Putting The Green Economy into Africa’s Growth Story


By Michael Street

‘Africa is a green field for investment because it is the least developed region on earth’ — Meles Zenawi, late prime minister of Ethiopia, September 2009

The rise of Africa as the final frontier for investment comes at a time when the world faces multiple crises: economic, environmental and social. How Africa’s growth story unfolds will have a decisive impact on how these crises resolve. There is increasing recognition that the only viable route to social inclusion, ecological stability and sustainable and resilient economic growth is through a global green economy.

This is an urgent call to action to put the green economy at the heart of Africa’s growth story so that Africa’s rise will benefit as many Africans as possible and deliver the green growth the global economy needs. The initial focus of this call to action is the major opinion-forming and decision-making forums taking place in 2013, including international Africa summits and conferences as well as the major print, digital and social media.

This is not the first time the world has looked to Africa as a continent of hope, and while there is no doubt that ‘this time is different’, unfortunately so much is still the same. There is increasing concern that business-as-usual, or the high carbon, resource intensive, ecologically degrading and socially divisive ‘brown’ economy, is creating the same hidden costs in Africa as in the past. Only this time at a faster rate, on greater scales and with far more at stake. While optimism is rising across the continent so too is inequality, just one of the brown economy’s many hidden costs, which already threatens Africa’s future.

With few exceptions, the green economy is absent from the agenda of this year’s major Africa summits and conferences. The majority of the media’s glowing reports on Africa’s growth prospects do not mention the green economy. Most optimistic Africa bloggers have yet to realise its importance and potential. And yet each meeting, article, film, blog post and tweet in what could be a pivotal year for this vast continent is an opportunity to promote the green economy as fundamental to Africa’s 21st century growth story.

This point was thrown into focus by Africa’s Consensus Statement to the UN’s Rio+20 ‘Earth Summit’ in June 2012, where the need for a global 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.

This call to action is to urge sponsors, panellists, participants and commentators on Africa summits, as well as journalists, film makers, broadcasters and bloggers to include perspectives on the green economy in their presentations, reports, and articles in order to raise awareness and enable a broader picture of Africa’s ‘green field’ to emerge.

As part of this process we are developing an online resource to bring together information, knowledge and different perspectives on the green economy in Africa. Coordinated with the growing number of related initiatives, this will include examples of the green economy in practice and the drivers and challenges of implementation across different sectors in Africa’s 55 countries. It will also include directories of major opinion-forming and decision-making forums specifically promoting the green economy in Africa and elsewhere.

Accelerating the journey towards a green economy in this final frontier will provide a multi-win solution to Africa’s challenges from which we can all learn: sustained growth with lower carbon emissions; more efficient resource use; less pollution; re-valued ecological services; more jobs; less poverty; greater equality; less conflict…. In a green economy in Africa there will be new models, new technologies, new measures, new accounting systems, new institutions and new laws adapted to the changing conditions of the world’s most challenging continent. In a green economy in Africa, to borrow from a recent global advertising campaign, ‘investors will need to be explorers’.

Africa’s lack of brown development is now Africa’s strategic advantage. Over the past 20 years the foundations for a green economic take-off in Africa have been laid. Everything Africa needs to lead the way and become a green growth engine is ready. The physical and virtual networks and connections are up and running. The technologies have been developed. The skills are there. The demographic dividend could not be greater. The knowledge and information are at our fingertips. African governments and their partners have prepared the route. The private sector is exploring ways forward. Trillions of dollars worldwide are sitting idle or spinning in the global roulette wheel: investors are saying, ‘where can I put my money?’

Optimists say that Africa could add $3 trillion to the global economy in the next decade and be worth $29 trillion by 2050. If so, it is in everybody’s long-term interest that as much investment as possible goes into a green economy for the 21st century rather than into a brown economy that perpetuates the 20th. For the sake of the global economy, the planet and all its inhabitants Africa’s ‘green field for investment’ must be kept green.

For 500 years the fate of Africa has been decided by outsiders. If Africa is to achieve its great potential in ways that will benefit us all, Africans must lead. What was said by departing colonialists in the 1960s applies today more than ever: ‘the fate of us all is bound up with Africa’.

If you would like to support this call to action to ‘Put the Green Economy into Africa’s Growth Story’ please take a moment to send an e-mail to: greenexplorersafrica@gmail.com and say YES.  Please include your name, country of residence and any other information or comments you might like to add. These will be included (with your permission) in a new post – Supporters of the Call to Action – and on our website in due course. Please forward this to anyone you think might be interested. Thank you.

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.