Africa urged to radically improve environment, public care

By Emmanuel Koro

YOUNG AFRICAN leaders have called for a radical and wise approach towards using and managing all types of the continent’s resources, including money, in order to meaningfully improve the well-being of both the people and the environment – a process commonly known as sustainable development.

Working together with UNESCO Paris Headquarters Office and the Kenya-based World Wide Fund for Nature Regional Office for Africa (WWF-ROA), young African leaders have declared their increasing interest and readiness to start a new leadership paradigm shift in which they will immediately start serving as sustainable development change agents through promoting Education for Sustainable Development (ESD).

“We need leaders who take a principled stand on what they believe in, in order to promote sustainable development,” Jeffrey Shihembetsa, a PhD student and a representative of the Young Men Christian Association, speaking at the UNESCO and WWF-ROA organised workshop, held in Nairobi, Kenya, from 16 to 17 February 2017. “We either stand for something or fall for anything and it is better to do like what USA President Donald Trump is doing to stand firm on what he believes in. Here in Africa we need to stand firm on what we believe is good for our people and the environment and not get told how to do it by external forces as is sadly happening in some parts of Africa.” Over 50 young leaders in the academia, government, non-governmental organisation and private sectors from West Africa, Central and Southern African countries attended the workshop. “The UNESCO Paris Office is working together with WWF Office for Regional Africa to facilitate ESD partnerships between African young leaders with those from other parts of the world,” said Julie Saito, programme specialist for communication in the Education for Sustainable Development Section at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, France. Saito said that the young African leaders at the workshop had been empowered to promote ESD and “now have an increased recognition” of the importance of win-win international cooperation towards promoting sustainable development through ESD.

Meanwhile, a South Africa-based graduate student of North-West University and woman activist, Ncobile Nkosi said that mainstreaming sustainable development education into all disciplines of education starting at the lowest to the highest levels of education is a key requirement towards the success of sustainable development through ESD. Also key to the success of ESD is the need to have qualified African leaders who use their academic qualifications to promote good governance, which is central to the successful implementation of sustainable development.

“When Nelson Mandela was President of South Africa, he used his legal expertise to facilitate the creation of one of the most highly rated constitutions worldwide that promote democratic values and equality and interdependence – the Ubuntu values that recognize equality of all,” said Nkosi. “When Thabo Mbeki became the President of South Africa, we also witnessed significant and sustainable growth of the South African economy.”

During the workshop group discussions, the young African leaders drawn from South, West, East and Central Africa pledged to bring down the barriers to good sustainable development leadership values that include fighting corruption, inequality, promoting the need for leadership that exercises authority with responsibility and democracy. The young African leaders also called for innovative approaches towards addressing poverty, all-inclusive decision-making and consultative processes and the need to be conscious of the long-term impacts of the decisions we make. The workshop participants said that there was need to reject Western conservation values that do not work for Africa and the world. The young African leaders who are now empowered through the skills gained from the ESD Youth Leaders Workshop said that they were going to start spreading public awareness on the need for sustainable development, through ESD. Once this, process gains momentum in Africa it would then trigger an Africa-wide movement that calls for democratic sustainable development initiatives.

In a frank discussion on what Africa needs to achieve sustainable development, the young African leaders attending the UNESCO and WWF-ROA ESD Youth Leaders Workshop said that it was high time that African leaders came up with a sustainable development agenda that benefits both their people and their environment, without any external influence that is detrimental to Africa’s environmental and human well-being.

Some of them expressed concern at Kenya’s burning of 100 tonnes of ivory in April 2016, valued at about US$100 million at today’s black market prices, without prior consultation and approval of its citizens and also without disclosing who paid for such a monumental and unprecedented conservation stunt.

Described as undemocratic, unsustainable, shocking and clearly against African people’s conservation values, Kenya’s ivory burning was viewed as one of the clear examples of the unwanted imposition of Western conservation values on Africa.

A Kenyan environmental education specialist and ecologist, Brian Waswala said, “The ivory that was burnt by the Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta government was both from poached elephants and those that died of natural mortality but I believe it would have been prudent only to burn ivory from poached elephants and leave that from elephants that die from natural causes.”

He said that such ivory could have been used for tourism and anti-poaching education awareness by allowing the public to view the ivory stockpiles and learn more about the elephant poaching problem and Kenya and how they can help to stop it. He said that such ivory could also have been used to research why Kenyan elephants’ tasks are getting shorter, something that science cannot currently explain.

Waswala said that ivory burning has continued to fail to stop poaching as Kenya has burnt smaller quantities of ivory before.

“You don’t burn a granary just because you found a snake inside it,” said Waswala in opposition to his country’s recent burning of ivory that was equally opposed by other people worldwide, including the President of Botswana, Ian Khama who turned down President Kenyatta’s invitation to the event. “You don’t burn ivory to stop elephant poaching because it doesn’t stop poach[ing]. Instead, Kenya needs to block conduits for illegal trade in ivory and also create awareness in countries that provide ivory markets and involve neighbouring countries in elephant conservation activities.”

Waswala said that the Kenyan Government “needs to ensure that communities living next to game parks benefit from wildlife as this would make the see the value as an economic asset” and therefore stop collaborating with poachers.

The workshop participants observed that the imposition of external sustainable development values on Africa often caused divisions in Africa, making Africa fail to reach consensus when it comes to making key decisions that affect their future within UN international environmental agreements such as CITES.

“If what happened in Kenya were to happen in Nigeria, we would have rejected ivory burning and massively opposed such unAfrican conservation values by staging massive demonstrations in the streets and also strongly opposed it in the media,” said a Nigerian young leader representing the One African Child Foundation, Roland Aiwone. “Unfortunately, we have docile citizens in Africa as noted by the late Nigerian music legend Mr Fela Kuti who said that African people are suffering and smiling.”

Meanwhile, the young African leaders applauded Botswana President Khama’s opposition to ivory burning as it is against African conservation values historically as our kings, queens and chiefs and are known to have engaged in sustainable trade and use of their wildlife products to benefit their socio-economic wellbeing. Presenting a paper on leadership, Dr Brighton Kaom a Kenyan specialist on community involvement in sustainable development said, “African leaders are failing to implement the sustainable development policies that other countries have imposed on them and if this is caused by external influences they should reject agendas that work against the wellbeing of both their people and environment and against their sustainable development values.”

Related to this, the workshop participants agreed that positive leadership qualities that promote sustainable development include integrity and systemic thinking and management that involves the recognition that everything is connected to everything else in nature and the need to avoid disturbing the ecological balance to benefit both the environment and human welfare. They warned that failure to maintain ecological balance would cause ecological and socioeconomic problems similar to what

happened with Lake Victoria shared by Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda; where rapid population and economic growth as well as over-fishing and the introduction of a foreign fish species led to the decline of a desired indigenous fish species such as ‘ngege’ (Oreochromis esculenturs) and later its replacement by the British with Nile tilapia (Oreochromis noliticus) and Nile Perch Lates noliticus (Lates niloticus). Clearly, this had negative impacts on the fish population, the environment and the socioeconomic well-being of the local communities who could not fish anymore.

The young African leaders also called for radical but not extreme reforms in Africa’s care for the environment and public welfare as well as respect of rule of law, honesty, accountability and unwavering leadership principles. Meanwhile, the WWF-ROA Director, Frederick Kwame Kumah said that despite the sustainable development challenges at an international level, the world achieved a lot in 2016 than any period in human history, by signing the Climate Change Pact – a never-seen-before commitment that sustainable development is in our hands and shows that we are now working together to address climate change challenges, in order to achieve sustainable development globally.

Elsewhere, Kumah said, “In the last two years, we have begun to see real change in the investments in renewable energy which for the first time have surpassed investments in fossil fuels.” Kumah urged all young African leaders to stand and be counted by demanding and defending sustainable development, through partly promoting ESD as is currently happening in Kenya through mainstreaming ESD in the education system and also through bringing down leadership barriers to sustainable development such as corruption and misuse of funds meant for conservation and development.

“You must never under-estimate the power of one person,” said Kumah in his message of encouragement to young African leaders to stand up for what is right for sustainable development regardless of consequences they might later face from the powers that be to silence them from doing so. “We have seen that individual power and influence in Nelson Mandela’s successful fight for a free South Africa, Professor Wangari Maathai’s greenbelt movement here in Kenya, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana’s political independence in Ghana where I come from.”

The workshop participants expressed concern over some parts of society’s non-recognition of women in sustainable development and yet they play a key role in the facilitation of ESD.

The young African leaders were empowered with the knowledge that key to the success of sustainable development is the need to continue using ESD, in order to make the public aware of the need for systemic sustainable development problem-solving approach that does not look at issues in isolation but from an inclusive and integrated approach.

It seems winds of democratic sustainable development have started blowing more forcefully in Africa; fanned by the ESD empowered young leaders who will reach out to the outside world for collective solutions that will work for Africa and the world and reject those that do not work for Africa and the world.   

February 2017
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