Since stepping into the role of African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) president in January 2016, Kaddu Sebunya has met with heads of state and regional bodies in Africa to advocate for sustainable development that takes the continent’s natural riches—its wildlife and wild lands—into account.
“Economic development and environmental conservation need not be mutually exclusive. Nor is it a zero-sum game,” says Sebunya. “Africa must, however, make better choices to mitigate the consequences and impact of our decisions on the environment and its biodiversity. Economic growth at the expense of our natural resources—which constitute some of Africa’s greatest assets—will ultimately cripple prosperity for future generations.”
Last week, Sebunya’s efforts got a boost when AWF signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the African Union (or AU) Commission. Under the MOU, the two organizations will support the African Union’s Vision 2063 blueprint for the continent, with AWF in essence acting as the African Union’s primary conservation advisor. The African Union is a continental political body that aims to increase cooperation between its members. Vision 2063 is an action plan drafted by the African Union to build a prosperous and united continent over the next 50 years.
The agreement is anchored in the first aspiration of the Vision 2063 Agenda, which states in part:
We aspire that by 2063, Africa shall be a prosperous continent, with the means and resources to drive its own development, with sustainable and long-term stewardship of its resources and where … Africa’s unique natural endowments, its environment and ecosystems, including its wildlife and wild lands, are healthy, valued and protected, with climate resilient economies and communities.
According to AWF’s president, the agreement is a testament to the key role that sustainably managed natural resources—supported by healthy ecosystems and thriving wildlife populations—play in driving economic growth. He adds that development is good and necessary for Africa. But development that doesn’t take wildlife and wild lands into account, and instead unsustainably harvests the continent’s natural assets, will do more harm than good in the long term.
“This partnership gives AWF a seat at the table to engage constructively with governments on the continent’s development goals—while also making sure that wildlife and wild lands are not forgotten in the process,” says Sebunya. “It is because of our 55 years of work on the continent that the African Union chose AWF as a partner that can advise on conservation issues of concern.”
With the AU MOU now in place, AWF can more readily provide conservation insight and technical expertise concerning potential development decisions across the continent. Most importantly, AWF can provide this insight before those decisions are made. With the new partnership with the African Union, chances are high that AWF would know of these planned developments beforehand and be able to guide African states into making development decisions that best serve the continent.
In doing so, AWF will help ensure that development activities benefit Africa by creating new opportunities in the near term, while also protecting wildlife and wild lands for the sake of long term sustainability.
For example, southern Tanzania is one of the most biodiverse regions on the continent, hosting a variety of species—from the elephant to the mangabey, an Old World monkey—within a complex of forests and montane grasslands. But because of its rich soils and high rainfall, the region has been designated part of a large-scale agricultural expansion effort. Such agricultural expansion has the potential to negatively impact the ecosystem in numerous ways, from leaching fertilizer into waterways to breaking up migration corridors used by wildlife to travel from one national park to another.
Though AWF has since been working with local farmers to limit agricultural sprawl and intensify crop yields in the growth corridor’s heavy wildlife areas, prior knowledge of agricultural development plans would have allowed us to weigh in and potentially provide alternate locations that may have been less damaging for the region’s biodiversity.
“We must reclaim the conservation agenda for the continent—not because other governments want us to, but because we as Africans recognize the vital importance of our unique natural endowments to prosperous, climate-resilient economies and populations,” says Sebunya.
The agreement with the AU follows another MOU that AWF signed earlier this year with the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (or COMESA), Africa’s largest economic trading body. As with the AU agreement, the COMESA MOU gives AWF greater standing with a significant regional body within Africa and ensures that wildlife has a voice at key development discussions.
Mayu is director of content and messaging for AWF, responsible for AWF's print and online content, collateral and overall organizational messaging. At home, she divides her time between being a tyrant to her family and napping on the living room couch. A graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Mayu has nearly 20 years' experience in communications, storytelling and writing.
AWF Blogs bring you to the critical landscapes we work in, where conservation benefits both wildlife and people alike. The blogs are written by our staff - men and women who have dedicated their lives to Africa's wildlife, people and wild lands.
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