WASHINGTON, DC--The African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), together with the African Union Mission, this week held a unique event celebrating conservation and ecological sustainability in Africa in Washington, DC. Inspired by Africa Environment Day, observed on March 3, the event brought together African Ambassadors, U.S. government representatives, nonprofit partners and other stakeholders to discuss Conservation, Governance and Economic Growth in Africa: The Way Forward.
"We are extremely honored to be partnering with the African Union (AU) on this event," said AWF CEO Dr. Patrick Bergin. "The discussion builds on our collaboration with the AU on its New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) and on AWF's Sustainable Economic Resources for Africa (SERA) initiative, which promotes an agenda of policy, legislative and institutional recommendations based on the principles and lessons of AWF's African Heartlands Program."
"AWF is a unique NEPAD partner, helping to promote reliable food supplies and eliminate poverty among communities living with wildlife on their land," says H. E. Amina S. Ali of Tanzania, head of the AU mission to the United States. "This event marks the importance of international partnerships, regional collaboration, and strong leadership in securing Africa's natural assets for the benefit of people."
The event, held at the South African Embassy, was kicked off by H.E. Welile Nhlapo, Ambassador of South Africa, who emphasized the role of enhanced governance and greater cross-country collaboration on conservation and sustainability.
"In South Africa, we say everything is possible," said Ambassador Nhlapo, setting the tone for the rest of the presentations.
Ambassador Ali then introduced the history of Africa Environment Day, established by the Africa Council of Ministers in 2002, and outlined initiatives focusing on ecological sustainability across the continent.
Representing the United States, Mr. Phillip Carter, U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, touched on recent U.S. initiatives to support ecological sustainability in Africa and emphasized the United States' continuing commitment to helping developing countries transition to low-carbon economies. "One of our goals is to help African nations conserve their resources, which mitigates causes of instability," he said.
The connection between poverty reduction and conservation emerged early as a consistent theme. By benefiting directly from conservation programs, local people have incentive to protect the natural assets they live with, creating economies based on renewing rather than destroying natural resources.
Mr. Franklin Moore, Deputy Assistant Administrator, Bureau of Africa for the U.S. Agency for International Development, described how his agency did not always see it this way.
"There is one organization that taught us the most about the link between rural poverty reduction and conservation--the African Wildlife Foundation," he said. "That's why I am happy to be sharing the podium with AWF today."
After the thematic presentations, panelists presented case studies, which ranged from the creation of the national park system in Gabon, to the recovery of Rwanda's tourism sector and its continuing ecological challenges, to the issue of balancing large-scale development projects with ecological sustainability in Tanzania, to the devastating effects of Liberia's civil war, which left 250,000 people dead and gutted the country's natural resources.
"If there was any good thing to come out of the war it is that we are at ground zero. Everything is broken, but we can build from scratch and make it right," said H.E. Milton Nathaniel Barnes, Ambassador of Liberia.
In Rwanda, where tourism has rebounded since the genocide, continuing challenges include soil erosion, misuse of marshlands, and heavy dependence on wood for fuel and cooking. "In Rwanda, a small country that has the highest population density in Africa, you can see this has huge consequences," said H.E. James Kimonyo, Ambassador of Rwanda.
All the presenters emphasized the responsibility of leaders and the importance of good governance in securing Africa's natural wealth. "The decision to set aside 10 percent of the country as protected areas was viewed as very courageous; Gabon would lose revenue from mining, logging and other development," said Mireille Obame Nguema Moore, who was speaking on behalf of the ambassador.
H.E. Ombeni Sefue, Ambassador of Tanzania, further illustrated the challenge of balancing human well-being with ecological sustainability. As work to tap Tanzania's waterfalls for hydroelectric power got underway, scientists discovered that a rare and tiny toad depended on these running waters to survive. To protect the toad the country had to modify its plans and scale back its use of the new power plants.
"How do you explain that to people?" Ambassador Sefue asked. "That they can't have energy because we have to save these tiny toads." While pointing out the grave human dilemma at the heart of this question, the ambassador conveyed a personal sense of awe at the existence of the toads, drawing laughter from the audience.
About 90 people attended the event, gathering afterward for a small reception. Nonprofit partners of the Africa Biodiversity Collaborative Group (ABCG), a consortium of eight U.S.-based international conservation non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with field programs in Africa, hosted informational tables at the event.
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