Kofi Annan Reports On Africa’s Blue and Green Revolutions

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Written by Andrew Friedman

How does $50 billion simply vanish?

That is the estimated amount of money lost from government coffers annually based on “resource plunder” from illegal logging and fishing, according to former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan’s 2014 Africa Progress Panel Report.

This amount of lost government revenue is greater than the national GDP of all but Africa’s seven-richest countries. It is equivalent to 5.7 percent of the entire continent’s gross domestic product and more than what all African countries combined spend on government-led public health initiatives.

Illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing occurs when industrial fishing vessels do not report their catch to avoid paying taxes or fees on caught fish. This is a problem throughout the continent but is particularly prevalent in West Africa where estimates put one third to one half of all fishing into this category.

Over 18 months before July 2012, 10 industrial vessels were reported for 252 separate incident of illegal fishing in Sierra Leone. In Liberia, more than 40 such vessels have been investigated in the past three years.

Such illegal fishing robs the countries and their citizens of the benefits of exploitation. Reports vary on the extent of the problem in individual countries, but Annan’s report estimates West Africa could be losing as much as $1.3 billion USD annually in revenue just from illegal fishing. Senegal loses around $300 million USD, nearly 2 percent of the country’s total GDP.

Overfishing endangers the sustainability of the industry. This zero-sum plunder presents a real danger that stocks will vanish forever.

What about the continent’s vast timber reserves?

The lush forests of many central African states have the potential to enhance the lives of generations of ordinary citizens. According to the report, not only do they “…provide food, fuel and vital ecological services,” they also have the potential, through sustainable logging, to continue to fill government coffers and pay for vital services.

These domestic and local benefits are supplemented by the vital role forests play in the world. The forests of the Congo Basin are second in size only to the forests of the Amazon Basin. Annan’s report does not equivocate on the international importance of the vast forests, stating “they also provide a global public good, absorbing the greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.”

All of these benefits, local, domestic and international, are endangered by illegal logging.

According to the report, “illegal logging activities are flourishing, often with the covert, and sometimes overt, support of political elites.”

The illegal logging is particularly problematic when paired with many countries’ advanced environmental degradation. According to the World Bank, a large majority of Congo Basin forests are at risk of deforestation, ranging from 64 percent in the Central African Republic to 92 percent in the Republic of Congo. The report also declares that “extensive deforestation is already evident in Cameroon.”

The report includes several best-practices based policy recommendations.

In Iceland, exhaustive studies were conducted to determine sustainable fishing techniques and assign quotas to fishing vessels. Iceland pairs this with designated landing points for fishing vessels, forcing them to go through checks and registration. Annan recommends that African countries with fishing stocks follow suit, ensuring sustainability and limiting the landing points for industrial fishing vessels, forcing registration and compliance.

The same general concept can be used for sustainable forestry. The report cites the Liberian experience, where in the wake of civil war the country wiped out all existing logging concessions to begin anew. Liberia then created a necessary regulatory framework and a federal agency for managing logging concessions. However, the practical experience of the small West African country was “less encouraging.” Much of this failure was due to an expedited timeframe that would need to be slowed down for future processes.

Annan and the rest of the Africa Progress Panel believe that the advancement of these two industries is vital for the continent’s progress. While the continent’s economies are growing rapidly, too many citizens are left behind, hungry and impoverished. Advancing environmentally friendly techniques for fishing and lumber management will reduce environmental degradation and have positive effects on agricultural productivity. Sustainable techniques and regulation will also ensure that the flow of revenue is unending and illegal fishing and deforestation can be stemmed.

“The time has come to unleash Africa’s green and blue revolutions,” Annan said.

Andrew Friedman is a human rights attorney and consultant who works and writes on legal reform and constitutional law with an emphasis on Africa. He can be reached via email at afriedm2@gmail.com or via twitter @AndrewBFriedman.