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Opinions of Saturday, 1 August 2009

Columnist: Isang, Sylvester

Does Africa need Environmental Conditionality?

Since time immemorial the global image of Africa has always been the same. Africa is synonymous with poverty, diseases, tribal or civil wars, illiteracy, rampant environmental destruction among other things. In explaining what the global image of Africa is, the renowned Kenyan American Professor Ali Mazrui sums up Africa’s image in six paradoxes. Among such is the paradox that Africa is the richest continent in natural resources yet the poorest region of the world.

After consistently demonstrating its inability to solve its numerous problems the Continent has always looked up to its development partners especially those in the global west. But assistance from these development partners such as the Breton wood Institutions and Governmental Development Agencies such as USAID, NORAD and DFID come with strings or conditions attached.

The question to ask is why should conditionality (plural) be imposed? In my own opinion the answer is simple. Africans have failed to solve their own problems and have always looked up to somewhere else and therefore as the adage goes ‘a beggar has no choice’. Also, the conditionality are always intended to meet the purpose for which the particular assistance was meant for as Africa has the best example of mismanaged and misapplied leaders.

From Economic to Political Conditionality now emerges Environmental Conditionality. Why the paradigm shift? It is believed that the greatest threat to human life today is climate change although the issue of climate change remains a controversy among not only world governments but scientists. What is certain however is that Africa will suffer most the consequences of climate change if it does occur. Overcoming the imminent threat of climate change requires appropriate technology. Africa comes last in this area.

Environmental requirements (Environmental Conditionality) are now prerequisite for attracting funds from development agencies whether multi-national or national governmental agencies. For example the World Bank in line with its own mission statement and the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) launched its environmental measures into a broad document called ‘making sustainable commitments’ in 2001. This policy re-echoes the Bank’s commitment to sustainable poverty reduction as outlined in its mission statement “to fight poverty with passion and professionalism for lasting results. To help people help themselves and their environment by providing resources, haring knowledge, building capacity, and forging partnerships in the public and private sectors...."

How effective are these environmental requirements such as the World Bank’s? Does the mere fact of putting in place an environmental policy and backing applications for development assistance with Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) to attract funding mean that environmental sustainability would be achieved?

The existing records from the previous political and economic conditionality show that little had been achieved. These conditionality were to ensure good governance, social auditing, accountability, press freedom inter alia. Today Africa is still the most diseased continent, the most corrupt, most mismanaged, and the poorest continent despite these previous conditionality. That is not to say nothing was achieved. At least some good lessons were learnt. The transition from Military rule to civilian rule by Ghana in 1992 was in fulfilment of such conditionality for economic assistance. Today Ghana has consolidated its civilian rule but some of the issues raised above are still debatable even in the thriving democracy of Ghana.

The World Bank was right in its litany in 1998 when it identified leadership crises to be a ban on Africa’s development. All manner of buffoons or nincompoops to be mild have seized power at one time or the other in Africa and amassed wealth for themselves much to the neglect of their people who they ironically claim to have seized power to serve. Even leaders who come to power in this day through the ballot box whether genuinely or by manipulation have done and continue to do same. In the wake of this, can any new conditionality work? Some people even conclude that the continent has been cursed and that nothing can be done about its predicament.

I do not support this baseless point. I rather whole heartedly side with President Obama a son of this ‘cursed’ continent when he mentioned in his speech in Accra Ghana on 11th July, 2009 that ‘the future of Africa is Africa’s’.

Environmental conditionality of course is needed but it must be complemented by certain actions. African leaders such as President Mugabe in my humble opinion without any prejudice will be right if they reject environmental conditionality on the premise that it is a new form of imperialism or neo-colonialism. Why? The simplest reason is that the developed countries from where Environmental Conditionality come from have alarming environmental related issues such as pollution through green-house gas emission inter alia than as pertains in Africa. It is a fact that Africa emits less green-house gas than any other continent. Moreover, in some situations these same countries help to pollute Africa. For example Africa is the dumping ground for most electronic waste from the developed west. Is this not a contradiction of their own environmental sustainability position on Africa?

To conclude, whilst I believe that environmental conditionality is needed yet a sense of ownership over these environmental policies must emerge from African governments and for Africa to whole heartedly embrace environmental conditionality without any suspicion of foul play the developed countries from where these conditionality originate must demonstrate good example by practising sound environmental sustainability rather than preaching it.

Author: Sylvester Isang


A Ghanaian student in QUB, UK

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