Yes, this whole week I was stuck in conferences telling me the world is going to burn in the next 50 to 100 years. And the rising oceans will act as a temporary cool-down – but then we will drown as they rise a bit too much. Bye-bye Manhattan. Bye-bye Cape Town. Bye-bye London. Depressing. Not really. As you all know I am a natural optimist. I know that we will find a solution. We’ll just first go through all the other bad options before we do the right thing. But I am still stuck on what we can do in Africa. And I can’t find a solution. I think we are stuck in a Catch 22 situation on dealing with climate change in Africa. We are stuck – each time we find a solution it forces us back to our starting point.
I know I have argued that people will first look at the things that will kill them immediately – health, food and war. But the climate change will affect Africa and the impact will be felt way more than in any other region. The impact will be disproportionate. Why? Because we live such a marginal life – always on the edge. And the only way we can survive is through ubuntu – supporting each other with the little we have. This social safety net is build with little chain links that helps us stay connected to each other and connected to life. We only have each other to depend on and our social safety net is each other. When this break we are pretty… hum… stuffed (sorry, wanted to use a harder word). We have seen it when these safety nets break – Ethiopia in the 80′s, Somalia in the 90′s, Sudan today. The impact is so much worse than anywhere else. Because people can’t share anymore. There is just nothing to share. And people die. Climate change will have a huge impact as we will see consistent crop failures and the breaking of the social safety net. We will help each other until there is nothing left to share. And then we die. So climate change is important. But I just can’t see a way out of it. I just can’t see a way of dealing with it in Africa. How to get beyond where we are.
The first problem is dealing with the money that would be needed to fight climate change in Africa. It isn’t as easy as we think. More aid? Maybe. But from where? One of the proposals is that some of the money that comes from carbon trading should be diverted to Africa’s fight on climate change. I have a problem with that (no surprise there). There will not be enough money generated from carbon trading to deal with Africa and all the other areas that needs to be dealt with. So where will the money come from? More aid from the US and Europe? That could work. Couldn’t it? No.
Aid money is needed for the first fight – HIV/Aids, TB, malaria, food, water, etc. All these areas are already underfunded. So any aid going to fight climate change will be money that should go to the first group of priorities – things that are killing people today. Even if we include the funding in projects aimed at sustainability – farming, manufacturing, trade, investment – the money will still be a diversion from the main aim of improving Africa. And we just don’t have enough money going around at the moment. Look after the first things first. Once that is done you can look at climate change – but not a minute earlier. And we know that adequate aid (and trade) ain’t gonna happen soon.
So what do we do if we get the money from somewhere (and somehow)? How would we spend it? We struggle with basic capacity in Africa already. We struggle to get the medicine to people even if we get medicine for free. We can’t help all the farmers become more efficient even if we get the funding that is needed. We have a lack of capacity to do some of the basics – where do we get the capacity to deal with climate change? Do they want us to hire some more of those western consultants to help us out? Divert some more money away? And what do they know? They can’t even solve it in their own country where they have all the solutions already – how are they going to solve it in Africa?
And what about the infrastructure? We are so behind in providing the infrastructure needed to run our countries – how are we going to build infrastructure for climate change? We have coal – not wind-farms or geothermal. I can picture it now – a huge wind-farm right next the coffee farmer in Ethiopia. That ain’t gonna happen soon either. We have to build the roads before we can build the wind-farm. Shouldn’t we?
Even if we get all that sorted (how I don’t know) – should this be the priority for governments? Can we just get them to govern a bit more efficiently first? Their priority should be to start governing and not to talk about things that removes them even further from the people. They should get their priorities straight. Govern first. Plan for tomorrow next. And then plan for the long term. But first things first, thank you.
Sounds pretty awful doesn’t it? Each solution offers a new challenge that brings us back to our starting point. How to deal with climate change in Africa. Catch 22? More money needed… but elsewhere. More capacity needed… but elsewhere. More infrastructure needed… but elsewhere. More governing… but elsewhere. I just don’t know what the answer is. And, in all honesty, I haven’t seen or found a solution that seems to do the work. Nothing has convinced me yet. But I am convinced of one thing though. That in the end the African people will find a way through this. They will find a solution. They always somehow manages to find solutions when they face the most impossible situations. Throw a war our way – we’ll get through to the other side. Colonize us – we’ll survive. Crops fail – we’ll share the little we have. HIV/Aids killing people – we’ll look after the kids. Somehow we find a way forward.
Catch 22? Not really. That book was written by an American. More like A Long Walk To Freedom if you ask me. But please, just not Things Fall Apart.