The concept of Sustainable Development is relatively new in West Africa. However, considering the context and the constraints of development in W.A., we can certainly affirm that Sustainable Development is a priority in the West Africa Region. The Landmark definition of Sustainable Development, first appeared in 1987: “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. – From the world commission in Environment and Development’s (the Brundtland  Commission) report – our common future.The question then arises, “what are the needs of the present? “  Clean air to breathe,a car for transportation, etc.

The two needs above might conflict in essence as to which would one choose in preference to the other? And how would one make their decision? This scenario no doubt presents a conflicting situation. If the present need of one individual presents this much conflicting situation, how much more complex do we expect when we look at a community, city, country and a region such as West Africa. In the light of the above, how do we conceptualize sustainability in the context of a West African Region with multi variables to deal with?

How do we decide whose needs are met? People in community A or B?  The poor or the rich? The manufacturing company or the environment? The present or future generation? – To this end, people concerned about sustainable development suggest that meeting the needs of the future depends on how well we balance the interactive relationships of Social, Economic and Environmental needs for the present, the impact and significance of their outcome for the present and the future generations.  Some of these needs are listed below:

Economic:  Services, Household needs, Industrial Growth, Agricultural Growth, Efficient use of labour.

Social:  Equity, Empowerment, Participation, Social Mobility, Culture/Preservation.

Environmental:  Biodiversity, Natural Resources, Ecosystem Integrity, Clean Air, Clean Water.

The above needs may seem to conflict with each other in the short term; for example, industrial growth might conflict with preserving national resources. Yet in the long term, responsible use of natural resources will help ensure that there are resources available for sustained industrial growth for the future.


From the foregoing, Sustainable Development is generally based on three components identified above: Economic, Social and Environmental Sustainability. While there is general conclusion on them, in the international community the importance of Governance and Institutions as fundamental dimension of Sustainable Development has been identified. The component of the Pillars have therefore been expanded to include Governance and Institutions; Economic Sustainability; Social Sustainability; and Environmental Sustainability. Also of importance are interlinkages among the pillars and the means of implementation of their commitments.


 By 2002, more than 95% of African countries had ratified the Rio Convention. The International Environmental treaties had also been signed by most African countries at the National level. To this end most African countries had made some progress in developing National policies and laws that addressed issues related to sustainable development.

-The AU (African Union) 2001, represents the strongest expression of the continents aspirations and commitment to enhancing Economic, Political, and Social Integration in the development of the Regions in order to reduce poverty, and improve quality of life; to promote Democracy and good Governance; as well as to resolve and mange conflicts on the Continent.

-Progress at the Regional level in the implementation of sustainable development strategies was also reflected in the establishment of the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD), NEPAD an AU (African Union) programme is a pledge by African leaders to address the continent’s multi-faceted development challenges for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and sustainable development. It recognizes that poverty eradication and improved living conditions for the majority of the population are essential for sustainable development. NEPAD outlines the responsibility of African leaders to articulate national and regional priorities and to manage development by engaging Africans in leading and owning and taking control of their development challenges.


The challenge of sustainable development in West Africa has had to do with harmonizing economic, social and environmental objectives. It is aimed to address the aspirations of today while passing on robust and resilient environmental and social economic systems. Generally, challenges to sustainable development for West Africa states would involve the following:

  • Strengthening Institutional Frameworks for coordination among ministries and across sectors.
  • Improve coordination among Governments, NGOs, and the private sector.
  • Development of appropriate legal frameworks.
  • Develop appropriate Human and Institutional Capacity to translate agreement into actionable programmes.
  • Addressing poverty, illiteracy and lack of awareness in the development and implementation of sustainable development programmes.
  • Managing the increasing gap between population growth and National output.
  • Encouraging youth and women’s empowerment in sustainable development.
  • Improve leadership’s vision and commitment to implementing sustainable development strategies, policies and programmes.
  • Too many Regional Formations; various Regional formations exist in West Africa Region: UEMOA – created in 1994 from UMOA/Union Monetaire Ouest African) and EEAO (Communaute Economique des Etats del’Afriqal d’ouest), uniting the countries of the CFA Franc Monetary Zone – Francophone.

However, under the umbrella of ECOWAS, (Economic Community of West African States) the divergent Economies of the Anglophone and Francophone countries have so far be more visible on regional issues; in the Health sector for instance, the Francophone OCCGE and Anglophone WAHC – West Health Community operated separately.  It is however, obvious to note that optimal approach to sustainable development in West Africa will depend on Regional Cooperation with a view to eventual integration. This is considered as the optimal approach to sustainable development in West Africa. Conceptualising development within the context of a region-wide challenge reveals enormous potential and synergy for market expansion, infrastructure integration and resource exploitation to the benefit of West Africa.

  • West Africa is also characterized by heavy migration from rural areas to the cities. From countries of the Sahel in the north to the Coastal countries of the south. For instance in Ivory Coast, more than one third of the current population is of foreign origin. The Sociological, Ethnic, Linguistic, Religious and Cultural situation is extremely varied. These differences give rise to problems of integration which most times degenerate into conflicts and violence: In Nigeria – Boko Haram Insurgency in the Northern East of the country which has Religious undertones is raging. Same is true in terms of tribal conflict for Northern Ghana, Senegal, and Mauritania. The effect of migration is also aggravate by conflicts between communities (The Touaregs in Niger and Mali) – Civil wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone.
  • The West Africa Region is sub-divided into two very different climatic and ecological zones: The Savannah – characterized by dry climate of the Sahel and insufficient rain. The consequences are; Soil Erosion, Deforestation, Desertification, Food shortages and sometimes local famines. To these end, the Demographic pressure on available lands become very grave in these countries of the North. A major challenge therefore is to control the strong population growth. To meet this challenge will require a radical change in social values, Birth control policies and serious efforts to restoring the environment.


Governance and Institutions

Good governance and the building of sustainable institution is key. Central to this are the process of decision making and implementation. The freedom and awareness required to participate in political process. Institutionalizing effective and efficient electoral systems which guarantees free and fair election processes. Guarantee for peace and security – within politics. Some key elements still missing, but urgently needed are: Effectiveness and Efficiency in Public Sector Management; Accountability and Responsiveness of public officials to the citizenry – The people’s well-being should be paramount in Governance. Zero tolerance for corruption in public service; institution of the Rule of Law; Public access to information; Transparency; Equity; and Inclusiveness.

African leaders must be able distinguish between politics and Governance. They must understand that political power is a challenge to govern. Governing is all about providing security and welfare to the people, providing job in particular to the teeming West African youths who are generally jobless to a large extent. There is the urgent need to provide education curricular that is unique for impacting skills specifically required for Economic Development within the nation countries in West Africa.

  • Latest developments in some West Africa nations show there is evidence of sustained progress in the pursuit of good governance and the emergence of strong, functional and effective institutions which are vital to sustainable development.
  • Elections have become the means for political change in the region: The Ghana Election 2014, Nigerian 2015 Election etc. There is still room no doubt for improvement of the quality of Election process, Governance and Democracy.
  • Youth participation in Electoral processes needs to improve. Traditionally youths have been employed more as political thugs than participating in the process. The large youth population should have the opportunity of active participation in deciding their Future.
  • Corruption still exists and is a reflection of weakness of public accountability mechanisms and Suppressed Transparency Systems. There is need to continue demand for strengthening of public accountability. A strong and well informed civil-society must be encouraged as this is central to good governance and is an effective partner in the development process.
  • Constitutions in West Africa remain a veritable social contract – They will continue to be upheld.
  • Sustainable Economic Development

Economic Growth is a pre-requisite to sustainable development as it creates the wealth from which sustainable development commitments and targets can be met. Poverty levels and inequalities in incomes must fall progressively. Socio-Economic Infrastructure, which encourages and supports investment as well as efficient social services, must be available to create the conditions for sustainable development. These fundamentals are essentials which will enable countries in the West African Region to make the transition from conventional to sustainable development.

In the decade of the 80s – Referred to by some Economist as the “Lost Decade” African Economic crisis was characterized by weak Agricultural growth, decline in industrial production, poor Export performance, debt accumulation, deterioration of social services, institution and the Environment. In Sub-Saharan Africa the average Economic growth was 3.4%, barely above the rate of population growth.

The most dramatic consequence of this Economic Crisis was the growth of poverty. In the light of severity of these problems, indeed Africa risked a tragic future if new strategies and concrete sustainable development actions were not immediately put in place.

Many thanks to African UNION-NEPAD- Africa’s Sustainable Development Framework which came in handy to address various aspects of advancing Africa’s Economic developments with specific goals and Time frames:

  • The comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP)
  • Africa’s Service and Technology Consolidated Plan of Action (CPA)
  • Environmental Action Plan (EAP)
  • Sub-Regional Environmental Action Plans (SREAPs)
  • NEPAD Infrastructure Short – Term Action Plan (STAP)
  • NEPAD Spatial Development Programmes (SDP)
  • NEPAD Programme for Infrastructural Development in Africa (PIDA)
  • AU-NEPAD Capacity Development Strategic Framework (CDSF)
  • AU-NEPAD Health Strategy etc.
  • Source: NPCA, NEPAD: A continental Thrust – Advancing Africa’s Development, 2011.

Presently statistics place no fewer than six African countries among the World’s ten fastest growing economies over the decade 2001 – 2011 (Angola 11.1%, Nigeria 8.9%, Ethiopia 8.4%, Chad 7.9%, Mozambique 7.9%, Rwanda 7.6%) forecast by the IMF indicate that seven African countries are likely to be among the top ten over the next half decade, 2011 – 2015 (Ethiopia 8.1%, Mozambique 7.7%, Tanzania 7.2%, Rep. of Congo 7.0%, Ghana 7.0%, Zambia 6.9%, Nigeria 6.8%).

Present statistics also demonstrate that the Region’s Economies in general have recovered from the slump indicated earlier and the growth prospects are very promising. The recovery of African Economies has been driven largely by sustained development assistance, debt relief and financial resources advanced by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the AFDB. Other measures include incorporation of the MDGs and performance indicators into African Countries Development Strategies – Thanks to NEPAD’s Sustainable Development framework.

  • Nigeria, one of the West African Regional Countries, recently overtook South Africa to become the continents biggest economy. Nigeria hosted the world economic forum in May 2014 to show case the potential of the country. The need to sustain the new status will include: Ensuring that the basics, such as Education, Health and Infrastructure are in good shape. Awareness creation and instituting a sustainable multi-disciplinary nature of public – Health, the need for collaboration and the role that a diverse range of professionals can play in developing a 21st century Public Health System in Nigeria and West Africa Region in general.

The real sector which has remained the lowest contributor to the Region’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) needs to be repositioned. There is need for commitments to revolutionize the Regions Real Sector by revitalizing the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise (MSMEs). The need therefore for a sustained Energy Sector in Nigeria and the entire region is paramount.

Energy infrastructure is entirely undeveloped in West Africa. The renewable energy model such as solar energy is highly recommended since West Africa lies solely within the topics. Development in the energy infrastructure will go a long way to boosting economic recovery for all sectors of the economy. It will facilitate job creation particularly for the medium and small scale industries. Industrial production will be revived and the cost of production for manufacturing will definitely be stabilized for the benefit of all.

In Nigeria, there is the bold ambition to revamp local production of the Auto industry. Cement production and Export is estimated to hit 39 Million Metric Tonnes attracting about USD 88 Billion with about 1.6 Million jobs created at various levels of the value Chain.

  • In most of the West Africa Countries Agricultural Products are the most important Exports: Cotton – in Benin and Burkina Faso and Mali, Cocoa – Ivory Coast, Ghana, Senegal – Fish and Groundnuts, in Niger and Togo – Uranium and Phosphates. The regions Rich Mineral endowment remains only minimally exploited.
  • A more complete picture of the Economic situation in the regional must include the heavy debt burden carried by the countries.

Environmental Action

Desertification is a major Environmental Issue in West Africa and in particular the UEMOA Countries; four of which are Sahelian. Measures taken to combat it will alter agricultural Land-use and Energy-use Systems of the area which will in turn affect the systems of Food production and Wealth distribution.

Another major regional concern for West Africa is global climate change. The green house gas emissions of countries of the Region are insignificant in global terms; the major sources of emissions that do exist are from Land-use changes and deforestation. However, West Africa, and particularly the Sahel, is one of the area’s most vulnerable to climate change due to its propensity for drought and desertification and its dependence in subsistence Agriculture. The region is likely to experience increase in extreme events such as droughts and desertification, along with increasing average rainfall in the humid regions. The region stands to gain from Global Environmental Funds (GEF) and Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) to mitigate climate change.


The key to a sustainability transition in the West Africa Region is to transcend the limits of the Nation-State to consider opportunities for the Region as a whole. A regional approach is important to achieving sustainable development in West Africa. This is because Environmental, Economic and Social conditions are shared without reference to the geopolitical boundaries. The challenges may be enormous but so are the opportunities for fashioning out a form of development that is unique and true to the West African heritage in line with the principles of sustainability.

The Nation States need one another. The boarders need to open up to free movement of goods, people and capital, ensuring free access to viable markets. This can be achieved on the basis of free trade areas across West Africa. This is achievable through a sustainable development charter within the ECOWAS framework.

Components of Sustainable Economic Development.

  • Some of the key components of economic sustainability in which progress has been made are – Sustainable Agricultural Development, Sustainable Consumption and Production, Sustainable Tourism Development, Sustainable Industrial Development, Sustainable Energy Development, Sustainable Land Management, Sustainable Mineral Resources Development.
  • Agriculture: The Development of Sustainable Agriculture has been driven by a number of initiations, including the comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP) endorsed by all. This will go a long way to addressing a situation where African countries import USD 25 Billion worth of food yearly in order to meet their food and nutrition requirements. Mr. Donald Kaberuka, former President of African Development Bank (AFDB) Group, disclosed that African countries import about USD 25 Billion worth of food each year with only USD 1 Billion of such imports coming from intra – African trade. He attributed this to the underdevelopment of Africa’s Trade in Agriculture, especially intra – regional trade despite the vast potential for its economy. This calls for the implementation of innovative solutions that can bolster Agricultural performance and also promote Agri-food trade and food security.

In conclusion, Sustainable Development is not simply one option among many for the transformation of national economies and societies. It is a challenge that has to be addressed in order to ensure the long-term well-being of the West Africa Region. In doing so, the main objectivities still remain to eradicate poverty, create wealth and the provision of socio-economic infrastructure and services inclusive of food security. The main challenge is that, while a large number of African Economies depend largely on natural resources. The majority of the rural poor rely on subsistence Agriculture. The vulnerability of the environment to Economic and social development and cultural practices remain very high.

Chris Apugo
Social Marketing Consultant,
Lagos, Nigeria.


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