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Development and environment

African perspectives

by Dagmar Wolf

In brief

Oil exploration in Gabon’s rain forest

Oil exploration in Gabon’s rain forest

Due to annual growth rates of around six per cent, many African countries have progressed in recent years. Experts, however, agree that more needs to happen to stem poverty in the long run. This is all the more so as populations keep growing fast and global warming is likely to erase some of the recent achievements.

Donald Kaberuka, the president of the African Development Bank (AfDB), estimates that 100 million more people will drop into poverty unless climate change is halted. Africa really is not a poor continent – it is rich in natural resources, and the commodity sector has been growing particularly fast. When oil and gas were discovered in the 60s and 70s, however, serious mistakes were made.

Typically, only corrupt local elites and reckless foreign corporations have profited from Africa’s natural wealth. At a recent conference that the Christian Democrats in the Bundestag hosted in Berlin, Kabe­ruka insisted that his continent must learn these lessons.

In principle, Africa should develop on the basis of its own resources. Good governance is a prerequisite for doing so however, as Günter Nooke, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s personal representative for Africa, says. In cases where the rule of law cannot be taken for granted, he suggests that international partners draft business contracts in a way that can ensure that things are handled in a fair and correct manner.

Peter Eigen, the founder of Transparency International, agrees that fair contracts between investors and host countries contribute to positive development. He wants Africa’s „resource curse“ to turn into a blessing. In his view, Ger­many should join the AfDB’s African Legal Support Facility since he expects it to have a positive impact on the commodity industries.

Contracts in mother languages

Christine Nkulikiyinka, the Rwandan ambassador to Germany, says that know-how transfer and capacity development must shore up the performance of African personnel. Africa, she argues, does not benefit from corporations flying in their own experts. She also points out that civil so­ciety must be heard, so all international resource deals should be published in the local languages. Finally she emphasises the role of women in development, stating that Germany’s recently published Africa policy does not pay adequate attention to this issue.

AfDB President Kaberuka appreciates the idea of a “green economy” – a way of doing business that is geared to environmental sustainability, profitability and social inclusion. But he points out that poor countries must cope with the scarce means at their disposal, so they really do not have much choice. He insists that least developed countries must be allowed to develop bottom up, without the rich nations en­forcing rules that would thwart their conventional potential.

In the eyes of Rob Davis, South Africa’s minister for trade and industry, environment-friendly technologies present great opportunities. The big issue, he says, is to reconcile economic development with the exigencies of climate protection. He praises the South African Renewables Initiative, with which his government wants to re-design energy supply.

By 2020, 20 % to 25 % of the energy South Africa needs is to be generated from renewable sources like wind and sunlight. He considers Germany a competent partner, especially since the decision to discontinue nuclear power stations has boosted Germany’s standing as a promoter of renewables.

Samuel Makon, an advisor to Central Africa’s Forest Commission, says that many Africans are disappointed in multilateral policymaking after the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. In his view, Africans had too little influence on relevant programmes. He admits, on the other hand, that there is no single African solution, since the continent is made up of 54 countries with different cultures and histories.

Nonetheless, he is adamant that Africa needs to find solutions of its own. In her concluding remarks in Berlin, Sibylle Pfeiffer, the Christian Democrats’ spokesperson in the Bundestag, agrees that Africans must assume leading roles and that Germany should support that sense of African ownership. She considers cooperation essential for humankind to progress.

Dagmar Wolf