Past, present and future perspectives


Although the 1980s have been referred to as the 'lost decade' for Africa, it was also the decade in which governments in the region consolidated efforts to set their countries on a path of sustainable development. Various environmental initiatives were undertaken during this period, at both regional and global levels, and these greatly influenced environmental policy in Africa.

Emergence of African common resolve

Meetings under the auspices of the OAU, such as the 1980 Extraordinary Summit of Heads of State and Government, which led to the adoption of the Lagos Plan of Action, helped to highlight the challenges facing the region. Under the Lagos Plan of Action, African leaders emphasized that 'Africa's huge resources must be applied principally to meet the needs and purposes of its people.' They also emphasized the need for Africa's apparent 'total reliance on the export of raw materials' to change, and the need to mobilize its entire human and material resources for the development of the region (OAU 1980). The Lagos Plan of Action (see Table 1.4) is one of many measures adopted by the region which set either qualitative or quantitative targets. Unfortunately, many of these targets remain unmet.

Table 1.4 Goals of the Lagos Plan of Action, 1980-2000




  • Adopt a plan of action, which should incorporate the development of policies, strategies, institutions and programmes, for the protection of the environment.
  • Utilize urban wastes to produce biogas, in order to save energy; and convert rubbish into manure; combat water-borne diseases; control water pollution from agricultural and industrial effluents.
  • Introduce measures to control marine pollution from land-based industrial wastes and oil from shipping.
  • Implement stricter control of fish exploitation in economic exclusion zones by foreign transnationals.
    Establish programmes to rehabilitate mined-out sites, by removing earth tailings; filling up ponds to eradicate water-borne diseases; and controlling toxic heavy metal poisoning.
  • Establish stations to monitor air pollutants from factories, cars, and electrical generators using coal.
    Control the importation of pollutive industries (cement, oil refineries, tanneries and so on).
  • Create national programmes in environmental education.
  • Improve legislation and law enforcement, in order to protect the environment.
  • Plan and manage the rational use of land, water and forest resources as part of the campaign against desertification.
  • Develop innovate approaches in drought management and desertification control.
  • Collect and disseminate environmental data, in order to monitor the state of the environment.
  • Facilitate the establishment of techniques for the proper exploitation of natural resources, in order to prevent water and air pollution.
  • Facilitate the establishment of techniques to manage and use forests and grasslands, in order to prevent the exposure of the land to soil and wind erosion.
Food and agriculture  
  • Achieve a 50 per cent reduction in post-harvest food losses.
  • Attain food self-sufficiency in the next decades.
  • Set up national strategic food reserves, at 10 per cent of total food production.
  • Increase production from African waters by 1 million tonnes by 1985.
  • Develop a national food policy in each country.
  • Establish an inventory of forest resources.
  • Promote indigenous research, and the study of indigenous species in particular ecological areas.
  • Expand areas under forestry regeneration by 10 per cent annually up to 1985.
  • Expand forest reserves by 10 per cent by 1985.
Water resources  
  • Establish an inventory of surface and groundwater sources.
  • Develop special techniques for managing water resources, that is, collect data on water availability and quality; forecast demand in various rural sectors; and develop and use technologies for recovery and recycling.
  • Develop technologies for collecting water in rural areas, for distribution, irrigation, treating polluted water and disposal of waste water.
  • Establish river basin organizations.
  • Strengthen existing sub-regional organizations, such as river and lake basin commissions.
Source: Field-Juma (1996), OAU (1995; 2001)

African Ministerial Conference on the Environment

The first meeting of AMCEN, organized by UNEP in close collaboration with the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the OAU, was held in Cairo, Egypt in December 1985. In addition to being Africa's direct response to the 1972 Stockholm Conference, the establishment of AMCEN was also part of UNEP's response to Africa's environmental crisis. The objective of the AMCEN programme, which was adopted in Cairo, is to mobilize national, sub-regional and regional cooperation in four priority areas:

As part of its programme, AMCEN focuses on environmental, social and economic inequality, and their impact on the environment. It also focuses on the pace of economic globalization and its environmental impact on Africa. The AMCEN meeting in Abuja in 2000 marked a turning point for AMCEN. At this meeting, African governments committed themselves to:

Through its partnership with UNEP, AMCEN has committed itself to keeping under review the state of the environment, and emerging environmental issues and trends, in Africa. It also aims to provide early warning signals, and to promote government and public access to environmental information, as a basis for policy development, programme responses and action to achieve environmental security.

For almost 20 years, AMCEN has facilitated the broadening of the political and public policy legitimacy of environmental concerns, through the growth of civil society organizations, and their active participation in international and national environmental activities. Some of the milestones that AMCEN has achieved include the following: