At Rio+20, the World Should Follow Africa’s Lead

Last month, the Government of Botswana and CI hosted a Summit for Sustainability in Africa to explore how understanding, valuing and managing Africa’s natural capital — the benefits and services provided to people by biodiversity and ecosystems — can secure its future. CI’s Frank Hawkins explains how we can build on the progress made at the Summit next week at Rio+20.

acacia tree in Kenya's Masai Mara National Park

Acacia tree in Kenya's Masai Mara National Park. (© Art Wolfe/

The Summit for Sustainability in Africa was a tumultuous event. Last-minute changes in participants, agenda and message made the two days an invigorating experience, to say the least. The combined comings and goings of three heads of state, a vice president, a prime minister and a range of ministers and heads of international organizations were bewildering to witness.

Fortunately, the Government of Botswana team members were a delight to work with, full of calm and good humour even in the most trying of circumstances. We were also very privileged to have an excellent set of hosts and technical advisors to anchor the event in real substance.

So, rather to everyone’s surprise, the event passed off without a significant hiccup, and the resulting Gaborone Declaration and Road Map have been widely publicized and acclaimed.

Now that the event is over, it is time to consolidate the results at top speed. The Gaborone Declaration (PDF–329.10 KB) was the principal product of the Summit, and the next step is to ensure that the Declaration is endorsed as widely as possible and highlighted at the Rio+20 conference next week.

Several of the heads of state present in Gaborone will also be going to Rio, and we are working closely with their delegations to ensure that the Gaborone Declaration will be a focal component of deliberations. It has considerable value as a clear statement of intent from 10 African countries on five issues of central importance for sustainable development. These include: natural capital accounting; supporting the transition to sustainability; nurturing natural capital; capacity, knowledge and policy; and effective communication and public education.

The Declaration marks a major step forward in terms of decisive action, transparency and accountability in sustainability initiatives. There is nothing else like it out there at the moment, and our aim is to demonstrate that leadership from within Africa can show the rest of the world how to light a beacon on the hill. We’ll be highlighting the Declaration with our African delegation colleagues at several Rio side events, including the “Natural Capital Summit,” “Natural Capital Accounting” and the “Business + Biodiversity” reception.

We have to seize upon the excitement generated by the Summit to move the ball forward. This means engaging with a new set of partners and in a new set of countries. This does not mean we move away from activities in our current country portfolio — far from it, as these are the countries where we have demonstrated our “feet-in-the-mud” successes.

The new engagements will need to be focused on policy support to countries and their corporate partners in order to improve the long-term performance of agriculture and extractives. We already have some great partners, and we are looking at increased investment in East Africa — especially Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya.

Much remains to be decided, and some will be discussed at CI’s board meeting later this week. But the feeling that we are in a new phase of action, with new and very significant challenges and successes at hand, is very strong. In my 10 years at CI, I don’t recall such an upsurge of energy and vigor, nor such a common sense of purpose.

As this vitality translates to action, we’ll update you here on the blog, sharing our experiences as we try to make the most of this opportunity to change development at a scale matching the challenge.

Frank Hawkins is senior vice president for CI’s Africa & Madagascar division. He led the organization and implementation of the Summit for Sustainability in Africa for CI, in collaboration with the Government of Botswana.

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