Number 5: Sustainable Development Part 1
The fifth in the NGLS series Voices from Africa contains 13 articles by authors from a variety of backgrounds, each expressing his or her vision of the challenge of sustainable development from an African perspective. Sustainable development, in Africa as elsewhere, is a broad subject which no single volume can begin to explain. African populations;often more so than those elsewhere;are tightly bound to their natural surroundings, so much so that changes in their environment precipitate social, economic and physical transformations, both among individuals and among social groups. This volume looks at a few of these changes and challenges within the context of sustainable development seen from Africa by Africans.
In the first article, Belghis Badri provides an analytical framework within which sustainable development is defined in relation to the objectives of Agenda 21, the blueprint for action adopted at the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The framework consists of seven indicators;social, economic, environmental, political, intellectual, women's and international development;which the author suggests should be integrated into any analysis purporting to measure progress on achieving Agenda 21's sustainable development goals.
But achieving sustainable development, according to Achoka Awori, is not necessarily everyone's priority goal. He argues that the North has a vested interest in keeping Africa underdeveloped, and that any solutions designed to put Africa on the path to sustainable development must come from Africa herself. All Africa needs, he says, is investment and development capital, with enough time to come up with the required solutions. This capital would not come from aid, however: rather, past colonial regimes would compensate Africa for the natural resources they extracted when they ruled the continent. Africa's potential for sustainable development is so tremendous, he argues, that capital and the time to use it could position Africa ahead of the rest of the world in just five decades.
But any development carries its challenges. For their part, Ibrahima Cheikh Diong and Daniel Allard look at how the mechanisms that link the concepts of environment and development function, in an effort to contribute to a better understanding of development's challenges. They conclude that development must be a global process and, like Awori, they propose a scenario in which a population reacquires and uses its own resources to resolve problems by generating a new lifestyle over time. In other words, development must be the result of a sustainable and dynamic link between the natural environment and the socio-cultural setting of the concerned populations, with environment fully integrated into the development process.
For James Buturo, democracy and sustainable development are two sides of the same coin, with NGOs strategically positioned to facilitate both. He makes the point that in the quest for solutions to development problems, donors are increasingly looking at NGOs as essential in opening the doors to democracy and for the empowerment of people, both of which are key to the development process. In his overview, he examines how NGOs are affecting and acting as agents for democracy and sustainable development in Africa, and the challenges they face in doing so.
In her consideration of women and sustainable development, Ruth Meena examines the constraints which have limited the contribution of women to development. She identifies three such constraints: the policy environment, which ignores gender imbalances; socio-cultural norms, where culture is used to justify inequalities; and women's initiatives and their inability to influence policy making. She argues that women can only contribute to the development process if they take part in the design and formulation of policies, and so must play a more active role in the management of their societies.
In a specific look at the role of women, Prisca Molotsi presents a detailed action plan drawn up by the Zambia Alliance of Women on participation in sustainable development. The plan, now in its implementation phase, includes such activities as environmental education, energy saving, family planning, food security and agroforestry. All of these are used to support the belief that unless women take full control of their environment and become equal partners in their community, the environment itself will not improve.
The achievement of sustainable development faces a number of obstacles, however. In Zimbabwe, Sam Moyo and Yemi Katerere explain how one of the biggest obstacles to sustainable development is inefficiency and underutilization of resources. They do this by attempting to define and identify a wide range of analytical, organizational and administrative barriers to efficiency, arguing that northern environmental models are being applied to the South irrespective of the South's environmental problems. They say much lip service is paid to sustainable development, but that efforts must go beyond words to strengthening institutions, developing human resources and research capacity and methodology, improving popular participation, and balancing access to and distribution of resources.
One way of protecting the environment;more particularly biological diversity;is through technology, argues John O. Mugabe. He emphasizes the role played by training in specific scientific areas of conservation and the creation of basic information systems for conservation. These issues are examined in the context of global discussions on biodiversity conservation, and he argues that the range of techniques for biodiversity conservation upon which African countries currently depend is far too narrow.
In a look at a specific technological application to environmental conservation, Essma Ben Hamida describes the use of computer technology in Tunisia as a unifying force towards sustainable development. She explains how a UNDP project to set up a sustainable development computer network in Tunisia is helping facilitate national strategies and networks in the field of sustainable development, and boosting NGO capacities to be effective nationally and internationally.
One area of emerging interest in the sustainable development debate is South Africa, where apartheid's legacy has resulted in the country's marginalization from international legal instruments set up to conserve the environment. According to Peter Ngobese, the challenge there lies in instituting participatory and democratic access to resources that ensures their long-term sustainability while meeting the basic needs of a majority rather than a minority. One suggested way of meeting this challenge might be by drawing up a National Sustainable Development Plan for a majority-ruled South Africa.
In some parts of Africa, desertification is a major hindrance to sustainable development. Mamadou Sonko looks at how a combination of natural and man-made causes have contributed to desertification, arguing that traditional methods of resource exploitation were better equipped to balance ecological systems than their more modern post-colonial counterparts, which have encouraged overexploitation of land and deforestation. Taking this argument a step further, Alawiyya Jamal uses a case study to look at how people can influence their environment. In a particular region of Sudan, she argues, an unsuccessful government campaign to increase water use contributed to water scarcity and land degradation, which in turn fueled desertification.
The aim of Voices from Africa is to enable African development practitioners and writers from NGOs, the research community and elsewhere, to share their work, their concerns and their ideas on the development issues, problems and challenges facing their continent. By giving Africans themselves this opportunity to express their views to an international readership, we hope the series will help shape a more positive and more realistic image of Africa and, at the same time, provide a useful input to northern development education and information activities.
We would like to express our appreciation to the contributors to this edition of Voices from Africa and to renew our thanks to the institutions which support this project (see back cover).