Number 5: Sustainable Development Part 1
AN AFRICAN PERSPECTIVE ON ENVIRONMENT AND DEVELOPMENT
In a report of a special workshop on Africa, published by Winrock International (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. In 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 capital city.
That is Africa in the eyes of the North. A continent to be admired, talked about, but not to be touched. Just as the colonial settlers failed to educate the African peasant for fear of losing much-needed cheap, illiterate and naive farm labour, so does the western world refuse to invest realistically 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 and 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 and 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 immensely resourceful region would match, and even surpass, the rest in human development endeavours within the next five decades.
Conservation and management of natural resources in Africa
The 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.
Western colonial cultures introduced into Africa the practice of hunting of wild game to satisfy an exotic lust for ivory, luxury goods and other non-essential psychosocial desires. At the commencement of political 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.
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 Structural Adjustment Programmes, devaluates the Uganda shilling, so does an individual in Washington devalue Ugandans' labour and natural resources. The cultural value of Africa's 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 overexploited, 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 Imbalance: Proposals for Action
Reparations for Lost Resources
Former imperial and colonial powers must provide compensation for the natural resources that their colonial 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 unsustainable levels by greedy external powers.
African peoples, NGOs, governments and the international NGO community should institute legal proceedings in the International 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 for 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 relationship to specific legal provisions. In 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 experiences of different communities can provide a comprehensive background for discussion.
Local Management of Resources
NGOs and development agencies working in Africa must identify and promote 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 included in tourist information packages. Domestic tourism must be promoted.
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.
The Isiolo Caucus
Where exactly is Isiolo? This is a question that even many Kenyans may have trouble answering. Isiolo is a district in the arid northern province of Kenya, a hot, flat, unending landscape sparsely peopled by Samburu pastoralists and occasional tourists. It is places such as these, forgotten and seemingly useless to most, that have a hidden but vast potential for development. Overlooked, deemed poor and seemingly uninhabitable to the casual observer, Isiolo is home to rich traditions and culture and a surprising wealth of natural resources. Isiolo is a startlingly crystalline metaphor for the ignored and forgotten ways of a rich and resourceful continent.
For three days in November 1991, 20 men and women from seven African nations;experts, scholars in fields ranging from indigenous knowledge to economics;met in Isiolo to articulate an African perspective on environment and development. No small talk, but certainly one of extreme importance.
The authors of the Isiolo Declaration met to deliberate on matters pertaining to environment and development in Africa with a strong and clear African voice, presenting a new vision of environment and development rooted in an African reality and condition. The participants, individuals of varying backgrounds but common purpose, were brought together to exchange their views, hopes and aspirations and integrate them into an African blueprint for development.
The Isiolo Declaration: Africa's Perspective on Environment and Development
The Isiolo Caucus defined development as a socio-political process which seeks to improve people's quality of life; that has discipline and commitment to deliver; is transparent, participative and subject to renewal or rejection after a period predetermined by the people; guarantees the social and moral improvement of every member of society; empowers people's control and participation in the management of natural resources; enhances spiritual and cultural enrichment of the people; and ensures full control of their destiny.
Sustainable development shall never be attained as long as unsustainable exploitation of the earth's resources by the North continues. The theory of sustainable development currently dictates that those with the capacity to exploit global resources maintain the same level of exploitation, while the poor and weak retain the existing levels of declining development and standards of living. Sustainable development shall simply ensure continued exploitative dominance of the North over the poorer and weaker South. The theory should be rejected totally. A new development theory that seeks to redress existing imbalances by ensuring equity in political, ideological and cultural influences in the control and exploitation of global resources needs to be adopted.
Africa's Lost Resources
The people of Africa and the diaspora must be compensated for what was unjustly wrested from their heritage through human enslavement, natural resource exploitation, cultural plunder, imposed ideological and political control and centuries of imperialism. A Global Reparations Fund (GRF) should be launched. African governments, NGOs and research bodies should incessantly campaign for the fund to be established by all those nations that, at any one time, colonized Africa without her people's consent and all those that promoted the holocaust of slavery in the continent. A special global conference under the auspices of the United Nations should be convened in 1994 to deliberate on the modalities of establishing the fund. The international NGO community should hold workshops and symposia to deliberate on the subject in detail.
The African Family Unit
The family unit has been and remains the pillar of Africa's cultural integrity and heritage. The woman, as the custodian of the family's social and spiritual bonds, has an invaluable role to play in the process of developing the total society. The child's place and right in the family unit should never be compromised by the selfish material and ideological desires of the adult members of the family unit. The noble roles of mother, father and child in the African family must be safeguarded against divisive modern ideological whims that promote chauvinistic and radical feministic norms, to the detriment of the family bond. The Isiolo Caucus declares that Africans should reject development programmes that promote the discrimination of gender roles in disregard of the total welfare of the family. Family planning programmes in Africa should strive to restore the dignity of the African family as enshrined in the people's cultures.
Land and Biological Resources
The most crucial threat to Africa's land and biological resources is and has been the coercive trade and market forces in the North that consistently work to undervalue the worth of the yields from the continent. Insensitive consumer patterns in the North have directly caused the extermination of rare wildlife species in Africa. The depletion of natural resources to satisfy exotic wants outside the continent and the establishment of large-scale plantations of cheap cash crops destined for markets in the North have denuded Africa's most fertile soils, clogging rivers with silt and destroying invaluable plant and animal species as more land is cleared for extensive plantations. The Isiolo Caucus declares that African countries should form cartels to safeguard Africa's natural resources and control their exploitation. African countries should strive to research and document the potential of existing biological resources.
People are the most valuable resource for development. People should not be depicted as a problem but as a resource to be mobilized for positive development. The vast resources being spent on population control programmes in Africa should be invested in improving the welfare of her people and in mobilizing their creative potentials for development endeavours. The ethics of people, as the ultimate custodians and managers of natural resources, should be promoted in all development programmes in Africa.
The most critical threats to biodiversity in Africa are the global trade and market systems that encourage the clearing of natural vegetative cover to make room for large-scale plantations of cash crops needed by markets in the North. Africa's immense natural biodiversity potential is largely unresearched and hence hardly valued for its ecological and economic potential. Policies and laws on natural resource management enacted during the colonial era do not provide adequate attention and value to local resources. African countries should research the potential of their biological resources and create regulatory measures to oversee their conservation and rational exploitation.
Poverty in Africa is a state of social and economic deprivation induced by morally erosive political and economic forces from outside the region. The erosion of indigenous socio-economic systems, the adoption of values and educational systems that deplete creative energy and entrepreneurial skills of the young, market systems that suppress the development of industrial and technological potential from the region, systems of trade that deliberately undervalue products from natural resources in Africa to satisfy greedy wants for cheap raw materials by industrialized nations of the North and political systems and regimes that suppress the intellectual and creative potential of their own people are among the key causes of poverty in Africa.