AFRICA ENVIRONMENT OUTLOOK
Past, present and future perspectives

THE GREAT TRANSITIONS SCENARIO

Introduction

Box 4.2 The twin challenge: the challenge of Africa and the challenge of the future

'Thus, Africa today needs both new questions and smaller errors.The project is primarily concerned with the former.The assumption being that they are a prerequisite for adequately tackling the latter.There is sufficient scientific competence available in Africa today for new knowledge to be increasingly generated from within, as it were, through the realignment of research agenda away from the 'short term' and 'applied' towards the longer term and more basic questions affecting the continent's future ...

'A first step in this direction is to examine critically the conventional wisdom as expressed in dominant policy documents related to Africa's present and future ... The second step is the development of alternative future scenarios for Africa that challenge the 'surprise free' projections of the current perspectives.'

Source: Achebe and others 1990
The vision of the Great Transitions scenario stems from developments at the start of the new millennium. These include a conviction regarding the need to embrace a new sustainability paradigm-one which transcends the dictates of both the Market Forces scenario and the Policy Reform scenario and one which, at the same time, prevents the occurrence of the ills associated with the Fortress World scenario. Associated with these is a philosophical dimension, at both personal and group levels, which holds that an end must be put to consumerism as way of life, and that a search must be made for issues that can provide a renewed sense of meaning and purpose to life. Consequently, the values of simplicity, tranquillity and community begin to displace the values of consumerism, competition and individualism. Voluntary reduction in work hours frees time for study, art and hobbies.

In the Great Transitions scenario, lifestyles become simpler, in a material sense, and richer, in a qualitative sense, as the old obsession with possessions gives way to intellectual and artistic pursuits. In the new sustainability paradigm, markets remain critical, in terms of achieving efficiency in the production and allocation of goods, but well-designed policies constrain the level and structure of economic activity, so it remains compatible with social, cultural and environmental goals. A variety of mechanisms enforce these principles, including regulation, international negotiation and market signals, such as revised tax systems which discourage the production of environmental 'bads', and which reward restorative practices. Environmental, economic and social indicators track real progress at all scales-business, regional, national and global-giving the public an informed basis for seeking change.

The assumptions of the Great Transitions Scenario may be summarized as follows:

The Great Transitions scenario represents a very optimistic view of the development of the environment in Africa, as well as all over the world. Nevertheless, it is not as utopian as it looks at first examination, because its tenets are perfectly achievable, given the right atmosphere. As mentioned in Box 4.2, and discussed extensively in Beyond Hunger, Africa needs a resurgence at many dimensions. The beginning of the millennium is a good time to start such an exercise. Africa must ask new questions, and must challenge the conventional wisdom that has tied the region down for too long. Africa must be ready for a surprise, rich future.