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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


Africans have been and are the frontiersmen of mankind who have colonised an especially hostile region of the world on behalf of the entire human race...It is why they deserve admiration, support and careful study.
John Iliffe, Africans – The history of a continent, 1995

The post-colonial institutional frameworks inherited by Africa were inadequate and caused huge disruptions throughout the continent. Since 1992 Africa has been building and adapting African institutions according to the situation on the ground where sustainability begins. Africa's fragile green foundations risk being undermined by the hidden costs of the expanding brown economy. Rio+20 is a historic opportunity for Africa to put forward proposals to gain recognition, strengthen and adapt its institutions to manage the growth of the green economy as well as phasing out the brown.

Over countless generations African institutions have evolved, developed and adapted to meet the challenges of opening up the greatest wilderness on earth and an especially hostile region of the world. Complex coping systems were established. Risk aversion in an unpredictable world was the key to sustainability. Africa's moral economies, as a redistributive process, ensured not only survival in the hard times but sometimes great abundance for all. Many of Africa's institutions survived until the 1960s which accounts for the relative wealth of the people at the time.  

At independence Africans inherited foreign institutional frameworks designed for a top-down development model intended to transform the continent. Although well-intentioned this high carbon, resource-intensive, environmentally degrading and socially divisive 'brown' model was vulnerable to multiple 'hidden costs' which were rapidly exposed in Africa's complex, unpredictable and often harsh conditions. In the past 20 years Africans have been restructuring and reforming the institutional frameworks, adapted this time to the realities on the ground where sustainable development begins, where bottom-up meets top-down..

Environmental ministries have been established. Africa’s Peer Review Mechanism is one of the most stringent in the world. The AU, NEPAD, Economic Commission for Africa, The Elders, Regional Trade Groups and MDG organisations are just a few of the institutional advances made over the past 20 years. In some countries there are also more women in institutions than any other region of the world.

However, the proliferation of brown mega-projects spreading across Africa today - mines, dams, oil and gas wells, agri-business and sugar enterprises – is cause for concern. One of the major hidden costs of these mega brown development strategies is diminishing transparency. Billions of dollars pouring into fragile countries just emerging from dictatorship or war can cause massive misallocation of funds and be hugely disruptive to democratic institutions. For all its great promise Africa remains the most vulnerable continent to a global economic volatility, climate change and geo-political instability, all of these directly caused by or exacerbated by the brown economy. Africa's wealth is very unevenly distributed across and within countries. Inequality, the most glaring hidden cost of the brown economy, is already causing great swathes of unrest across the continent and could jeopardise Africa’s new era of hope. Africa's institutions, including its banks, are under great pressure.

With the current brown investment boom that threatens to turn back the clock and undo 20 years’ green growth work in Africa, a second proposal for Rio+20 would be the institutional framework required to (a) implement green growth strategies for boosting the green economy as a counterweight to the brown, and (b) to understand the expanding brown economy in Africa and redirect its energy and finance towards sustainable development. Without the latter, the green investment plan cannot work. Africa’s Consensus Statement mentions the evolving green economy, as something to aspire to, 22 times, yet there is not a single mention of the existing brown economy which has to be understood and phased out in order for the green to grow.

Africa’s main advantages are reforms that have already been achieved over the past two decades. In the past four years since the beginning of the financial and economic crisis a record number of reports, papers, studies, articles, speeches, conferences and meetings have confirmed how much Africa has changed and is changing. Prudent policies and traditional risk aversion are Africa's key strengths.

Further reforms that Africa can propose to help build a green economy and redirect the brown economy could include the elevation of Africa’s environmental agencies (ministries, etc) to top government status to match the Rio+20 proposal to elevate UNEP to UNEO. They could also include setting up ‘green schools’ in all other institutions to disseminate and coordinate knowledge and information on the green economy. The institutional framework that has delivered progress on the MDGs could be strengthened, extended and adapted to design, develop and implement Africa’s new Sustainable Development Goals, one of the main themes at Rio+20.

To confirm their commitment to the green economy, African governments could become active and influential partners in the international green accounting schemes promoted by leading global bodies including the UN and World Bank. Many economists say "it is time to end the fetish with GDP." There are also an increasing number of international transparency initiatives African governments can sign up to show their commitment to sustainability. In a world crying out for new regulations in trade, finance, environment etc., Africa is well qualified to develop new and innovative regulatory frameworks that will accelerate the journey towards the green economy.

As the new global growth engine with the most immediate potential for green and sustainable economic expansion, Africa is now in a position to play a influential role in the creation of the ‘high commissioner’ for the environment. With 50 years of industrial development experience to draw on (brown as well as green) Africa, the most challenging yet most promising region on earth, is well qualified to lead the world in understanding, developing  and expanding the global green economy.

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