection of ecosystems. We therefore expect rural organisations from around the world to attend.

This is how we are trying to mobilise the global community in all its diversity to take part in the Forum.


The Water Diplomat: You have already mentioned the UN Water Conference in 2023. I imagine that the World Water Forum in Dakar is in fact a stage in a process: here is the upcoming conference in Dushanbe in Tajikistan June, and after that the UN Water Conference in New York. I imagine also that all that you are describing is positioned in the context of the longer process which leads to New York in 2023?

Sene: Exactly. Our ambition is that the results of the Dakar Forum, which will be results developed by the entire global community, be seen by Senegal as a contribution of Senegal and of the African Continent to the success of the conference in 2023.

We are already in discussion with Tajikistan, which has honoured us by making us partners of their Forum, to ensure that the results from Dakar are taken on board and included in the Dushanbe Process. We are working together with Tajikistan and the Netherlands on special sessions that will facilitate a better understanding of the issues and process on the UN conference in 2023.

We are working also to ensure that Dakar is a fundamental stage in the construction of the proposals that will be made during the UN water conference in 2023.           


The Water Diplomat: If you allow me, I would like to raise the subject of the African Water Vision 2025 which speaks of the pursuit of peace and of regional cooperation based on water cooperation and joint river basin management. The 9thWorld Water Forum also has the theme of peace in its title. Therefore, I imagine that there is a link between the African Water Vision 2025 and the vision for the 9th World Water Forum. Is this correct?  

Sene: Absolutely. You know that Senegal is particularly involved in all of the debates related to water, peace and security.

I would like to remind you that in 2016 when Senegal assumed the Presidency of the United Nations Security Council, we proposed to the world to hold this debate and initiated a discussion to find answers which enable water to become a vector of peace and security.

You can see clearly that across the world, water has often been a cause for solidarity and cooperation, but sometimes water has also appeared as a factor which generates conflicts. I do not need to cite examples, you are no doubt aware of the risks which are involved.

The President of Senegal wishes to share its experiences with the Organisation Pour la Mise en Valeur du Fleuve Sénégal (OMVS) and the Organisation Pour la Mise en Valeur de la Fleuve Gambie (OMVG) in which Senegal has played a key role – the two organisations have their headquarters in Senegal – as models for the construction of peaceful international cooperation on water.

Therefore, the African Vision 2025 to which you refer is at the heart of our preoccupations and we wish that the Forum contributes to the development of synergies to enable the construction of peaceful cooperation around water.                


The Water Diplomat: Could I perhaps ask you to speak to the four priority themes of the Forum, i.e. water security and sanitation, water and rural development, Cooperation, and Means and Tools?

Sene: Thank you.

This is another innovation of the Forum: we did not want to discuss all possible subjects but preferred to focus on four priority areas, knowing that there are also other important areas but these are considered to be priority issues for Africa and for the world. 

For us, the theme of water security and sanitation refers in the first place to universal access to water and sanitation for all, everywhere.  This is a question of human rights, it is a question of security and of peace for everyone. But we also consider that we must ensure that this access to water and sanitation should be guaranteed even in times of crisis, whether these are natural disasters or whether they are created through conflicts. All of this falls under ‘water security’.

Beyond this however we feel that we need, beyond matters of access, to be focusing on the security of the resource itself: we need to combat pollution, examine the links between water resources and climate change to develop adaptation programmes, we need to protect ecosystems and biodiversity which are essential for water security.

But we also know that currently the problem of rapid population growth can place additional pressure on water, causing water stress and generating risks in terms of water scarcity. We have a limited resource. If the demand increases, we need to find modalities and mechanisms to make sure that this same quantity of water is available and can satisfy basic needs. Thus, all these themes have been grouped together under ‘water security’.  

Next, there is water for rural development. Africa is confronted with a problem of rural development which carries with it important risk linked to migration such as the rural exodus and international migration. We believe that if we can assure rural access to water in the correct manner, we will improve living conditions for rural populations. If we can ensure access to water for agriculture and stock farming without creating conflicts between farmers and pastoralists, this will improve the attractiveness and living conditions in rural areas.

We also believe that water is essential to keep populations in their territories: we believe that water in rural areas has an extremely important role to play for mankind but also for nature.  

Therefore, this is an extremely important theme that we have brought forward, also in relation to African realities. Cooperation: you have said it yourself, it is essential. If we wish, in the context of climate change, in the context of increasing scarcity, in the context of pollution, in the context of water sharing arrangements, it is important to develop instruments to ensure a form of cooperation that is more dynamic, more efficient, and more more diverse.

Lastly, our fourth priority is what we call tools and means. We need sufficient finances, and they need to be sufficiently adapted: Senegal is in the process of developing a “Blue Fund” which will be a dedicated fund for the water sector in all its diversity. We also believe that work is required in the field of governance, which is a factor that improves the performance of water management, and we believe that we need to work on science, knowledge and innovations which can help overcome our water challenges.

This is a broad summary of the four main priorities which are the subject of high-level round tables and official sessions which form the basis for some 100 sessions which will enable the elaboration and improvement of the support provided to take this forward.     


The Water Diplomat: How can participants to the Forum support the objectives of the Executive Secretariat both in the preparation of but also during the 9th World Water Forum?

Sene: I would remind you that this is a World Water Forum, which means that we hope that all the regions of the world will be represented: Americans, Europeans, etc.

This is also an opportunity for Africa to make itself heard, to take initiative, and to develop partnerships. We therefore expect all the major institutions, the private sector, civil society, the world of knowledge to come to Dakar, participate in the sessions, take initiatives, make commitments, establish partnerships and participate in the exhibitions. We also encourage everyone to assist those whose means are modest to participate: we should leave no one behind. For this we need a high level of synergy and solidarity.

We would also like a Forum in person, a physical Forum , which will enable us to bond again and renew friendships and enable more productive exchanges.                             


The Water Diplomat: Thank you. If you permit me a question on COVID 19: currently there are many countries which are in the process of relaxing their restrictions related to the global pandemic. Are you envisaging a hybrid Forum currently?

Sene: We are aiming for a Forum in person. We would like the actors to be in Dakar. We would like the sessions to take place directly between actors. This is for various reasons.

Holding a hybrid Forum will strongly limit its effectiveness, if only because of the time differences between different parts of the world. For Africa and Europe, it is not a big problem, but for other continents this is a relevant concern.

Therefore, the Secretariat has taken the decision to hold a Forum that is essentially in person. Nevertheless, we will open some sessions to live streaming, most notably the opening and closing ceremonies.  Otherwise, it will become a Forum in which Senegal communicates with the world, whereas we prefer interaction in person.  Of course, we will record sessions and transmit them after the Forum, so the Forum will continue to live after its closure. 

Fundamentally we want a Forum in person and we will offer the opportunity to follow sessions online for those who simply cannot come. We are encouraged by the relaxation of Covid measures and we have good hope that by March we will be able to receive everyone.


The Water Diplomat: Mr Sene, hoping then that we will be able to meet each other soon in person together with all other participants of the Forum, I would like to thank you in the name of the Geneva Water Hub, The water Diplomat, and our monthly news bulletin The Water Diplomat for your time and for this exchange which is very valuable for us. Looking forward to meeting you in a few weeks‘ time!                

Sene: Thank you also for this exchange, looking forward to meeting you and to extend our partnership on other themes. Congratulations for the excellent work you are doing and greetings to our partners at Geneva Water Hub and OOSKA news!  

The 9th World Water Forum will be held in Dakar, Senegal from 21 -26 March 2022. Register here.