Past, present and future perspectives




Chapter 1 of the Africa Environment Outlook (AEO) provides an overview of developments in Africa, particularly over the three decades up to 2002. It highlights social and economic policies and programmes which have impacted on the environment, and which have influenced various policy responses.

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Figure 1.1: The political regions and boundaries of Africa

While the chapter focuses mainly on the 30 years since the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment-which laid the foundation for international action on the environment-it also reviews some of the developments before 1972 which had a major bearing on Africa's political economy. Such developments include: the slave trade; colonization; decolonization; and the struggle for independence. This historical background information serves to place the evolution of environmental management in Africa in its proper perspective.

Social, economic and environmental issues in Africa are discussed in three major sections, each covering approximately one decade, namely: the 1970s; the 1980s; and the 1990s and beyond.

The section on the 1970s also deals with some developments before 1972, including: colonization; decolonization; and the establishment of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963. The legal and institutional framework for environmental management is also covered.

The section on the 1980s highlights the economic decline of Africa, including: the debt problem; famine in the mid-1980s; and African attempts at revival, with the adoption of the Lagos Plan of Action at the beginning of the decade. The creation in 1985 of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) and the work of the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) are also highlighted. The WCED popularized the concept of sustainable development. By embracing both sustainable development and the World Conservation Strategy, which spawned many national conservation strategies, Africa has claimed its position as a major global player at the international level in terms of environmental management.

The section on the 1990s and beyond lowers the curtains on the decolonization process, with the abolition of apartheid in South Africa and the creation of a new political dispensation. The section also covers the end of the Cold War, which had made the region a theatre for both Western and Soviet geopolitical games. The 1990s also saw the evolution of new political systems in many African countries. In terms of the environment, many countries adopted new constitutions, which enshrined environmental rights. The section looks at the impact of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), and at preparations for the World Summit on Sustainable Development to be held in South Africa later in 2002.