Past, present and future perspectives


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Figure 4.1: Six scenarios present a general outlook for the future of the sub-regions

The African Environment Outlook (AEO) is an initiative of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN), with technical support from the Division of Environment Assessment and Early Warning (DEAW) of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). AMCEN was established in 1985 as an environmental intergovernmental body in Africa, with a mandate to provide policy guidance, and to identify priorities for the implementation of environmental treaties and goals at national and sub regional levels. One of AMCEN's goals is to ensure that the quality of the environment is maintained, and that Africans derive quality of life through the environment's provision of food, shelter and natural resources, which are needed to generate employment (AMCEN 1987, 1989,1993). AMCEN has made considerable progress in imparting environmental awareness to African governments. It has also facilitated the establishment of ministries of environment in many countries, as well as the enactment of environmental acts and bills which are being implemented in many countries.

AMCEN's eighth session, held in Abuja, Nigeria in April 2000, marked a turning point for the organization as the conference adopted a medium-term programme which clearly spelled out the need to provide an AEO. An AEO was identified as one of the tools which could be used to respond to Africa's persistent and severe economic and environmental problems in a sustainable way. It will provide the opportunity for AMCEN to look into the future, and to assess the various environmental and sustainable development policy options for the next 30 years, and then to identify which steps can meaningfully be taken at national, sub-regional and regional levels. Such a task involves a clear conceptualization of what the future environment should be like. It also requires great vision to create these possible future scenarios, to outline their characteristics and to show in what areas preferences lie.

Few scenarios have been developed to evaluate the environmental sustainability of Africa as a whole. However, many scenarios have been devised at subregional levels, which provide some general perspectives regarding the future of the region. Recent reviews by GEO-2 (UNEP 2000) and Raskin (2000 a) describe attempts to develop scenarios for different sub-regions of Africa by: the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED 1997); the World Bank (WB 1996); the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC 1994); Club du Sahel (OECD 1995); Beyond Hunger Study (Achebe and others, 1990); and Blue Plan (UNEP 1989). Figure 4.1 outlines these scenarios. In general, these scenarios provide perspectives with timescales ranging from 18 years (IIED) to almost 70 years (Beyond Hunger).

At least two contrasting scenarios were proposed for each region by most of the review bodies. For example, the IIED proposed 'Doomsday' and 'Sustainable Future' scenarios. The WB proposed 'Current Trends' and 'Desired Future' scenarios, for environmentally sustainable development in sub-Saharan Africa. Club du Sahel proposed 'Laissez-faire', 'Orthodox Growth' and 'Regional Integration' scenarios. Beyond Hunger proposed 'Conventional Wisdom' and 'Big Lift' scenarios. Blue Plan proposed 'Trend Scenarios' and 'Alternative Scenarios'. In almost all cases, comparisons were made between pairs of scenarios.

The 'business as usual' scenario, which comprises scenarios such as 'Laissez-faire', 'Orthodox Growth' and 'Current Trends', is driven by demographic change, particularly population growth and migration, and by lacklustre economic development. The 'Doomsday' scenario provides the worst-case scenario, given a laissez-faire approach to environmental change. Some scenarios, such as the 'Current Trends' scenario and UNEP's Blue Plan, look at realistic futures for specific sub-regions of Africa, and Blue Plan attempts to chart a desirable course for African development. There are also discussions on alternative scenarios, which feature a desirable and sustainable vision for the region.

Perhaps the most positive of the scenarios is Beyond Hunger (Achebe and others, 1990). This provides a vision of Africa some 100 years after the independence of Ghana, which was the first colonial territory in Africa to become independent in 1957. Beyond Hunger, produced before South Africa imbibed multiracial politics in 1994, already envisioned an African state of Azania for South Africa. It also envisioned the institution of mechanisms that would lead Africa to an economic development strategy which emphasized autonomy or integration into global markets. Beyond Hunger can be said to constitute the roots of the 'African Renaissance'- the resurgence of African culture, human resource development, outreach programmes and public participation in the development process.