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Africa is the target of resource grabs by foreign powers that have remained active in the continent despite the end of formal colonialism. Natural resources are under threat from other forces as well. The African Convention on Conservation Nature and Natural Resources provides adequate guidelines for sustainable use.


The African Convention on Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (ACCNNR) was signed in the year 1968 and was revised in the year 2013. It carries the credit as the first convention to deal with sustainable development issues including land and soil, water and biological diversity, conservation and sustainable use. It is a regional treaty on the environment and natural resources, with the aim of mobilizing and committing African countries to protect the environment, sustainable use of natural resources and a collective approach to biodiversity conservation in the continent.


Africa is described as a natural resource dependent continent. Millions of people derive their livelihoods from natural resources which support the social, cultural, and economic aspects of their lives. Some of the resources in Africa include oil, tropical forests, water bodies, wildlife and a wide variety of mineral resources. Most of the African economies are driven and sustained by the natural resources in each country. A resource like oil drives and sustains countries like Nigeria, Libya, Algeria, Sudan, and Angola among others. Some resources are renewable, others are non-renewable, and regardless of this, they require a multilateral approach to their management and utilization in a sustainable way. ACCNR serves as the best key African Union instrument ensuring feasibility of this multilateralism for the greater good of the Africa, its natural resources and people.


One of the major objectives of the renowned Earth Summit in Rio 1992 was the realization of sustainable development by nations. The United Nation Convention on Environment and Development was also charged with the mobilization of countries to rethink their economic development activities in line with the environment. ACCNR advocates for the same development agenda, keeping in mind the importance of natural resources . The term sustainable development has become a developmental agenda for many nations, defined as development that utilizes natural resources to meet the needs of the current generation without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their needs. Mining, agriculture, tourism, fishing, forestry, energy are some of key sectors in many countries that are supported by the natural resource base and that provide employment opportunities for a significant portion of the population.


Africa is enormously endowed with a great variety of natural resources, many of which remain untapped, underutilized, or undiscovered. It has been documented that natural resources contributed 77 percent of the total exports and 42 percent of the government revenues in 2012. The continent has 30 percent world reserve for minerals, 12 percent of the world’s total oil and 8 percent of gas resources. Mining, oil and gas alone make up 28 percent of the continent’s Gross Domestic Product. Africa prides itself as home to the second largest tropical forest in the world. The fisheries sector is worth $24 billion and employs about 20 million people.

Unrealized potential in Africa cuts across various resources. For instance, the world’s 60 percent of underutilized arable land is found in Africa. This is a sad fact, knowing that many countries are grappling with food insecurity. Africa is known to have the potential to power the whole world in terms of energy. River Congo alone has the potential of generating over 40,000 megawatts of hydroelectric power alone that can provide renewable energy for about 500 million Africans. Plans are under way to tap its potential with the famous Great Inga Dam Hydro-Power Project. Ethiopia is also in the process of creating a mega-dam to generate up to 6,000 megawatts of power through its Great Renaissance Dam on the Blue River Nile.

Still on energy, Africa is known to be a sunny continent and has the capacity to generate electric power as it receives between 4 and 6 kWh per square meter worth of sun radiation. Morocco is leading in the solar energy path by the construction of a 160MW solar power plant with the goal of generating 2,000MW of solar power by 2020. Kenya and Ethiopia are leading the wind power generation ambitions. A 300MW wind power plant is under construction in Turkana in Kenya and 120MW wind power in Makele in Ethiopia. The two countries have substantial investment projects underway for geothermal power production as well.

The future for Africa remains bright as far as natural resources are concerned. This is following recent discoveries of oil reserves in Kenya and Uganda and large gas reserves in Tanzania and Mozambique. Further good news is reported that 6 out 10 of the world’s discoveries were from Africa in 2013. ACCNNR as a key AU instrument should be adhered to in ensuring the realization of equal sharing of benefits arising from the natural resources. The convention seeks to create awareness in local communities living around and close to these resources on their role as beneficiaries.

ACCNNR guidelines should be used in the implementation of some of the international treaties like the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 geared toward stabilization of greenhouse gas emissions by countries. This can be achieved by implementing mechanisms of CDM (Clean Development Mechanism) and Joint Implementation. On Joint Implementation, Africa is positioned to benefit greatly from carbon trading. This is through payment of carbon credits to African countries by developed emitting countries classified as Annex I. Africa is the biggest sink of carbon through carbon sequestration performed by the natural forests, rangelands and now farming. Farmers are benefiting from carbon credits, with Kenya being the first country.


Natural resources in Africa face a myriad of challenges. The most well-known one is the scramble for these resources by the western and eastern countries. The United States, Canada, United Kingdom and other western powers active in Africa exploit natural resources from the continent resulting in a lot of money going to these countries. An emerging economic powerhouse in the East, China, has also joined in the scramble for these resources. John Kerry, US Secretary of State, blatantly said that Africa with its abundance in natural resources has made USA a “natural partner”.

One of the provisions of the ACCNNR is to ensure equitable share and access of benefits arising from the natural resources by all the people concerned. In this case, these western and eastern countries seem to be generating and making out more than the custodians of the resources.

Other challenges include climate change that has become a global crisis. The ACCNNR ought to be strengthened to facilitate the mitigation and adaptation to the changing times as far as climate change is concerned. Africa is known to be the most vulnerable continent due to its position on the globe and its reliance on climate in support of millions of livelihoods. If radical steps are not taken towards climate change, loss of native indigenous species may be experienced.

Other human driven challenges include overexploitation of the resources beyond their replenishing capacity leading to degradation. Poaching has become a concern in most countries and campaigns against such practices are emerging, an example being the Hands Off the Elephants campaign in Kenya led by the First Lady Margaret Kenyatta. The population in Africa is growing at an alarming rate leading to encroachment o nthe natural resources. Population growth brings with it issues of increased pollution; industrialization, not forgetting a sharp demand for housing, has led to a thriving real estate development in various countries.

These activities may be deemed as economic development, but they are detrimental to some natural resources. Unpredictable political regimes in the African country are a common phenomenon. Countries like Somalia, South Sudan and recently Central African Republic have been characterized by civil war and political instability. This leads to frustration of efforts to manage, protect and conserve natural resources in the countries. Loss of stability leaves natural resources to the mercies of opportunists who take advantage to overexploit these resources.


The African Union should review the ACCNNR alongside other key instruments to avoid duplication of efforts and roles. The Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP) operates on natural resources. One pillar of investment for CAADP is land and water management. CAADP has to work together with ACCNNR for effective realization of the AU goals and objectives. CAADP, which also operates in the realization of MDG 7 of environmental sustainability, should work in synergy to achieve this particular goal in its operations.

More resources should be increased to implement the ACCNNR in each country. The protocol should inform government instruments, policies and institutions promoting sustainable development agenda. These include forestry and wildlife services, environment management bodies and museums. Relevant international organizations should include ACCNNR in their operations, such as UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme), CBD (Convention on Biological Diversity) and UNFCCC (United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change).


Now more than ever, Africa deserves liberation from pollution, hunger, negative effects of climate change and lack of transparency in sharing the benefits arising from its natural resources. The rich cultures of Africa often express respect for nature; it is time the same was reflected in the current use of natural resources and in conservation. A time has come for Africans to own and realize fully the benefits arising from their natural resources. This can only be achieved through full implementation of the ACCNNR.

* Peter Kinuthia Murimi is a final year student pursuing Bachelor of Science in Management of Agro-Ecosystems and Environment at the University of Nairobi.



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