A Green Aid Stimulus for Africa


By Michael Street

On 2 March the UK’s Observer published a special report on the legacy of the 2005, G8 Gleneagles debt-relief for developing countries and the concurrent Make Poverty History campaign. This report included articles by former UK prime minister, Tony Blair – “Aid has transformed Africa. Now is the time for growth and governance” and activist Bob Geldof – “Stimulus for an entire continent – and Tony Blair deserves the credit”.

I responded to this by writing a letter to the Editor which was published on 10 March. Unfortunately the letter (print and on-line version) was so heavily edited it missed the point I was trying to make that a green aid stimulus could play a major role in ensuring Africa’s remarkable growth story is sustainable and resilient. The letter was the second in three under the title: “The solution to Africa’s woes lies with Africans, not the west”. The title itself conveys a different message to the one I was trying to project.


Tony Blair and Bob Geldof did a good job of showing how the G8 Gleneagles Summit and Make Poverty History campaign in 2005 made a decisive impact on Africa’s fortunes  As the UK prepares to host the G8 in June 2013 and the trade versus aid debate is hotting up, it is timely to be reminded how important well-directed aid can be and will be in the future.

However, both authors missed an historic opportunity to explore Africa’s green economy as the only viable way to keep the positive momentum going and therefore fulfill the continent’s vast potential. Africa’s rise coincides with unprecedented challenges from climate change, environmental degradation, biodiversity loss, inequality and rapid population growth within still fragile democracies. Add to this a volatile global economy and increased competition for diminishing resources and Africa’s continued growth is by no means assured. (End of print version) This was thrown into focus in Africa’s Consensus Statement to the UN’s Rio+20 ‘Earth Summit’ in June 2012, where the need for a green economy as a tool for achieving sustainable development was the main theme. Unfortunately this document, the culmination of 20 years’ green progress in Africa, was virtually ignored by the rest of the world. (End of on-line version)

With business-as-usual, or the old ‘brown economy’, still the dominant force in Africa and expanding fast, African leaders have made it clear that a low carbon, resource efficient, environmentally responsible and socially inclusive green economy is the only way for the world’s most challenging continent to develop resilience and supply the global economy with the long-term growth it needs. If Africa is to be a sustainable engine of global growth the engine must be green.

In a rare compliment from one former Prime Minister to the incumbent from another party, Mr Blair gives great credit to “the British people and David Cameron’s government that even in these circumstances they have kept up their support for Africa and development”. With the G8 Summit approaching fast, Mr Cameron has a narrowing window of opportunity to put the green economy into Africa’s remarkable growth story. Unless sustainability is at the core of discussions on Africa, the continent’s current boom, driven by the unsustainable brown economy, could be another false dawn, this time to the detriment of us all.

In January, Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, said 2013 would be a “make or break year for the global economy”. If so it could be a make or break year for Africa. To turn the tide from business-as-usual in Africa to unusual business based on green growth requires exceptional action at the highest levels inspired by exceptional partnerships.

If 2005 was the year Blair-backed debt-relief acted as a “stimulus for an entire continent”, 2013 could be the year when a Cameron-backedgreen aid package acts as the green stimulus Africa now needs. If history was made in 2005 it can be made again in 2013. A Tory/Lib-Dem coalition PM building on the work of a former Labour PM could be the type of exceptional partnership Africa and the world needs for the 21st century. If this is to be “Africa’s Moment”, the moment for a rethink of aid is now.

About the Author: Michael Street’s connections with Africa began 40 years ago. In the 1970s and 1980s he worked in a number of African and Asian countries as a ‘brown’ development expert on various agro-industrial projects. He first visited Ethiopia in 1975. During the 1990s and early 2000s he travelled extensively in Ethiopia and lectured widely on the country’s history and ecology. Since 2001 he has been based in Sicily where he is establishing two small biosphere reserves as part of an initiative to understand and expand Sicily’s green economy.