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Wangari Maathai Underscores Importance of Good Governance in Poverty Reduction Efforts

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Nobel Laureate, Wangari Maathai, has underscored the importance of good governance in the effective and sustainable management of the continent’s natural resources. Speaking in Tunis, Tunisia, on Tuesday, October 27, 2009, within the framework of the African Development Bank (AfDB) Group’s Eminent Speakers Program, Prof. Maathai noted that poverty and environmental degradation on the continent were results of poor governance. She warned of dire consequences for Africa if the continent failed to create and maintain good governance structures that enhance natural resource development and environmental protection.

“Species that have had their habitat destroyed eventually die off,” she said, noting that though “man is the only species that thinks and projects into the future, its activities are destroying the environment.”

She called on Africans to be critical of themselves as a means of making progress in the areas of natural resource management, sustainable development and poverty reduction. She blamed the continent’s perennial poverty on the mismanagement of the continent’s natural resources, adding that good governance was the missing piece in the continent’s development paradigm. She called for responsible and accountable leadership on the continent, underscoring that poverty could not be overcome across the continent if basic notions such as equity, justice and peace were not taken seriously.

“In the course of my work with the Green Belt Movement, it became clear that common natural resources like land, forests, rivers, wetlands, lakes, and wildlife cannot be protected unless the country has good governance: responsible, accountable and indeed visionary governance and leadership that manages the natural resources for the common good of all. Such governance would mobilize citizens so that together they will avoid deforestation and degradation of forests and land; fight the desertification process by promoting tree planting, soil conservation, harvesting of rain water and protecting diversity.”

Speaking about climate change, Prof. Maathai said human action was partly to blame for the challenges the continent was facing.  She called for sustainable forest and natural resource management as a major step towards checking global warming that is spreading pain and suffering across the globe. She pointed out that deforestation and other human activities were destroying natural habitats and such actions were causing some species to vanish. She stressed that the destruction of local diversity was putting a lot of pressure on the continent, adding that without local biological diversity, the continent’s agriculture cannot be effective.

She urged Africans to work towards repairing the damage done to the continent’s environment by planting trees, stressing however that key to having a healthy environment was ensuring after-care for the trees to be planted.

Regarding aid, Prof. Maathai stressed that donor assistance was necessary for the continent to overcome its economic challenges, pointing out that with good governance, aid could enable African countries to walk away from the scourge of poverty. The problem, she stressed, was not with aid, but how the aid was being managed.

Speaking to the AfDB Web team after her lecture, Prof. Maathai said she appreciated what the continent’s premier development finance institution was doing in this regard. She commended the U.K and Norwegian governments for the significant financial contributions they had made to the Congo Basin Forest Fund that she co-chairs with former Canadian Prime Minister, Paul Martin.

On the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen (6-18 December 2009), she said “we are hoping for an ambitious political, economic and financial commitment in Copenhagen so that developing countries like those in Africa can be assisted and take quick actions to especially mitigate against climate change. Without capital or technology, African countries will be threatened,” adding that “…it is important for us Africans to be responsible for our destiny. The African leadership must be responsible for their people. Let us not wait for other regions to save us from the negative impact of climate change. We should not only focus on the money the developed world will provide and the technology they may be willing to transfer. We might fail to access those resources or purchase those technologies if we are not prepared. It is those countries that are preparing that will benefit from whatever agreements will come out of Copenhagen.”

Tuesday’s lecture, which was chaired by AfDB President, Donald Kaberuka, was held on the theme: “Natural Resource Management and Poverty Reduction: Strengthening the Links.” The lecture’s theme was motivated by the need to deepen current understanding of how good practices in the use of natural resources could promote rapid poverty alleviation, environmental sustainability and development, particularly in rural parts of Africa. The lecture also provided an opportunity for an exchange of perspectives on how Africa’s paradox – poverty amidst plenty – could be reversed.

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