Brad Brown Blogging From Benin Summarizes His Journey!

Addressing Climate Change Issues in Africa: A New Development Paradigm

Brad Brown

I recently attended a workshop on “Decision Making Support for Coastal Zone Management, Water Resources, and Climate Change” in Cotonou, Benin, West Africa.  This workshop was held against the backdrop of the climate change negotiations in Copenhagen with its promises of funds for Africa.

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 the giving of 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 make in the donor country would have enhanced instead of retarding development. 

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. We also discussed the University at Legon in Ghana 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. 

The picture says it all...evidence of the impact of climate change in Benin.

We stressed the need for African leadership and true partnerships with others, not more lip service. The provision of scientific support for addressing the impacts of climate change in the coastal areas is a place to start.

There was a unique closing plenary session, on developing linkages to the African Diaspora.   The workshop’s organizer, United Nations Interagency Oceanic Commission (UN-IOC) scientist Justin Ahahanzo, originally from Benin, but now based at IOC in Paris, had brought Lee Cherry, President of the African Science Institute headquartered in California , 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, difficult to break into for African American scientists.

A monument of the slave trade in Benin is symbolic of the Diasporic connection.

 Scientists raised in Africa scientists working outside are also not well utilized.  All too often Africans studying in United States 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’s 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. We, through organizations like the NAACP with its national advocacy capability, can play a leadership role to see that the United States supports this new paradigm.



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