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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'.

Friday, 19 September 2014


Afro-optimism reaches the USA
Of all the Africa summits that have taken place so far around the world in 2014 none had the potential to change the game in Africa than the one held in Washington from 4-6 August. After a decade of bilateral Africa summits (China-Africa, India-Africa, Japan-Africa, EU-Africa, Turkey-Africa to name a few) the US-Africa Summit in Washington which hosted nearly 50 African heads of state was the first of its kind and therefore held the promise of delivering something new.

There were many reasons for optimism in the summit. Despite upheavals caused by the financial crisis, the US more than any other nation still possesses a unique combination of power, influence, innovation, dynamism, technological advancement, financial muscle and a youthful population that if correctly harnessed could bring about lasting improvements in Africa. President Obama is also America’s first leader who is half African and a leader who came to the White House promising to “green” the planet. Such an opportunity for both sides may not be repeated for a while.

“I do not see the countries and peoples of Africa as a world apart,” President Obama told the largest gathering of African leaders ever held in Washington. “I see Africa as a fundamental part of our interconnected world – partners with America on behalf of the future we want for all of our children. That partnership must be grounded in mutual responsibility and mutual respect.”

US vice-president JoeBiden called Africa the “continent of limitless promise”. Secretary of state John Kerry spoke of the summit as potentially world changing. “If everybody gets this right, this meeting and this moment and the days ahead of us can literally become a pivotal defining moment for our future history and for the world,” he said.

The Financial Times coverage of this “pivotal” event was probably the most wide-ranging of any newspaper. Between 31 July and 10 August the FT and its on-line publications, Beyond Brics, World Blog and This is Africa gave an in-depth view of the US-Africa relationship including “catching up” with China, “feting strongmen” and a “new American strategy” by Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz.

Yet there was no indication in the summit, and hence in the FT’s reporting, which guarantees the United States will do anything fundamentally different in Africa from those who have gone before, even though the right intentions are there. “We don’t look to Africa simply for its natural resources,” President Obama tried to assure African leaders. “We recognise Africa for its greatest resource which is its people and its talents and its potential. We don’t simply want to extract minerals from the ground for our growth. We want to build partnerships that create jobs and opportunity for all our peoples, that unleash the next era of African growth.”

Surprising omissions
These are fine intentions indeed, but what was missing in President Obama’s speeches, in the contents of the summit and in the FT’s reporting was any suggestion that to “unleash the next era of African growth” the type of growth itself and the way it is measured will need to be significantly reformed to cope with the immense challenges Africa faces in the coming decades. Even though the summit program included "Promoting inclusive, sustainable development" and "Resilience and Food Security in a Changing Climate" nothing was said or written that fundamentally changes the structure of the current flawed system introduced to Africa only 50 years ago that would enable this to happen. There was nothing that suggests that business-as-usual, or the unsustainable and irresponsible “brown” economy with its short-term perspectives, will not continue to dominate the continent.

What was equally surprising was that of the 50 African countries represented at the summit only 25 made official national statements and of those not one mentioned the green economy. Only Djibouti and Namibia used the word green in their statements: “green power” and “green fund” (Djibouti); “green scheme program” and “green scheme projects” (Namibia). Only a handful of African statements called on the US to support sustainable development and only one, Seychelles, mentioned the Sustainable Development Goals that are due to replace the MDGs in 2015. Not one mentioned the need for low carbon growth.

These omissions are particularly striking as sustainable development through a green economy was central to Africa’s Consensus Statement to the Rio+20 “Earth Summit” in 2012 *, and many leading Africans including Donald Kaberuka, president of the African Development Bank who was at the summit, have stressed that green growth is critical to Africa’s future.  

Most surprising of all was the fact that Ethiopia, one of America’s closest and most important allies in Africa, did not even issue a statement let alone call on the US to help Africans build an inclusive and sustainable green economy.  This is despite the fact that Ethiopia’s late prime minister, Meles Zenawi, before his untimely death in 2012 had become the green voice of Africa ** and more than any other African leader had seen the need for green growth. His brainchild, Ethiopia’s Climate Resilient Green Economy strategy, was the first of its kind in the world and is something the US is well qualified to help develop.

For these reasons I wrote the following letter to the Financial Times:


This week, both US President Barack Obama and Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz missed a historic opportunity to embark on a new journey in Africa.

At President Obama’s “US-Africa Summit 2014” (In Depth, July 31- August 6) and in Professor Stiglitz’s “A new American strategy for business in Africa” (Comment, August 3) both men demonstrate quite clearly how far the US has progressed in its understanding of the world’s most misunderstood continent and the attitude needed to forge a US-Africa partnership which, in President Obama’s words, is “grounded in mutual responsibility and mutual respect.” But both men fail to mention any sort of fundamental systemic restructuring required to make this happen and to prevent business-as-usual from continuing to dominate the continent.

This omission is particularly striking as just over 5 years ago, in the depths of the financial crisis, both men were cheerleaders for the boldest and most adventurous restructuring yet of our flawed system. Both men repeatedly called for a “Green New Deal” which would lead to a “Green Recovery” and nurture a sustainable “Global Green Economy”. On March 2, 2009 “Obama’s chance to lead the green recovery” by Professor Stiglitz and climate change economist Nicholas Stern was just one of many bold articles and reports on the subject published in the FT. Thanks to the ensuing global green stimulus by the G20, the green economy today is growing at between 2 and 4 times faster than the global “brown” economy.

With the next crisis never far away, with Africa still by far the most vulnerable continent and with the need for sustainable growth more urgent than ever, President Obama and Professor Stiglitz have unfortunately failed to recognise that Africa, as the least developed region on the planet, has the most potential and would be the easiest place for the type of systemic restructuring they called for in 2009.

Africans need some sort of Green New Deal with the US (and the rest of the world), not to rescue them from crisis but to ensure that their long-awaited rise is as smooth as possible and that their countries do not become the last frontier for business-as-usual, or the brown economy, but the first frontier for the green.

Mr Obama has just over two years left of his presidency to leave a historic legacy.  More than any other world leader he is in a position to help Africans on their journey towards a sustainable green economy that would eventually benefit us all.

End of letter. ***

The only letter on the US-Africa summit published in the FT was not from one of Africa’s or America’s many “green voices” calling for a new approach to Africa, but from an American CEO of an oil and energy company.

In his optimistic letter “It is not too late to invest in Africa” (Aug 13) Raheem J Brennerman tempts fellow American oil and gas executives with some tasty statistics: “…proven oil reserves are estimated to reach 127bn barrels, with at least another 100bn barrels located offshore. For natural gas, proven reserves are thought to be roughly 606tn cubic feet, with significant upward potential existing for both.”

Disappointed that the only response to the FT’s reports on the US-Africa relationship was from an executive from the king of the brown economy – oil – I wrote another letter to the FT:


It is probably safe to say that no international newspaper covered the recent US-Africa Summit more thoroughly than the Financial Times. But despite such comprehensive coverage of what US Secretary of State John Kerry called a “pivotal moment in history” it was surprising and rather disappointing there was not a single letter from an African published in the FT to give us an idea what Africans think about such a moment.

The only letter so far published on the summit (unless I’m mistaken) was by Raheem J Brennerman, Chairman and CEO of an American oil and energy company - “It is not too late to invest in Africa” (August 13). If, as this sole letter implies, America’s investments in Africa will be led by the oil and gas industries, Mr Brennerman and his fellow CEOs had better be careful not to repeat the actions of the past and perpetuate business-as-usual that has dominated and held Africa back for so long.

If, for instance, as you report on August 5, the US tries to “catch up" with China (which is expanding business-as-usual across the continent at an alarming rate), or "links up" with China on building massive infrastructure projects, including mega dams, the world’s most powerful, innovative and dynamic nation will be taking Africa on a huge step back to the 20th century.

Mr Brennerman says the right things: “by working closely with local partners…and by making investments in local businesses, we are helping to provide education, develop skills and build prosperity in the communities in which we serve.”

However, much more is needed for Africa to continue its rise in the face of mounting challenges, many of which are being reported in the FT. More than anything, Africa needs a systematic overhaul of an outdated development model to address the externalities, or hidden costs, which are increasing almost by the day. Africa needs nothing short of a green revolution, not just in agriculture as is often misleadingly thought, but in every sector, especially in the great “brown” industry of oil which has given the world so much but has also caused and is causing so much harm.

Mr Brennerman and America's new generation of oil and gas executives have a historic challenge and opportunity to help Africans use their greatest non-renewable resources to build a renewable green economy. If they succeed they could prove Mr Kerry correct.

Africa’s green voices were silent at the recent Washington summit as they are in most of this year’s record number of summits on Africa. They urgently need to speak out. Letters to the Editor of the FT would be a good place to start.

End of letter

How the US can change the game in Africa
If President Obama and his team want to make a difference in Africa, for America’s “future history and for the world,” they should encourage their industry captains, beginning with oil and gas, to forge a new path in the world’s most challenging and least known continent. The first thing they must do is sign up for and adhere to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), “a global coalition of governments, companies and civil society working together to improve openness and accountable management of revenues from natural resources.” Without this business-as-usual, with all its hidden costs, will continue to thrive.

But this is only a start. To deal with the daunting challenges facing Africa in the 21st century including climate change, water stress, ecological degradation, biodiversity loss, resource depletion, unemployment, inequality, hunger, insecurity and infectious diseases on a continent whose population is expected to double over the next 30 years, Africans and their American partners urgently need to address three specific issues.

Beyond GDP
First, they must look beyond gross domestic product as a measure of economic growth. Although African economies over the past 12 years have enjoyed continued growth in GDP the statistics tell us nothing about sustainability and certainly less about green growth. Of all American economists Professor Stiglitz is perhaps best qualified to begin measuring Africa’s growth in new ways as he was co-author of a 300-page ground-breaking report commissioned in 2008 by then French president Nicholas Sarkozy called “The Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress.” Summing up this work completed in 2009 Professor Stiglitz urged world leaders to “end the fetish with GDP.”

Greening Education
As President Obama insists that Africa’s people are its greatest resource this is the moment to work out ways to put that resource to best use. Education, everyone says, is the key, but the type of education needed must be designed to prepare Africa’s youth for the challenges of the 21st century. Not everyone agrees that the current education system is appropriate for Africa’s cultures and conditions, one of the most extreme being the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Harum whose name is loosely, some think inaccurately, defined as “Western, or non-Islamic, education is forbidden or sinful.” Whatever the meaning it is clear that educating young Africans (and adults) in “green schools” to understand the value of their cultures, the importance of the environment and the need to live and work and grow with the lightest of footprints is essential if the continent is to support 2 billion people in 30 years’ time.

Green Growth plans
During Africa’s socialist experiments of the post-colonial era many countries adopted the Soviet/Chinese model of developing 5-year economic growth plans. This is still a valid system but what is needed to ensure sustainability are 5-year plans that promote green growth.  Here, the American system with its short-term perspectives is less qualified to help, but by joining forces with say China and India, Africa’s major Asian partners whose own 5-year plans are becoming increasingly green, a win-win-win could be achieved. It would be a win for the three economic giants to cooperate on green growth plans in Africa instead of competing over the continent’s dwindling resources. It would be a win for Africa to have three major powers using their technologies, know-how and finance to accelerate green growth across the continent. And it would be a win for the rest of the world as we would all learn how to live on this planet with finite resources.   

President Obama has called 2014 the “Year of Action.” With only 3 months left can we expect some “Green Action” in Africa or will the “pivotal defining moment” be lost?

* Item 24 of Africa’s Consensus Statement to Rio+20, calls on the international community “to put an international investment strategy into place to facilitate the transition towards a green economy.”

*** For published letters to the FT on Africa and the green economy including “Obama’s chance to foster green Africa” click here and follow the link. This letter can also be found in a blog post - click here.

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