Work in a Sustainable Society - A View From Africa
Ziumbe, page 1 of 1
by Florence E. Ziumbe
At the time of the 1995 consultation, Florence E. Ziumbe was a Lawyer and Zimbabwe Counsellor on Food Security Issues.
|4. The Zimbabwean Socio - Economic Situation|
1. Introductory Remarks
This is a picture of extreme bleakness, and there would be no dissent if I said that the world today has no model of a "sustainable society". The ray of hope, though, lies in the fact that the present consultation, and others before it, have the idea and vision of what a "sustainable society" ought to be and how and why it should be realised.
2. The Concept of Sustainability
It is conceded from the onset that the concept of sustainability is fairly nebulous. But, like the majority of us, I am comfortable with a definition of sustainability which imports as a chief component, the retention of the resource base of the world while the basic needs of mankind are met at every given time. In simple terms, sustainability should refer to a safe, unendangered environment and a happy human family.
Today we hardly have a safe, unendangered environment nor do we have a happy human family. Our "biospheric ark" is threatening to sink, and it will surely do so if we do not act with urgency. There is evidence galore of the imminence of the looming doom in the form of the ozone depletion, incidence of acid rain, the greenhouse effect, desertification, siltation, climatic change, unemployment, poverty, starvation, wars, death; the list is finite but certainly very long, and many of the details are available in other documentation available to this consultation.
The question then is then how do we save our "biospheric ark" from sinking? And I suppose the simplistic answer is "through balancing the human needs against the rate of exploitation and replacement of natural resources either by natural means or artificial means."
As we engage in developmental programs we have the a duty to consciously strive to keep the environmental impact of our exploits in check for our own and future generations' good.
Development itself is a concept that is also quite vague. But it is generally understood that development consists in the betterment of the human life by boosting economies, which happens to be the current pre-occupation of most every nation under the sun today.
My first observation is that though much may be undertaken about the betterment of very little of human life, virtually nothing is being done about the environment from whence economic growth originates. This view is premised on the following:
With the picture created by the above factors which theoretically assume that mankind is (comfortably) sustained, we face the wicked paradox of the following reality:
Even more shockingly a contradiction of the apparent economic growth, is the fact that these numbers are growing rather than dwindling. Hence my observation that very little of human life is bettered by the round-the- clock work on "development" that is taking place around the world.
Secondly, to support my comment that "nothing" is being done about the environment, consider that as we meet here, the following facts remain true, worsening every day:
3. Sustainable Development
The need for a wider mission in the formulation of trade, environment and development policies, based on a clearer understanding of how the three are related, is becoming increasingly obvious. Todays environmental concerns have great potential for affecting development policies and global trade flows. As well, trade can have powerful effects on the environment.
In many of the developing countries particularly in Africa, there is growing realisation that the environment and economy are linked in transforming national, regional and international relations, and creating a demand for sustainable development. The triangular link connecting trade, environment and development is currently receiving attention in many countries in Africa, though implementation is still lagging behind due to limited institutional capacities at the policy, planning, economical and lack of financial resources.
I note and embrace the Brundtland Commission definition and note the seven strategic imperatives it defined for sustainable development: reviving growth; changing the quality of growth; meeting essential needs for jobs, food security, water and sanitation, ensuring sustainable level of population, conserving and enhancing the resource base; reorienting technology and management risk; and merging environment and economics in decision making. The above strategy in other words entails holistic resource management, a balance between resource exploitation (of both non - renewable and renewable) to meet our needs and those of future generations. With the above current global definitions of sustainable development, how practical is it for developing countries to accomplish the above give the reality of the world economic order?
4. The Zimbabwean Socio - Economic Situation
In 1990 the Zimbabwean Government embarked on the Economic Structural Adjustment programme (ESAP) designed to develop and stimulate an outward economic growth.
The policy features include short to medium term stabilisation requirements and medium term structural adjustment measures encompassing reduction of the budget deficit, rationalisation of the public sector, trade liberalisation and export promotion, deregulation of the economy and decontrol of prices. The projected 5% annual economic growth rate entailed optimum exploitation of natural resources.
5. Structural Adjustment Programme in Zimbabwe
The need for reforms seemed widely acknowledged in the mid -1980s. However, such differences arose regarding the approach these reforms should take that no consensus was reached before the implementation of ESAP. Critics of trade liberalisation argued that the risks inherent in such a programme were too high to pursue, arguing instead for a rationalisation of the controls to enhance efficiency and promote exports (Stoneman, 1990). But the World Bank continued to press, and in 1987 it refused to sign an agreement to extend the export revolving fund until measures were taken to liberalise trade. The programme sought to achieve the following economic targets:
6. Evaluation of Experience to Date
To date the targeted objectives have not only been missed, but it has now become clear that they were always unachievable. Government has always presented the argument of long - term benefits where initially the trend falls only to pick up dramatically at a later phase. However the logic of the argument is not compelling as it is now apparent that even where SAPS were evaluated after a long period (e.g. Ghana, 1990) results were not impressive. And Zimbabwe like Ghana, is a typical LDC equally prone to exogenous factors that can prolong the deleterious results.
It is important to evaluate economic policy in the early stages because sustainability depends on whether the expected results are realisable. As in Zimbabwe, five years should give enough room for such evaluation.
Given the above bleak situation, trade liberalisation as currently being implemented in Zimbabwe and many countries in Africa create an impediment to the achievements of sustainable development, particularly for most developing countries. This is further exacerbated by developed countries import barriers which make poverty alleviation more difficult for exporting countries and will cause them to accelerate rates of natural resource exploitation without diversification in an endeavour to raise the much needed foreign currency. In this case, the contribution of trade liberalisation to sustainable development will not respect environmental and social policy goals.
7. Poverty Alleviation
The above ESAP embarked upon in Zimbabwe has had negative effects in many areas. Whereas it was anticipated that many jobs would be created, to the contrary many people have been retrenched, and the economic growth projected has not been realised. In fact, expected economic growth in real terms has reduced employment opportunities and increased the number of unemployment.
Sustainable development cannot be achieved while the majority of the people are experiencing persistent poverty. Poverty alleviation is a central object of development and a key concern for environmental policy. The implications are that those retrenched will resort to indiscriminate exploitation of the environment in an effort to survive. But no meaningful poverty alleviation can be achieved globally as this depends on the international policies prevailing.
As international trade becomes an essential means to achieving this end, global economic growth, continued economic reforms, and a substantial increase in the transfer of financial resources and technology from rich to poor countries are vital for achieving poverty alleviation.
8. An Agenda for Sustainable Development
Policies at the national, regional and global as well as projects and programmes undertaken at the local level, must reflect much greater emphasis on equity if they are to be successful in facilitating sustainable development. When the benefits of new technologies and external support flow to the more privileged as is the case now, they tend to exacerbate the social and economic disparities which engender conflict rather than cooperation.
In Africa, national research efforts are lagging and there is not, as yet, a sufficient link and this is particularly so between the work of the international agricultural research institutes for instance, and the actual experience and needs of small farmers nor have sufficient efforts been made to draw upon the extensive knowledge and experience that small farmers have gained through centuries of following traditional agricultural practices.
It is of vital importance that this knowledge not be lost, but rather joined with the results of research and experience in the modern agriculture sector.
Of course, I am also aware of current piracy of traditional knowledge and its patenting by Northern corporations without recognition, reward nor support. My emphasis is that developing countries should incorporate the following strategies at national level to achieve equity and sustainable development;
At the global level, there is need to assess the implications of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) for developing countries and for implementation of the Conventions on the Biological Diversity and Desertification which are critical to Africa among others.
9. Who Should Act First?
Finally, now is not the time to discourage and do away with piecemeal approaches to practices that accelerate the impending doom. Now is not the time for anyone to wait while we ask the North to act first in "respecting the environment", because we are at a level of potential self destruction. I say everyone should start now, and it is the responsibility of each of us to make certain that no country is violating our shared natural heritage, the environment.
Both the North and the South should make sure that no one is creating toxic waste without the responsibility of breaking it down to a safe natural state. Let's make a common effort to create a homogenous level of development; narrow the gap between the poor and the rich. I am sure God will, for once, take a big sigh of relief if we did.