Mini Discussion on Sustainability in Africa

Over the holidays, I had a chance to give a talk to the Mastercard-sponsored Scholars group of ASU students from sub-Saharan Africa.  This helped to launch a class on sustainability in Africa.  It got me thinking about what to cover, given a broad range of topics.  If we agree that sustainability isn’t an “environmental” problem, but a more broadly defined societal problem, then we have a host of issues to choose from – disease, natural resource management, human rights, and so on.

Given my personal predilections, I tend to see poor governance as the common thread through all of these.  My own work and experience in Africa is clearly limited, and the undergrads that I spoke with came from Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Senegal, Ghana, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Kenya.  I’ve only been to a few of these countries and have only spent more than a couple weeks in Moz, so I can hardly claim to be an expert.  But as we started talking about sustainability and the need to foster more resilient social-ecological relations, as a group we found that we had a lot to share, to teach, and to discover.  My own work is about collaboration across some kind of boundary (international, public-private, between individuals or tribes, between states or municipalities) for the collective governance of natural resources.  My African work focused on transboundary protected areas.  In the discussion with the Mastercard Scholars, we kept returning to the same questions:

  • Where can we or should we collaborate?
  • When does it make more sense for groups to “go it alone”?
  • How can we overcome the transaction costs of collaboration to reap collective benefits?
  • How can we make collaborations work better?

There are no silver bullets in response to these questions.  My hope is that my ongoing research can help to guide policymakers and practitioners in their quest for a more sustainable future.

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