Editorial from ROAPE Volume 33 Number 109
Mainstreaming the African Environment in Development?
We write against a background of depressing news items. The latest round of WTO negotiations over trade tariffs and subsidies has been suspended amid mutual recrimination by the EU and USA. At the same time, as unauthorised landings of desperate and destitute African migrants on the southern shores and outposts of the European Union reach an annual peak, EU countries are concluding multi-lateral and bi- lateral ‘sustainable fishing’ deals with governments along the West African coast for access to their waters by EU trawlers. There are also reports of destructive floods in Ethiopia, Somalia and Burkina Faso; continuing (maybe even worsening) conflict in Nigeria's Niger Delta; electoral tension in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; and menacing demands by Chad's Idriss Deby for an immediate 60 per cent majority stake (currently held by Petronas and Chevron) in the local oil producing consortium. By comparison, last year's ‘bad’ news was dominated by coverage of post-drought floods, locust infestation and famine in the Sahel, alongside Zimbabwe's Operations Restore Order and Murambatsvina; remarkably, forced evictions and demolitions affecting several million urban Nigerians failed to make the international news.
Clearly, the challenge for ROAPE remains, as always, how to use environmental issues to bear witness to Africa's complicated political struggle, while not ignoring the cultural and other forms underpinning that struggle in particular environments. It is an undertaking which is complicated by the increasing mainstreaming of the notion of sustainability in environment and wider development policy and debates, particularly as there are distinct traditions of sustainability. The first is ecological, and refers to sustainability at either the genetic, species or ecotome level. The second derives from conventional market economics, and attempts to guarantee both the stock and flow of resources. The third seeks to explore the political economy of the environment, recognising that environmental conflict is usually a proximate cause of deeper problems in the body politic. It is this third tradition, with its emphasis on capital, class and power, which has traditionally preoccupied us at ROAPE. And, as the ten main contributions in this issue show, it continues to inform our deliberations, albeit to varying degrees and in different ways. It is worth taking the opportunity presented by this, ROAPE's third ever issue devoted specifically to environment-related questions (and first of the current century), to reflect on the evolution of the environment debate in the journal and more widely.