Africa projects expand ELIs
Responding to requests for ELI expertise, Institute lawyers have begun assisting
African nongovernmental and governmental environmental advocates in their efforts to
establish or strengthen legal regimes to protect the continents ecosystem. The
African environment is already one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world, and its
leaders are facing a potential quadrupling of population over the next half century.
As is the case with its other international work, ELIs role is primarily one of
assisting local leaders develop more effective institutions and mechanisms to protect or
enhance environmental quality. Most African nations are in the process of moving from
national environmental policies to environmental laws, having developed framework laws
providing authority to develop subsequent legislation.
In May, ELI participated in the conference on access to environmental information in
East Africa. The goal of conferees was to launch regional initiatives ensuring the
publics right to information about the environment. In another project with the
Uganda Wildlife Society, ELI helped review a draft regulation on access to genetic
resources and benefit sharing. And with the IUCN Environmental Law Center, ELI coordinated
the peer review process for Ethiopias new framework environmental law.
These recent initiatives benefit from over a decade of international environmental law
and policy work at the Institute which continues in the Americas, Central and Eastern
Europe, and in Asia on the Indian subcontinent.
Senior Attorney Carl Bruch, recently appointed by ELI to direct the new projects in
Africa, observes: "Many of the issues facing African environmental advocates are not
new. Developing countries in Latin America and Asia, as well as European countries in
transition, have had experiences that are directly relevant to Africa." Bruchs
point is readily illustrated: in examining the draft Ugandan regulation on access to
genetic resources, for example, ELI capitalized on its recently completed study of similar
regimes in the Americas to provide a range of options for substantive, procedural, and
institutional provisions. In Ethiopia, when the drafters sought assistance on how to
structure penalties for environmental offenses, the Institute provided important insights
gained from a report that ELI had conducted for Peru on options for structuring sanctions
and incentives, focusing on sanctions regimes in nine countries in North and South
Developing and implementing environmental law in Africa brings with it many challenges.
Before joining the ELI staff, Senior Attorney Brian Rohan had spent nine months in Uganda
advising on the drafting of that nations framework environmental law and analyzing
the environmental provisions of the draft Ugandan constitution. Rohan recalls that
"the Ugandan framework law was far more comprehensive than anything I had encountered
in the United States. The problem was the absence of an institutional structure to
implement and enforce the law."
Unsurprisingly, these new countries are only starting to address basic rule-of-law
issues, let alone environmental issues. The circumstances of independence demanded a focus
on economic development. After the centralized legacy of the colonial period, many
countries are finding decentralization works better to promote sustainable development at
the local level. As a result, governments are wrestling with the appropriate role of a
national environmental agency vis-à-vis local governments, as well as other national
ministries. In some countries, such as Uganda, decentralization is a practical and
political matter, but in federal countries such as Ethiopia and Nigeria, decentralization
is a complex constitutional matter.
Many African nations are starting to develop basic procedural protections for the
public in managing the environment. Governmental and nongovernmental organizations are
exploring access to information, public participation in decisionmaking processes, and
access to judicial redress all elements of the U.S. Administrative Procedure Act,
but generally foreign to national governments that traditionally view information as a
source of power that is to be hoarded. Nevertheless, strong public participation
traditions at the local community level may provide an opportunity for developing national
mechanisms for public participation. African advocates also are considering the
possibilities of developing and promoting a regional or subregional convention modeled on
the 1998 Aarhus Convention on access to information, public participation, and access to
justice in environmental matters.
The greatest challenge for developing African environmental law and policy is the lack
of resources. Of the poorest ten countries in the world, eight are in Africa, and Africa
includes 29 of the 34 countries that the United Nations ranked lowest in terms of human
development, accounting for income, life expectancy, and education. Kifle Lemma, a
respected Ethiopian environmental attorney, noted that, "Ethiopia feels that all we
need is the financial resources to develop and implement the necessary changes."
Ultimately, environmental protection in Africa depends on Africans. Thus, ELI seeks not
only to develop strong environmental laws that can be successfully implemented, but also
to develop the capacity to address environmental problems locally. As part of that effort,
ELI has had four environmental lawyers from African nations as Visiting Scholars over the
past several months: Anne Angwenyi from Kenya, Wole Coker from Nigeria, Abani Ibrahim from
Niger, and Christine Nanyonjo from Uganda. The Institutes Visiting Scholars program
helps it to establish strong relationships with individual attorneys in other nations
while drawing on their expertise for projects such as those described above. ELI continues
to work with many of the Scholars after they return to their homelands.
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