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close this bookDiversity, Globalization, and the Ways of Nature (IDRC, 1995, 234 p.)
close this folder10. Africa in the 21st Century: Sunrise or sunset?
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View the documentThe causes of poverty
View the documentHistorical causes of the current situation
View the documentWars are environmentally unfriendly
View the documentEvolution of environmental management in Africa
View the documentOld and new development models

Wars are environmentally unfriendly

The case of Angola

Angola is a large country with important mineral resources (such as petroleum and diamonds), great biodiversity in forests and savanna ecosystems, extensive areas suitable for agriculture and rangelands, and important fisheries. Because it is not densely populated - about 10 million people in 1 million square kilometres - the resource base would be more than enough to provide a high quality of life to the population.

However, a large portion of Angola’s productive base has been degraded or eliminated. Forests have been burned or logged; many wildlife species have disappeared; roads, railroads, airports, and buildings have been rendered useless; and people have emigrated, making Angola a country of refugees. All of this is the result of war.

The Movimento pare a Liberacao do Angola (MPLA), a leftist nationalist movement, was founded by an Angolan intellectual and poet (Agostinho Neto) in 1956 to fight for Angola’s independence from Portugal. Some years later, the Frente Nacional pare a Liberacao do Angola (FNLA) was founded by Holden Roberto, an Angolan militant, and an offshoot, UNITAS, was established in 1966 by Jonas Savimbi.

In 1975, when the country finally won its independence, there were disagreements between the Soviet-supported MPLA and the other two movements (FNLA and UNITAS), which were supported by the United States and South Africa. War broke out. Within the framework of the Cold War, several countries from both blocs were involved directly or indirectly (Cuba, the former Soviet Union, South Africa, and the United States). Many years later, although the Cold War has ended, the conflict in Angola persists.

The reason for the persistence of the war probably relates to deeply ingrained ethnic feelings that were poorly managed during Portuguese colonial times. There is a dichotomy within Angolan society, as in other African countries: a “Europeanized” elite, which is politically left of centre, and a traditionally based movement, UNITAS, which is rightist. One reason for the apparent success of UNITAS is probably related to its support from the numerous Ovimbundu; support for the Luanda government is mainly based on the mixed-culture urban population.

The European models and ideologies fail to address local problems and, as a result, a populist movement can grow using whatever support is available (even a racist regime, as in South Africa in the late 1970s and early 1980s). After 30 years of fighting, the Angolan war is still going on, producing widespread social and material degradation.

One of the victims of the conflict is the environment: forests have been burned, animals have been hunted in an indiscriminate way, and mines and other explosive devices have been buried in many areas. The productive base is rapidly shrinking. The formal Angolan state is gradually falling apart. This is probably more than an ethnic war, however. In our interpretation, we are witnessing the end of a model alien to the true Africa. Soon, gradually and painfully, a new society, more informal and based on tradition, will probably arise from the ruins of colonial and neocolonial Angola.

The case of Nigeria

Nigeria is another country in which an inherited political system and boundaries have caused problems, and where both society and the environment are suffering the consequences. The British colony in Nigeria included in the same political unit several ethnic groups with a history of conflicts and rivalries: the Yorubas, the Ibos, and the Hausas.

As soon as independence was declared in 1960, a bloody war (the Biafra war) erupted between the Yoruba and Hausa dominated government and the Ibo population of the southeast. The war ended in 1962 with the defeat of the Ibos, and for some time it seemed that Nigeria would become a viable political entity. It was the most populated African nation, with 75 million people, one of the world’s largest producers of petroleum, and one of the richest countries on the continent.

During its three and a half decades of independence, however, several military governments with no accountability held power, while misappropriation of funds and bribery were the rule. Today, Nigeria has a population over 100 million, unemployment is widespread, crime is rampant, public utilities seldom work, and consumer goods, and even fuel, are hard to find. In brief, the whole administrative structure is barely functioning and the formal economy is disintegrating.

The political system is not working well either. After 8 years of authoritarian regimes, elections were held in June 1993. However, President Babamgida refused to relinquish power when Moshood Abiola, a nonmilitary Yoruba candidate chosen by him, was elected. By mid-1994, Mr Abiola had been arrested and the country was in extreme turmoil, with the southern Yoruba region threatening to separate and the government trying to enlist the southeastern Ibos as allies (until now, unsuccessfully; see Economist 1994c). The traditional Nigerian nations - Hausas, Yorubas, and Ibos - and several other national groups are now locked inside artificially drawn borders and there is constant political and ethnic tension. Even if this crisis is solved, it is likely that another will soon emerge. The problem does not seem to lie with the political leaders, but rather with the whole political system, including inappropriate territorial boundaries.

Nigeria’s environment has also suffered the consequences of the economic crisis. The rapid population growth, particularly in and around the largest cities (Lagos and Ibadan), has affected natural ecosystems. Formerly a forested country, Nigeria has lost most of its forest ecosystems. Wildlife has disarppeared, rivers and coastal waters are increasingly contaminated, soil erosion (which was practically unknown before) has become one of the main problems affecting agriculture, and industrial development has been paralyzed because of problems with the supply of basic inputs, such as fuel, water, and electricity.

As in Angola, however, Nigeria’s future may lie in the gradual growth of a new, more African approach to social and environmental management (Time 1993). Former foreign minister, Joseph Garba, said, “Nigeria will go back to the Stone Age.” It will not be a stone age, but rather a more traditional age, still modern, but based on African roots.