African Perspective on Environment and Development

Achoka Awori


In a report of a special workshop on Africa, published by Winrock tnternationai (USA), a senior official of the USAID confesses that the US is no longer a provider of true development assistance to Africa; instead, he claims, it has been a supplier of food aid and contraceptives over the last 25 years. ln the same report, the chief economist for the Africa Bureau of USAID confesses that he did his dissertation on agriculture in Kenya without ever leaving Nairobi, the capitai City.

This is Africa in the eves of the North. A continent to be admired, talked about, but not to be touched. Just as the colonial sett]ers failed to educate the Affican peasant for fear of losing much-needed cheap, illiterate and naive farm labour, so does the western world refuse to invest realislically in the development of Africa, for fear of creating a monster that may be uncontrollable. An African Japan would be too much for the North to stomach . That is the truth and reality underlying policy decisions towards Africa in the North. The rest is all rhetoric about some ambiguous sustainable development mythology.

Solutions to the African environment and development dilemma have to come from within the region. Apart from the essential technological and industrial inputs, Africa as a region has adequate human resources. experts ana technical know-how for her basic development needs. The region cannot, and shall never, benefit from the ever-increasing influx of expatriate agencies and workers into the continent to fulfil contractual obligations as dictated by their donors. A true and meaningful development cannot be achieved through craftily brokered contractual arrangements between the implementing expatriate agencies and donor countries in the North. True anc meaningful development is a preserve and right of the indigenous people of Africa. They, and only they, can evolve a realistic and sincere process of human development in the region.

Endowed with the richest diversity of human cultures, and being the mother of the human race, Africa could easily propel herself from the depths of economic and political quagmire into one of the most resourceful regions of the world. For this to happen, African governments must tap the immense diverse indigenous cultures and redirect them into productive development endeavours. Liberal development policies, a favourable political atmosphere, dynamic government systems and, most important of all, educational and training programmes that identify and promote innovative practical skills among the youth are urgently needed.

Africa has had enough of unworkable development formulae and technical fixes hatched from outside. Enough sustainable development sweet-talk from the North has been heard. What the region requires is true and tangible resource support by way of substantial investment and development capital. With a meaningful capital base at her disposal, coupled with ample time to create and innovate solutions from within, there is no doubt that.this immense]y resourceful region would match, and even surpass, the rest in human development enadavours within the next five decades.

Conservation and Management
of Natural Resources in Africa

Historical Context

Tne problems and crises currently afflicting the conservation and management of Africa's natural resources are primarily the symptoms of the deep-rooted. long-term effects of centuries of colonial domination. Disruptive, materialistic foreign customs have resulted in the disintegration of richly endowed, indigenous sytems of natural resource utilization, conservation and management enshrined in the multiplicity of Africa's ethnic nationalities. These complex relationships with nature, founded in diverse religious beliefs, taboos, myths and totems, were responsible for the maintenance of Africa's diverse and abundant biological resources for millennia.

Westem colonial cultures introduced into Africa the practice of hunting of wild game to satisfy an exotic lust for ivory, luxury goods and other nonessential psvchosocial desires. At the commencement of politicai independence in the 1950s and 60s, most African countries had lost their best ivory, their finest tropical timber and vast quantities of wildlife species to colonial plunderers from Europe.

Current Perspectives

Africa's natural resources are no longer valued for their true cultural ecological and economic wealth. Current valuation methods are simply emphasized in the economic and monetary terms dictated by northern financial and commodity markets.

As the IMF, through its infamous Structurai Adjustment Programmes,devaluates the Uganda shilling, so does an individual in Washington devalue Ugandan's labour and natural resources. The cultural value of Africa natural resources, as dictated by the ethnic nationalities who own them, is totally ignored.

Wildlife authorities and conservationists seldom consider the cultural significance of natural resources locked within Africa's sprawling game parks and reserves, prior to enforcing laws that exclude indigenous communities from them. Sacred forest shrines and animal totems of immense value to the Samburu, Maasai and Taveta peoples of Kenya are fenced off and access is limited to the hordes of insensitive tourists who frequent the country's parks.

When local communities are evicted from their ancestral lands to make room for gigantic hydropower plants, export crop schemes, and other externally funded development projects, the cultural losses are never considered in impact assessment studies.

Myth: "Africa is poor, it cannot do without borrowing or aid from the North".
Africa is poor because it is being over-exploited not because it lacks resources. On the contrary, Africa could do very well without aid from the North. But the North cannot survive without resources from Africa.

Redressing the lmbalance: Proposals for Action

Reparations for lost Resources

Former imperial and colonial powers must provide compensation for the natural resources that their coionial regimes mined, looted and forcibly wrested from Africa. These include minerals, tropical timber, ivory, game trophies and products of Africa's once-rich soils. It is foolhardy to talk of sustainable development in a region whose resource base has been mined to unsustainabie levels by greedy external powers.

African peoples, NGOs, governments and the international NGO community should institute legal proceedings in the lnternational Court of Justice to seek redress and compensation for the resources that were stolen by western imperial powers.

Control of Resource Exploitation

African countries should form Natural Resource Cartels to control and manage the exploitation of Africa's resources and to ensure the protection of Africa's interests. African NGOs, states, and scholars should reject and resist current attempts to globalize Africa's biological resources through the so-called "common property rights."

Resource Valuation Systems

African governments, NGOs, economists and ecologists should develop a value system for Africa's natural resources that integrates their cultural ecological and economic values. They should protect the integrity of Africa's resources against pervasive and exploitative international profit markets.

Management of Transboundary Resources

African governments,. NGOs and scientific institutions should form regional bodies and scientific panels to ensure the conservation and rational management of transboundary ecological resources such as the Lake Victoria basin, the Nile River, tropical forests, the Sahara Desert, the Niger River and the Congo River. These areas should be exploited judiciously fo the benefit of African people, while being conserved for future generations.

Review of Policies and Laws

Laws and regulations governing the conservation. utilization and management of natural resources in Africa must be re-examined with a view to:

Every African state should initiate studies and compile national umbrella laws on the environment to include substantive enforcement procedures on all environmental matters. Such laws should also include general procedures for the implementation of relevant treaties to which the state is a party.

Those who are involved in the development or enforcement of national laws should work in collaboration with human ecologists to understand the relationship between human communities and their environment. This will help elucidate how those human communities perceive their own relation ship to specific legal provisions. ln the process, the laws and their enforcement would incorporate that understanding.

For the purpose of enhancing the efficacy of the laws on the environment and natural resources, it is imperative that African states initiate studies of human ecology in relation to the legal culture of the people. This initiative should be conducted within national institutions, and on a comparative basis, so that the expenences of different communities can provide a comprehensive background for discussion.

Local Management of Resources

NGOs and development agencies working in Afnca must identify and pro mote community-based strategies that integrate local indigenous knowledge into natural resources conservation and management.

Local people, the ultimate owners and guardians of natural resources, must be the direct beneficiaries of the income that accrues from the exploitation of resources by:

Alternative Approaches to Tourism

Promotion of tourist activities must be reoriented to integrate information on the cultural and ecological values of natural resources to the African people. Folklore, myths, taboos and totems based on flora, fauna, lakes, rivers and mountains of Africa should be incllded in tourist information packages. Domestic tourism must be promoted.

Environmental Education

African scientists and teachers should evolve a new approach to the study of natural sciences that integrates indigenous principles of natural resource conservation and management. A holistic approach to the study of natural organisms and systems should be adopted.

African countries should mount deliberate programmes of training to produce top level experts in the various fields of natural resources and the environment. The objective should be to create a pyramidal structure of expertise, with those in the top echelon constituting the critical mass of training for innovation in the sustainable management of natural resources.

Each African country should establish at least one research centre in each of the various environmental sectors. Such centres should earn their excellence through competitive research and establish their own innovative capabilities. Specific experts should organize themselves into "think tanks" and face the challenge of open debate.

African governments and the public must challenge researchers to conduct competitive and innovative research. To reinforce this challenge, governments should remunerate the researchers in a manner which permits them standards of living reasonably comparable to those of their international counterparts.

Locally designed educational programmes on the value of natural resources must be integrated into educational curricula at all levels.

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