Who will make Africa's future green and sustainable?
Photo: Silvia Richter

Who will make Africa’s future green and sustainable?

Africa has a huge wealth of natural resources. However, exploiting them without giving any consideration to social and environmental concerns is widespread. The Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the German Africa Foundation recently held a joint event discussing how environmental protection and sustainable economic growth could be reconciled and what politics and civil society could contribute in this respect.

With its 53 sovereign states, Africa holds tremendous wealth. The continent bears many mineral resources, is rich in agricultural resources such as land, water and fertile soil, and has countless people with ideas. So the prerequisites for a green and sustainable future are there. In late November 2018, the German Africa Foundation discussed how the continent’s future could be made greener with the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Berlin/Germany.

Marion Lieser, Managing Director of Oxfam Germany, sees the main problem in Western Europe’s consumer economy, which is acting “on the never never at the expense of others’ livelihoods”. The economy was oriented too much on commerce and gave too little attention to people’s well-being.

Who is setting the standards?

Lieser calls for a post-capitalist model that has abandoned the growth paradigm and advocates binding norms in international trade. However, Germany’s former Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks cautioned that without growth, society would be unable to maintain the lives of nearly ten billion people in 2050. And the products required to accomplish this could not be produced without private capital. But does this mean that Africa has to introduce compulsory environmental impact assessments along the lines of German standards?

In the context of the Compact with Africa, which was introduced under Germany’s G20 presidency last year, forums were set up to define minimum requirements in the framework of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. However, the corresponding standards for overseas investments had not yet been defined in the industrial countries, Hendricks pointed out. Nevertheless, the countries in Africa and Asia had to become active in a wide range of areas as well. The winners of this year’s German Africa Prizes, with which the German Africa Foundation distinguishes African individuals once a year for their efforts to promote peace, democracy and sustainable development on the continent, had demonstrated examples of civil society engagement.

Tanzania – power supply yes, but sustainable

Gerard Bigurube, Frankfurt Zoological Society Programme Manager for Tanzania, was Director General of the Tanzania National Parks Authority TANAPA at Selous Wildlife Reserve for 16 years. The reserve covers around 50,000 square kilometres, and population growth is putting pressure on it. Poaching is one of the chief issues the rangers have to deal with. Biugurube reported that tourism throughout the reserves accounted for around 17 per cent of the gross domestic product, and added that the local population’s support for the environment was helping both the natural habitat and the animals. Zoologist Bigurube visits the villages surrounding the nature reserve and is making tireless efforts to resolve the conflicts in aims between biodiversity and economic growth. 

At the moment, plans for a new dam are threatening the reserve. The dam is to provide the region with electricity. Implementing the scheme will jeopardise Selou’s status as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site. Of course power supply was an important factor in a country’s development, Bigurube noted. Germany could arouse the government’s interest in alternative electricity generating with wind and solar power systems and see to their implementation with private capital.

Madagascar – combating timber smuggling

The second prize-winner comes from Madagascar. This island east of the African continent is famous for its biodiversity. With its red tree core, rosewood fetches around 1,000 US dollars per cubic metre on the world market. It is used for luxury furniture. This valuable wood grows in the island’s impenetrable jungle and is cut illegally by a mafia and brought out of the country. Clovis Razafimalala is Chairman of the environmental organisation Lampogno Maraoantsetra Alliance and says: “The forest is my life.” At home, he draws attention to smuggling again and again. Timber that has been felled is tied to the sides of boats that take it to the coast, from where it disappears, usually headed for China. Razafimalala has paid for his activities with a charge and a prison term.

However, environmental campaigner Razafimalala is not seeking to have Madagascar give up exporting rosewood. He wants the people of Madagascar to co-operate with the government in setting sustainable logging quotas. He reported in Berlin that against the backdrop of the current government elections, pledges had been made to introduce such measures, although he remains sceptical whether the government really does intend to tackle the problem of conservation once the elections are over.

Roland Krieg, journalist, Berlin, Germany