The last two decades have been marked by a dramatic increase in global attention to the concept of governance, especially in relation to the effective and sustainable management of natural resources. Furthermore, South Africa has been through a rapid transition to democracy since 1994 with significant changes in government, society and within the legislative environment. Despite the highly desirable attributes of these landmark pieces of legislation, almost a decade after their promulgation South African government authorities are still struggling to implement the requirements of these Acts. An investigation by the South African CSIR into the reasons for the non-implementation indicated that an incomplete understanding of the importance of governance was a central reason for the lack of successful implementation and that the concept of “governance” had not really been fully defined or explored. Countries and regions differed in their understanding and interpretation of “governance”, whilst equally wide differences were recorded in countries that had different levels of socio-economic and political development. In an effort to unpack the so-called “black box” of governance, a group of international specialists were invited to review governance issues related to their areas of technical specialization, covering different levels of development and maturity of democracy. Each specialist was challenged to interrogate a new “Trialogue” hypothesis on governance. A selection of the manuscripts is published in this special edition of Water Policy entitled Ecosystem Governance in Africa.