Past, present and future perspectives
Click to enlarge
Figure 1.2: Some international conventions and the number of countries participating in each since the 1970 Lagos Plan of Action


Following global trends, significant and positive achievements, including political liberalization, spread across Africa during the 1990s. Pluralism and accountability were more evident than ever before. One-party dictatorships and military regimes were swept out of power, as Africans exercised their right to elect their governments. Leaders who accepted the will of the people at the ballot box began to emerge. In most countries in the region, civil society grew in strength, with significant movements towards decentralization, and with popular participation in the development process.


The 1990s saw a further shift in the development paradigm for Africa. The 'real issue' for the 1990s centred on good governance. One of the major political events of the last decade of the 20th century was the abolition of apartheid in South Africa. The photograph of the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in February 1990 perhaps best represents the most lasting icon not only of the decade, but also of decolonization. The first democratic elections in the country in 1994, which elected Mandela into power as the first black South African president, essentially marked the end of the decolonization process for Africa, even though many hotspots continue to exist in the region.

During the period 1992-2002, the OAU also recognized the importance of cooperation in environmental management. It established broad-based agreements, such as Articles 56-59 of the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community, which relate to: natural resources; energy; the environment; and the control of hazardous wastes (UNEP 1999). The OAU and many governments in Africa have adopted instruments or national constitutions which recognize the environment as a fundamental right. This is, perhaps, a direct achievement of the 1972 Stockholm Conference, which articulated, in Principle 1, the right of people to live 'in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being'.


A number of regional and sub-regional institutions have been established in Africa during the 1990s, in order to introduce and to strengthen sustainable development programmes. Some of the institutions and initiatives are highlighted in the following paragraphs.

African Economic Community

Efforts to strengthen regional cooperation in the sustainable use and management of natural resources and the environment have never been more inclusive and holistic than is provided for under the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community, adopted by OAU member states in Abuja in June 1991. The Tr eaty aims at ensuring the harmonization and coordination of environmental protection policies among member states. The objectives of the African Economic Community (AEC), which was launched in Harare in 1997, are to promote economic, social and cultural development, and the integration of African economies, in order to increase economic self-reliance and to promote self-sustained development. Specifically, the Abuja Treaty obliges parties to:

'The relationship between climate change, desertification and poverty is one of grave concern to our continent. All demand global action.'

Ketumile Masire, President of Botswana, speaking on behalf of the Chairman of the Organization of African Unity at the Rio Earth Summit, 3-14 June 1992