Sustainability in Africa: A Crisis in Progress?

  • 7 months ago
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The African environment is so good John Hemingway had to confess; “If I have ever seen magic, it is in Africa”. In terms of social security, the International Labour Organisation claims that less than 10 percent of Sub-Saharan Africa’s population is covered, a development that has poverty implications for over 90 percent of the Sub-continent’s population. On the other hand, the Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG) 2021 African average score for overall governance at 48.9 percent remains low. IIAG is the most comprehensive dataset measuring African governance performance. It applies a framework for citizens, governments, institutions, academics, and businesses to assess the delivery of public goods and services, and policy outcomes, across Africa.

The above contrast paints a picture of a continent in disequilibrium on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) matters. This dissimilarity is coming at a time when Africa is alleged to have suffered disproportionately from climate change. The World Meteorological Organisation estimates that over 110 million people in Africa were directly affected by climate-related hazards in 2022, causing US$ 8.5 billion in economic damages. Africa’s major social ills are the high rates of unemployment, healthcare deficiencies, food shortages in a rapidly growing population, housing shortages, and again, environmental degradation. 

Here is a nugget of wisdom from the African proverb – “A bird that flies off the Earth and lands on an anthill is still on the ground.” The adage tells us that only transformative policies that depart from the status quo will support and make sustainability in Africa operative.

As a framework used to assess an organization’s business practices and performance on various sustainability and ethical issues, a review of ESG in Africa points to a continent in need of policy pluralism. ESG in most African countries is like a dog chasing after its own tail – it is a futile exercise aimed at a select few.

For Zimbabwe, a country endowed with 63 different mineral deposits, the precious stones have given birth to informal artisanal activities that are purely profit-driven – risking to destroy the core of national sustainability – the environment. It is not too late to address this unfolding environmental scourge without affecting its current beneficiaries through social interventions, or responsible mining.

From a corporate perspective, it is unfortunate to note that in a country where there are over 60,000 registered SMEs, the country continues to channel its ESG efforts on a mere 55 companies, with 42 listed on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange, and another 13 on the Victoria Falls Stock Exchange. Again, the bulk of ESG reports are responsive – addressing crises instead of being proactive in averting calamities. 

In the military – out of collective sacrifice comes victory. Considering our record of climate change-linked natural disasters, and our desire to uplift the lives of our people to upper-middle-income status, is it not time? Is it not time to adopt policies that promote sustainable growth in Zimbabwe? 

In my view, until Zimbabwe comes up with a legally binding ESG reporting framework for all – conglomerates, listed entities, SMEs, mining houses, and artisanal miners – our sustainability efforts will be in vain. 

From an environmental perspective, an inclusive national policy framework on climate change, energy usage and efficiency, biodiversity, carbon footprint reduction, greenhouse gas emissions, and waste management will usher the nation towards sustainability.

On the governance front, promoting adherence to global best practices on compliance, ethical business practices, risk management, accounting integrity, corporate governance, and transparency will also position Africa and Zimbabwe for sustainable growth.   

Social factors such as promoting community engagements and adherence to labour laws, among others, will also create a sustainable social environment for all.

In conclusion, sustainability in Africa will remain a pipedream unless regulatory authorities craft inclusive policy frameworks that incorporate Africa’s fragmented corporate and community demography.  

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