About two decades age, African environment ministers met in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, to lay the foundation of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN), the supreme continental forum responsible for articulating authoritative perspectives on Africa's environment and its place in the global arena. AMCEN was established against a backdrop of deteriorating state of environment as well as increasing social and economic inequality and their impacts on the regions environment. However, and from the outset, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) have been particularly supportive of the work of AMCEN as the environmental voice of conscience of the region, thereby highlighting the interdependence of environment, social and economic issues and the political commitment to work in concert in the interest of the wellbeing of the peoples of Africa.
Despite the achievements registered since its establishment, AMCEN still faces daunting challenges, including amongst others: harmonization of sub-regional and regional environmental issues in order that they receive equal attention at these levels; translation of global environmental concerns into practical, feasible and achievable programmes of action at national, sub-regional and regional levels; the positioning of AMCEN within the framework of new and emerging issues at regional and global level (the African Union, NEPAD, etc.); enhancing AMCEN's advocacy role in the new global economic order and, in particular, voicing Africa's concerns in the intergovernmental organizations (e.g. WTO, IMF, WB) that are beginning to place environmental considerations very high in their decision making processes; and, promoting and according environmental concerns priority status within national development processes.
The efforts of AMCEN to address these challenges are the subject of the first ever regional comprehensive report on the state of Africa's environment-Africa Environment Outlook (AEO). The report, which was specifically requested by AMCEN, traces environment and development trends since the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, provides a comprehensive analysis of status and trends of the environment in Africa integrated with the impacts of policies, laws and regional agreements, and proposes alternative policy options for the future as well as recommends concrete policy actions for follow-up at national and sub-regional levels.
It is our hope that this report will provide a valuable opportunity for AMCEN to take stock of its policy performance and effectiveness since inception in 1985, look into the future and access the various policy options for consideration at national, subregional and regional levels, and also serve as a basis for AMCEN to reorient its focus and programmes in light of the findings and recommendations contained in the report.
The AEO report also highlights some of the major issues to be addressed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) to be held in Johannesburg, South Africa in late August 2002. It is the basis upon which Africa and its cooperating partners, both bilateral and multilateral can engage each other to determine how best to tackle some of the pressing challenges facing Africa. It is also our hope that emerging initiatives under African Union and the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) and its environmental Component, will be able to take advantage of the information contained in this report, in particular policy recommendations, to advance their programmes of work for the future. These new initiatives provide a challenge for the future AEO process as the African development paradigm shifts beyond WSSD.
The success of the AEO process requires special mention in view of the unique approach adopted in the production of the report. It has engendered participation from a wide range of stakeholders, built consensus on several issues and findings, cultivated a sense of ownership and clearly demonstrated the need to build from the bottom up. It is through this unique approach that the AEO report has established a strong foundation for the harmonization of integrated environmental assessment and reporting processes in the Africa region. It is hoped that in the short term the assessment and reporting methodologies will be adopted and become fully incorporated in national level environmental management practices.
The AEO report and process are clear testimony of Africa's capacity to undertake specialized scientific work for itself and not rely on northern-based institutions to analyse, articulate and make recommendations on Africa's own issues. AEO is the basis for the African renaissance in environmental terms.
I trust the report will be useful to all who subscribe to the attainment of sustainable development in Africa for the benefit of present and future generations.
Muhammad Kabir Sai'd
African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN)