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This blog was started in May 2012, one month before the United Nations Rio+20 ‘Earth Summit’ where the green economy was the main theme. The blog so far has had three specific objectives.

In the run-up to the Rio+20 Summit the initial objective was to raise awareness of Africa’s huge green growth potential and role in rebalancing the global economy. Eight posts were published before the Summit and were sent to as many African environment ministries as possible. One post was published in August 2012 appraising the summit and Africa’s position: Africa, Rio+20 and the Green Road Ahead.

The second objective was to examine the case of Ethiopia, following the death of prime minister Meles Zenawi on 21 August 2012. At the time of his death Mr Meles was recognised as 'the voice of Africa' at international summits and conferences and a leader in Africa's green thinking. Four posts on Ethiopia were published between late August and early November 2012 exploring the paradoxical nature of his leadership with a focus on raising awareness of his green legacy and 21st century vision for Ethiopia and Africa.

The third and current objective is to raise awareness of the importance of the green economy in Africa's growth story. 2013 started with unprecedented optimism for Africa’s growth prospects. Summits, conferences, articles, books, blogs, films and other media now proclaim that 'Africa’s Moment' has arrived. But very few even mention the green economy as an essential tool in the process to achieve sustainability and resilience. For this reason the current focus of this blog is a call to action to 'put the green economy into Africa’s growth story'.

Part of this call to action is writing letters to the Financial Times. Not only does the FT have excellent coverage of Africa but it is also seen by many as the 'world's most influential newspaper'.

Thursday, 17 May 2012


"Sir John Rose, chief executive of Rolls-Royce...once remarked to me that in what I call the flat [globalised] world we will speak less and less about ‘developed, developing, and underdeveloped' countries’ and more about ‘smart, smarter and smartest' countries."
Thomas L. Friedman, The World is Flat - 2005 

Africa’s voice at Rio is critical. This is a historic opportunity for Africa to present its green credentials to the world and demonstrate the advantages in expanding its green economies. Africa’s key negotiating document, the Consensus Statement, could be strengthened by emphasising Africa’s green investment opportunities and long-term green growth potential. Instead of calling on the international community to put green investment strategies into place on time, Africa is well positioned and amply qualified to propose its own.

For countless generations since the beginning of time African economies were green. Sustainability has been practiced in Africa longer than anywhere on earth. All this changed with the arrival of industrial technologies and organisation. The change accelerated after independence. The post-colonial development model which was designed to transform rather than adapt Africa was a disaster. Centrally planned, one-size-fits-all, it was high carbon, resource intensive, environmentally degrading and socially divisive. Today we call this the 'brown' economy.

By the end of the 1980s 'lost decade' Africa was covered with billions of dollars worth of failed or failing projects and billions of dollars of debt. The world's libraries are full of explanations why Africa's first era of hope led so quickly to disillusion and decline. The reasons are many and complex: oil prices, commodity prices, outside interference, geo-politics etc. Many people point to Africa's leaders for the failures and indeed there were leadership failures on a colossal scale. But such blame ignores the fact that the industrial systems of the  'brown' economy they were meant to 'lead' were not suitable for Africa's complex, harsh and unpredictable conditions and have since proved globally unsustainable. The hidden costs of brown development strategies were felt first and were higher in Africa than anywhere else.

In June 1992 Ethiopia's new government hosted Africa's first international green conference in Addis Ababa. Held to coincide with the UN's "Earth Summit" in Rio de Janeiro, the Lem (or Green) Meeting outlined the failings of the post-colonial development model while laying the foundations for sustainable development strategies. 

In his address on the occasion, Meles Zenawi, then President of the Transitional Government (Prime Minister since 1995) encapsulated the thinking of the day by calling for "a conservation-based, people-led, people-centred development...[requiring]...a  multi-disciplinary and broad-spectrum approach, since there is no piece-meal solution to the problem at hand." The Lem Meeting was one of the key moments in Africa's Green Revolution and marked the beginnings of what we now call Africa's green economy.

The Rio+20 Summit is a unique opportunity for Africa to demonstrate its collective progress towards sustainability since 1992 and to present its green credentials to the world. It is a three-day window of opportunity for Africa to take the lead and propose ways to expand its green economies that can help rebalance the global economy. At Rio, Africa more than any other continent will be speaking with one voice. In negotiations this single voice is a major advantage.  

Africa’s key negotiating document for Rio is the 13-page Consensus Statement from Ministers of African States, assembled during a preparatory conference in Addis Ababa in October 2011. The Consensus Statement demonstrates the tremendous advances in sustainable development thinking and experience in Africa over the past 20 years and makes a sound case for why the rest of the world should work with Africa to build a green economy in order to meet the challenges ahead.

Yet as a negotiating document it misses two important points for making a more positive case: (a) Africa’s green growth potential as a means of rebalancing the global economy, and (b) Africa as a buffer against the expansion of the unsustainable brown economy.

If Africa is a green field for investment and the new engine for global growth, more could be said about the continent’s huge growth opportunities and its position to influence global decision-making. Africa’s Consensus at Rio+20 would be stronger and more effective if it presented concrete green growth plans that would appeal to others' enlightened self-interest.

Item 24 of the Consensus Statement emphasises the need to promote the green economy in Africa through national and internationally agreed objectives, imperatives and commitments. The Consensus “calls on the international community to put an international investment strategy into place to facilitate the transition towards a green economy.” This call, however, is from the "old" Africa asking outsiders who don't understand their lands to fix their problems, and highlights an opportunity for the "new" Africa to propose strategies of their own.

Instead of waiting for the international community, preoccupied as it is with multiple crises, to deliver a meaningful sustainable growth strategy on time, Africa has a unique opportunity to propose a strategy of its own. With its vast resources, tremendous economic growth potential, 20 years’ sustainable development experience (smallholder farming, land rehabilitation and general progress on meeting MDGs, made possible by new technologies) and huge demographic advantages, Africa is in a strong position to take the lead in developing green growth strategies.

The statistics speak for themselves. The International Monetary Fund, World Bank and the United Nations are clear on Africa's potential. The billions of dollars pouring into Africa from around the globe demonstrate a new-found confidence.   The success and inspiration of the May 2012 World Economic Forum on Africa in Addis Ababa confirms Africa's enhanced position in global affairs.

On March 12 the Financial Times gave an encouraging view of the forthcoming summit: "Business to play a big role in green economy at next Rio conference." Yet on April 24 the FT gave more negative view: "Earth talks 'in need of vision and direction'" with just a side reference to the "so-called 'green economies.'" With the global brown economy heading for a possibly prolonged contraction this is a challenge and an opportunity for Africa to provide the vision and direction at Rio by proposing strategies to expand the green.

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