“Moto-cisterns” and the politics of water distribution in southern Angola

Moto-cistern parked on a “kimbo” in the Tyitongotongo valley, Gambos (Huíla). Photo © Helder Alicerces Bahu, November 2020.

Today, across the roads of southern Angola, it is common to see “moto-cisterns” (moto-cisternas) – the famous 3-wheel motorcycles known as “Kewesekis” or “kupapatas”, coupled to a cistern for the transport of water – in circulation. For many inhabitants of rural areas in this region, these moving cisterns have ended up replacing the traditional use of donkeys, or even the women and children’s labor, to transport water.

The moto-cisterns were introduced in a pilot project in Cunene initiated in 2019, sponsored by the Presidency of the Republic, with the objective of strengthening the public program for the distribution of water to the population affected by drought in the region – until then supported by cistern trucks (camiões cisterna), with greater storage capacity but incapable of traveling on dirt roads in the rural areas of the affected provinces. As per a recent broadcast in TPA, the project included the distribution of 16 moto-cisterns for each municipality. Subsequently, the distribution was extended to other provinces, to the point that today it covers several points of the territory. Each moto-cistern has a capacity of 1,000 liters, and the program has some interesting features: on the one hand, it introduces a participatory process in local communities, making them responsible for collecting and distributing their own water. At the same time, the initiative adapts to already established socio-economic practices, taking into account the traditional use of kupapatas to transport people and goods on this road. In this context, they fit perfectly into the local economy.

A moto-cistern near Matala, Huíla. Photo © Ruy Llera Blanes, October 2020.

On the other hand, they have negative aspects, namely the provisional character of the solution, and the dependence on other energy sources (gasoline) and infrastructure (roads in good condition) for its operation. On our visits to communities in Gambos, for example, we saw some moto-cisterns parked in the kimbos (rural family settlements), unable to circulate due to road conditions, or due to lack of gasoline. On the other hand, the process ends up monetizing the access to water, forcing families to pay for water per liter (for example, 50 kwanzas per bucket), when many of them, especially those living in the most remote areas, live mostly on a barely monetized exchange economy and do not have sufficient kwanzas. In this sense, it is common to see water being sold in exchange for eggs or other consumer goods, for example.

Finally, the process of distribution of moto-cisterns in different communities is also questioned. We do not know the decision criteria that allow certain villages or kimbos to benefit from the attribution of motorcycles to the detriment of others.

Donkey carrying water between Chiange and Taka. Photo © Ruy Llera Blanes, November 2020.

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