Emergence and Nemesis in Africa’s developing Green Economy.

It was in Burkina Faso that a revolutionary man thought in 1895 that “it is not normal to have a 90% farming population which is not self sufficient.” Africa’s history of development represents a series of exceptional challenges that may have found at last a break. Today, Thomas Sankara’s vision of political and economic integrity is finding resonance in Africa’s developing Switch to green economy.

The Switch Africa Green forum 2-3 Oct 2018 brought together innovative solutions that accelerate Africa’s transition through sustainable production and consumption practices towards inclusive green circular economy. The Switch Africa program is part of other programs –SwitchMed, SwitchAsia– that support drivers to inclusive economic development. These programs fall under the Switch to Green EU flagship initiative that coordinates existing and future EU-funded international cooperation initiatives on green economy.

Some of the African success stories include plastic waste collection becoming waste management system, green tourism projects, organic agriculture and other agriculture, energy, and waste management related digital mobile application services which all poke towards growing interest in green circular economies, and sustainable future. Yet, What are the challenges to this future?


The SDG 12 (sustainable consumption and production) within the UN Sustainable Development 2030 Agenda is considered an enabler goal that cuts across many other goals, especially that it is an area which sets norms and standards to ancillary fields towards a sustainable planet, and a sustainable future for all. Since development is not a sterile isolated process, Production and consumption patterns in different countries determine, and are at the same time determined by the history and nature of the developments in a given country and beyond. These developments are still latent within the struggle towards Sub-Saharan Africa’s “emergence.”

Green Revolution

African –and other- countries with a history of decades of industrial scale agriculture –like Mauritious for example- are identifying unsustainable consumption and production outcomes due to the accumulation of pesticides in land and the use of chemical fertilizers, and are compelled to review production and consumption chains, plans and security. Yet, such a point of reference towards a green economy is also not isolated from other global historical developments. One extremely relevant development in this respect was the green revolution which after the second world war jeopardized food security worldwide through the extensive use of pesticides, increased the dependence on fossil fuels to increase agricultural production mechanisms, and increased GHG emissions, while reducing biodiversity. Africa due to many reasons was slow to incorporate the green revolution, and perhaps that was a good thing! Still, regular pesticide use made it to the African agriculture since the seventies, with FAO implementing an integrated production and pest management program in Africa to mitigate the risks of using toxic pesticides. This is one great challenge Africa and the world is grabbling with, and it represents to the world the first nemesis to developing green circular economies, resting on healthy production for a healthy consumption. Without enabling policies on international and national levels, there will always be a liberal use of pesticides, and the green of the new switch would always be tinted with that of the green revolution. That… is not a good thing, but it is not the only nemesis to green development in African history. The other great hurdle has always been the emphasis on extracting natural resources.

Industrial revolution and Natural Resources

The development history of many African countries rested during colonial time on the extraction of African natural resources. This in its turn is entangled with the histories of industrial revolution, but also with the green revolution through slave trade. The impact of the extraction of natural resources on the level of development in different countries varies and depends on multifarious factors. During Switch Africa Green forum Ouagadougou Mayor notes for example many initiatives in industrial development and a strong accent put on waste management in Burkina Faso. Nevertheless, the reliance of Burkina Faso and other African countries on development within the natural resources sector makes it questionable whether sustainable consumption and production could anytime soon offset the balance from development centered on natural resource extraction and mobilization towards sustainable development.

There is a silver lining within such under-development in the fact that the absence of full scale mobilization of natural resources means that cities and the environment for development in such countries is not saturated with infrastructural development relevant to the energy and natural resources sector, and are therefore with room for more sustainable development models. Yet again, this is just a silver lining; a major beclouding of the rooted problems in African development history is directly related to the first industrial revolution. The developments in the textile industries during the first industrial revolution in Britain and north America meant for Africa loss of human resources to slave trades from the French western African countries towards the east Africa and from there to the industrialized world to work out the cotton fields and the textile factories. This had in its turn two outcomes, one positive and a second negative outcome that both contribute to the evolution of the history of development towards green economies. The first is the British 1863 Alkali Act which opted to regulate Hydrochloric acid gas air pollution emenating from the 19th century soda ash industry. This was the first modern environmental law and it was passed and other public health acts followed by the City of London and other British cities. However, pollution and infrastructural developments in industrial cities and in port cities made way to further developments which culminated in the The poorest 10% of the world population today suffering from the emissions of the richest 10%. This remains to date one of the biggest flops in the history of development on earth. Yet, As McLuhan put it, there is no passenger status for the inhabitants of spaceship earth, we are all crew, and are all responsible for each other’s deeds. This shared responsibility is a good starting point to legitimize the international aspect of the Switch to Green international initiative, bridging local national development goals and global sustainable development goals.

In her address at the Rebranding Africa Forum 2018, Audrey Pulvar calls for a miraculous “Justice in the redistribution of richness,” side by side with the conservation of the ecosystem and biodiversity, the preservation of soil and environment, advocating agricultural diversity, and the creation of value chains. Again, these are all great things, but the fact remains that Africa saw litte justice in its history, not beginning with the fact that the green revolution –now nemesis to green economy, was itself considered antidote to the back then spreading socialist politics and agrarian reforms associated with a rather red revolution. The cold war revolutionary wars had often agrarian reforms involved at revolution’s hearts. In Burkina Faso Thomas Sankara planted over 10M trees to fight desertification and prioritized land reforms towards agrarian self sufficiency.

These periods of sustainable development were Sporadic and short-lived. justice most probably did not shape Africa’s yesterday, yet, could it truly shape today’s green developments?

One of the advents of the green revolution was also the introduction of rural credit institutions into the lifecycle of the agricultural economy of traditional farming. The necessity of purchasing equipment towards scaling up production processes resulted in farm debts and in farm land losses, and therefore in migration towards urban areas in search for jobs. This in turn resulted in two things: The growth of cities, and segregated class structures in societies. But this is reserved for the countries that had access to agricultural industries. Africa lagged behind, and the segregated class structures were colonial byproducts and not as much related to the green revolution. As a matter of fact, the 2011 Africa Development Bank report cites a 34% increase in Africa’s middle class population during the two decades between 1980 and 2010 due to steady economic growth, which in its turn lead to an increase in consumption expenditure. The significance of this increase lies in diverting the economy towards local consumption of production rather than the heavy reliance on exports. Seven years later, much of the imaginary of new sustainable farming SMEs in Africa during the Switch Africa Green Forum expressed a need, however, to obtain organic certifications for products to open them to pan-continental markets. The Forum Working Group on the Agriculture Sector recommended the re-diversion towards African markets as a first destination in preparation for a possible surplus towards European or other markets at a further stage.

Green economy and financial Institutions

For the time being, financial institutions are becoming more central to green economy than they have ever been to the green revolution. Start-up companies, green entrepreneurs and SMEs all are on the look to finance their green or social business. Micro-finance institutions are recruited nationally and internationally through various financing programs and initiatives to offer them credit facilities to scale up their impact. Small European banks and large pan-continental financial organizations are finding their way to the emergent African –and other- green economies through the need to finance green business ideas and local enterprises looking up to the imaginary of green self and national development. Entrepreneurs and enterprises often have to measure up the viability of their business ideas to assess the risks involved in taking out payable loans, or look under great difficulties for supporting grants. Innovative ideas and built capacities accompany this process and together with this comes social development, and this is by all means a good thing. However, could the effects of the introduction foreign or local micro-credit institutions have effects as negative as the introduction of rural credit institutions to traditional farming after the green revolution?

The 2011 Burkinabe’ protests and the 2014 uprising showed the world that the Burkinabe’ people are proud to be able to effect change. Today, While President Caboret was hosting Rebranding Africa Forum in Ouagadougou, a larger group of teachers and supporters blocked the Avenue de l’Indépendance at the Ministry of Education protesting an ongoing socioeconomic crisis which did not cease since the 2014 uprising. The 1.5Billion Dollars trade initiative announced by the International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation (ITFC) during the Rebranding Africa Forum held in Burkina Faso from 5-6 Oct 2018 did not strike a positive chord for the honest Burkinabe’ people who clearly see, in the least, room for major socio-economic development demands. The financial initiative framework agreement between the Gov. of Burkina Faso and ITFC comes in the form of financial contributions from ITFC to finance the export of agricultural commodities like cotton and the import of food and energy products including crude oil and refined petroleum products, ranking Burkina Faso as top ITFC beneficiary in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The financial initiatives, aimed also at financing local banks in west African countries to empower SMEs drive the emerging economy falls short of the aspirations of the Burkinabe’ on two accounts. The first is on account of the incompatibility between the support to SMEs as private drivers of local green economy on one hand, and on the other, the detrimental environmental effects of mobilizing crude oil. The second is the modernization of financial institutions in West Africa to enable them implement the switch to green economy in such a way that does not consider the peculiarities local development. When money is made available in loan or other forms, when the next step after starting up a green business idea becomes “naturally” taking out a loan and “scaling up” there is a risk that not all the ensuing development is sustainable in a sense that it will contribute to the growth of such a green and circular economy. Some of it might bring Entreprises down if not well calculated; on national scales, it could significantly contribute to national debts and to the control of financial institutions in local development.

Switch Africa Green and Rebranding Africa are not two back-to-back forums towards a green growth in Africa. The first represents the efforts of years of innovation, research and plans to set an infrastructure towards a green economy through sustainable energy, waste management and sustainable agriculture and tourism. The second is a backhanded gift. It matters less whether the 1.5 Billion Dollars are a loan or a gift. It remains a fact that financial figures will be allocated to local banks –in particular to Coris Bank Int.- to “modernize its tools and its lending processes to further increase access to credit for SMEs.” While these latter green entrepreneurs are busy repaying loans and laboring towards greening their business and their production processes and contributing to green bonds and to giving credit to a decreasing GHG foot print, the rest of the financial agreement increases this back with increasing the supply of unsustainable energy sources. The need of countries for energy sources towards development notwithstanding, ITFC could have considered supplying funding programs for more sustainable energy sources. Unless if the situation is reversed, drivers for a greener economy may be laboring under the misapprehension that this money is helping them, while –like the credits given to traditional farmers- may be presenting added challenges to a young green economy in Africa, but also elsewhere in the world; or setting the stage for a financial colonization of a young green economy to be.

Rural credit institutions during the green revolution became vehicles to enfranchise farmers from their slavery to traditional farming practices, only to disenfranchise many others from their lands, from access to work and from access to healthy food consumption. Today –and not only in Africa, but around the world- financial institutions are investing in a developing green economy’s need to scale up a positive impact in exchange for equity shares and financial profit. A repackaging of financial assets in forms of green loans for SMEs sweeps the world today in an unprecedented fashion. As green initiatives are asked to prove their business and environmental viability by showing willingness to taking out secure loans, a classic scenario is set up where development reveals itself as a growth process where those undergoing growth do not have the means to reveal their assets and mobilize them towards achieving their development goals; therefore they are in need for those who are already with consolidated resources to extract their own potential. Is a mutually inclusive growth model possible where both financial institutions and green enterprises grow together and complement each other?

The Inclusive Imperative of green economy

While a picture of aspiring groups of sustainably minded communities enters into an ownership and future power struggle scenario with financial institutions, national governments are asked to arbitrate the financial commitments and agreements they make on behalf of their people, measuring the impact these have on their local development, especially when a greener economy is sought. The inclusive aspect of green economy is set out from the beginning with eyes on the possibility of disenfranchisement of the communities involved in development under development models that do not take inclusive outlooks to their development agendas into consideration. The Haussmannian developments of Paris in the 19th Century are typical examples of such exclusive development schemes.

The inclusion imperative in green economic development goals stems from the fact that the attainability of sustainability is a collective social challenge, but also from the objective of the economic development goal of the Official Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted on 25 September 2015 which seeks to “Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all”

Therefore, any struggle towards economic development has to go through the filter of the collective character of the struggle. Foreign investments economic interests may well intersect with local economic aspirations but this requires hard-earned mutual development strategies between beneficiary countries and financial capital. Since Green SMEs are working hard on SDGs related to sustainable food –and therefore consumption and health, water, energy, climate and ecosystem developments, governments on local levels, are freed under green economic goal agendas to labor under the development of education, institutions, women and the eradication of inequality. All the latter goals are distinctively inclusive in character and it should be clear to governments and public authorities that their roles are pivotal in providing environments for their people to switch to green economy by providing them with equitable education, justice, and with accountable institutions that do not loot green economies of their hard earned achievements. Dr. Juliette Biao Koudenaukpo, director and regional representative of UN Environments Africa Office grasps the challenge towards green economy as a challenge to create a movement through rights, education, strengthened institutions and through the creation of a common cause to create favourable environments for change. The Minister of environment, green economy, and climate change in Burkina Faso also emphasized the importance of a human centered development of the societies that are subject to climate change.

Risks and Challenges

From the condition of female farmers in African agricultural communities to fighting terrorism and the need for building capacities in the various fields of sustainable production and consumption, the enabling conditions towards the emergence into a green economy are more challenging than the technics of emergence themselves. In Africa’s colonial past, and through the various not so past forms of auto-colonialism justice did not shape well Africa’s development. Under less developed data protection laws in Africa, tech-innovations in Nigeria, Senegal, Ghana and other African countries are threatened with cyber-colonialism as Silicon Valley invests in Lagos, Accra and in other African Tech hubs. Under such conditions, privacy, personal data, copyrights and innovations are vulnerable and subject to exploitation. Under the threats of such forms of financial and cyber colonization, Africa’s challenge rests on scrutinizing financial agreements with sustainable finance institutions, self financed growth and the promotion of innovation locally, but also the development of data protection laws, privacy policies and the challenge of maintaining cultural identity and heritage. In a continent where extreme poverty, inequality, difficult and changing climate, terrorism, corruption and violence represent significant challenges to an emergence to green economy, the switches innovators in the areas of agriculture, tourism, energy, waste and technology are able to achieve, promotes them as Africa’s Green Economy Lion Guards. Underdeveloped, yet the roadside dirt marks room for development. The transformation from modern technologies to green, digital and social technologies brings back African vibrancy out of continental darkness to the attention of the world.

Wissam Mansour
Ouagadougou, Oct 7th, 2018.


Occlude is an independent private advisory agency, offering expert research, design and development consultancy in the areas of Architecture and Urban Design, Urban Ecology and Urban Sociology, especially in the context of Lebanon.

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