Africa’s conundrum: sustainable planet vs. sustainable nations & peoples?

Free Africa” – by Victor Shange (Sandberg art collection)

– – –

I recently did a post on my Facebook group page:

“How does one contextualize a campaign to protect an iconic asset of Mama Afrika?

A commercial road via the globally-famed Serengeti is but one example of “human condition” vs. “environmental condition” development.

African people cannot live without our “rare earth”, but our “rare earth” will not survive without our own communal growth…methinks?

How does humanity – us/we – address this key conundrum?” 

It attracted a few “likes” and some posts on my own wall, plus a few inboxes and mails.

However, the issue really taxes my soul.

Former President Nelson Mandela, in his opening remarks as a Patron for the 5th. World Parks Congress of the IUCN (2003), here in my home city of Durban, said:

“It will be a challenge…making protected areas relevant to the poor.”

Former SA President, Thabo Mbeki, in his keynote address to delegates, with Madiba present, said:

“Mere exhortations to poor people to value and respect the ecosystems contained within national parks will not succeed.

“It is critically important that alternative means of livelihood be found for the poor of the world, so that they  are not forced to act in a manner that undermines the global effort to protect these ecosystems, driven by hunger and underdevelopment.”

Every single day of my life, I wake up and face massive poverty and deprivation surrounding me and every single day of my life I think of one simple fact:

Two-thirds of our sons and daughters of Africa are under 30. More than 50% of them will never find any form of gainful employment and will eke the rest of their natural days in poverty and despair.

It is a deeply and profoundly painful thought, considering we are talking about 300-400 million people, roughly.

For if I, or anyone else, thinks of being able – somehow – to add some small measure of value to humanity – as we all should, every single waking day – by protecting nature-kind in order to give hope and future security to human-kind, then something has to give way.

The developed world has grossly over-consumed and in recent years has realized this folly of our ancestors. And so educated, compassionate people worldwide, who have witnessed man’s greed for materialism and power, speak out, with deep conviction, about how those who have not fallen victim to this plundering of earth’s treasures must stand up and fight to protect what precious little there is left.

But, as Mbeki reminds us – and I have no doubt the great Madiba was in agreement with him then – “mere exhortations to poor people…will not succeed”.

I subscribe to Mbeki’s vision completely when he says in his address: “…we need to ensure…a reality for everyone and to free the entire human race from want”.

So, as I go to bed tonight, on a full stomach and with a secure and warm roof over my head, I am reminded that – within a radius of 20 kms of me – there are more than a million people who have no warmth on this winter’s night and are starving right now.

I cannot even begin to think of other environmental causes that people raise with me, such as the Amazon rain forests and logging, or the tigers of India or the pandas of China, when I face such a sea of utter despair all around me, here in my own community, or in my own country and on my beloved continent.

Therefore, please don’t even begin to ask me to look at issues that lie beyond our African shores.

I am deeply shackled by these mountains of hopelessness here at home.

If you have read to this point – and I’m grateful for your time and consideration – please…read the Mbeki words in his speech to this important Congress (page link below), and then re-read them – with even more insight – and then think deeply about the underlying issues that he raises.

There can be no perfect solution in this imperfect world. Something will always have to give.
For me, the question is the price of “freedom”.  Always.

The conundrum.

How can you “liberate” the planet’s natural resources from plunder without shackling humanity?
Or – how can you “liberate” humanity without shackling Mother Earth’s natural treasures?

Again, as Mbeki reminds us: “The Declaration of the World Summit on Sustainable Development also addressed this matter when it said: ‘The deep fault line that divides human society between the rich and the poor and the ever increasing gap between the developed and developing worlds pose a major threat to global prosperity, security and stability’…”

However, for me, there is only one, viable solution to the way forward –
Until we develop sustainable peoples and nations, we cannot expect to develop a sustainable planet.

Especially here in Africa.

– – – 

Brian Sandberg 
Durban. South Africa.
01 July 2011. 

(Full Mbeki speechhttp://www.unisa.ac.za/contents/colleges/docs/2003/tm2003/tm090803.pdf )


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