I recently attended the “Decision Making Support for Coastal Zone Management, Water Resources, and Climate Change in Africa” workshop in Cotonou, Benin.
Aid agencies have been conducting capacity building efforts in Africa for 50 years with little to show for it. An analogy for too much of the past efforts is giving a nice silk shirt to someone in the tropics when cotton is the fabric needed in that environment.
If there had been real interactions with the receiver, the advantages of cotton over silk would have made been clear. Furthermore, using cotton and tailors from the region to make the shirt instead of giving a silk shirt made in the donor country would have enhanced instead of retarded development.
The organizers of this workshop were determined to use it to put forward a new paradigm and focus it on the resources promised to address climate change issues. At the plenary session the tone was set by the address of Professor Chidi Ibe, chancellor of Imo State University in Nigeria entitled “Climate Change and Coastal Zones in Africa: Perspective for African Led Capacity Building.”
During the workshop, we shifted from capacity building to capacity empowerment and sustainability. We highlighted success stories like the Nigerian Space Agency, whose satellite provides free images to regional researchers targeted to regional needs; and the University of Ghana, Legon where the Department of Oceanography and Fisheries is doing state of the art work in biological productivity utilizing satellite imagery combined with observations in the ocean.
There was a unique ending-day plenary session on developing linkages to the African Diaspora. The workshop’s organizer, scientist Justin Ahahanzo, originally from Benin but now based at International Oceanographic Commission in Paris, had brought Lee Cherry, president of the African Science Institute headquartered in California. The organization is designed to link scientists in the Diaspora in the broadest sense.
This is very important as the individuals involved in environmental development projects have tended to be a fairly closed group that is difficult to break into for African-American scientists. Scientists raised in, but working outside of Africa are also not well utilized. All too often Africans studying in the U.S. graduate schools never have contacts with African-American scientists.
Taking a lead role in this workshop was Dr. Jimmy Adegoke originally from Nigeria, and head of the Climate Center at the University of Missouri at Kansas City. I presented on the work of the NAACP with its Climate Change Justice Initiative and International Committee. I have participated in many scientific workshops in Africa and this was the first time I have seen this topic formally highlighted.
I was honored and privileged to be asked to play a leadership role in this effort. The African union is ready for this approach. African scientists are ready, willing and able to lead.
Through organizations such as the NAACP, with its national advocacy capability, we must work to see that the United States supports this new paradigm.
Brad Brown is the first vice president of the Miami-Dade NAACP. He is also a contractor with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where he works on African coastal and marine projects.