“Participatory Governance in Vietnam: Lessons from the Management of the Mekong River.”
For most of 2013, I was based in the delta city of Long Xuyen, Vietnam to conduct field research on citizen participation in the governance of the Mekong River water resources. However, the Mekong River travels through five other countries before flowing out of Vietnam, and the coordinating body responsible for managing the shared water resources is the Mekong River Commission (MRC), headquartered in Vientiane, Laos. The PSE Graduate Research and Travel Grant allowed me to travel to Vientiane from Vietnam to include a critical regional component to my research project. While I was in Vientiane, I was able to conduct interviews with staff members from the MRC, donor governments to the Commission, and international environmental NGOs operating in Southeast Asia. This experience allowed me to explore whether this regional setting provided an alternative venue for Vietnamese citizens to channel their interests with respect to the management of the river’s resources. I found that opportunities for transnational advocacy in this context were extremely limited, and that the institution of the MRC is highly constrained by the limits put upon it by its member states. This part of the project helped me put together a bigger picture of how activism works in Vietnam, which has begun to emerge from the experience of local actors with international NGOs, but still remains tightly controlled by the Vietnamese state.