Conflicts, Climate Change Threaten Sprouting of Africa’s Great Green Wall

Conflicts and drought in the Sahel are impacting the development of Africa's ambitious Great Green Wall. Credit: UN Chad

Conflicts and drought in the Sahel are impacting the development of Africa’s ambitious Great Green Wall. Credit: UN Chad

By Busani Bafana
BULAWAYO, Jan 6 2023 – Escalating conflict and climate change threaten the implementation of the Great Green Wall Initiative (GGWI), an ambitious land restoration project across Africa.

Promoters of the Great Green Wall have called for strong political will in engendering peace and increasing investment in environmental preservation, which the project launched 16 years ago seeks to enhance.

Competition over natural resources that are affected by climate change is fueling interstate conflicts, especially in West Africa, a region in the path of the Great Green Wall. The Wall is an Africa-led project to stop the march of desertification across Africa through the restoration of more than 100 million hectares of degraded land.

These trees will grow money

The project was initially aimed at planting trees in the Sahel region from Senegal in the west to Djibouti in the east, but its scope has been expanded to cover the restoration of degraded land in more than 20 countries with a view to sequestering 250 million tonnes of carbon and creating 10 million green jobs by 2030, the promoters of the project say.

To date, the project has covered more than 4 percent of the target 100 million hectares, but it is making good progress to make the deadline, says Paul Elvis Tangem, coordinator for the Great Green Wall Initiative at the African Union Commission.

According to a United Nations status report, the Great Green Wall needs to cover 8 million hectares of land a year at a cost of up to $4.3 billion if it is to meet the implementation deadline.

Tangem says the project, which has received multiple funding from governments, donors, and multilateral development banks, would need more than 50 billion US Dollars to be realized by 2030. Currently, about 27 billion US dollars has been pledged, a seemingly huge amount which Tangem says is not much if the return on investment at 1:7 US dollars in nature-based solutions is considered.

Tangem notes that the escalating impacts of climate change across Africa justify the speedy implementation of the project, which is now more than just planting millions of trees across Africa but a holistic approach to unlocking economic and ecological benefits for many countries.

Launched in 2007, the Great Green Wall is envisaged that the land restoration initiative will boost economic prosperity in the participating countries, create employment, reduce hunger and reduce conflict, which has been linked to a fight over access to and use of natural resources across the width of Africa.

“The various COPs from UNFCCC COP 15, the UNFCCC-COP27, and the CBDCOP15 have recognized the Great Green wall as an important project giving more impetus to mainstream it in all development plans and giving more visibility to it,” Tangem said, noting that the current climate change impacts and conflicts arising from natural resource use were challenges that the project was seeking to solve.

Restoring land, restoring peace

Conflicts and climate are the greatest threats to the full realization of the Great Green Wall currently, Tangem explained, adding that the impact of drought across Africa has justified the importance of the GGWI, which has garnered global attention as a solution to land degradation, drought, and desertification.

“The main challenges we have now, especially for farmers, is the issue of grazelands which is the biggest push of conflict in the drylands of Africa,” Tangem told IPS in an interview, highlighting that there was high competition for rangelands between countries and within countries, especially in West Africa where part of the Great Green Wall runs. He cited the conflict in the Tigray region as less political and more environmental.

“It is the competition for land, the politics of it is what we see, but the underlying causes are natural resources,” said Tangem. “People do not want to speak the truth, but many conflicts in Africa are basically in the drylands, which are the areas most vulnerable to climate change and where the GGWI is focusing on. So we have a challenge.”

Remarking that it was now impossible to work in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger Republic, Chad, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Eritrea as a result of conflict, Tangem underscored the need to restore peace by restoring the environment.

The biggest challenge we are having today is security,” Tangem observed. “Conflicts are a big, big challenge. Most of the challenges that are happening now are because of competition for natural resources, the use of benefit sharing of the scarce resources from water, fertile land, fishing, and pastoral lands.”

When the Great Green Wall Initiative started, there was skepticism that it was a ‘white elephant’, Tangem said, but now it was the project to support.

Droughts are a growing threat to global food production, particularly in Africa. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Droughts are a growing threat to global food production, particularly in Africa. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

In November 2022, global leaders launched the International Drought Resilience Alliance to give political impetus to making land’s resilience to drought and climate change a reality by 2030. The Alliance is a boost to the Great Green Wall Initiative.

Droughts are hitting more often and harder than before, up nearly by a third since 2000. Climate change is expected to cause more severe droughts in the future. Recent droughts in Australia, Europe, the western United States, Chile, the Horn, and Southern Africa show that no country or region is immune to their impacts, which run into billions of dollars each year, not to mention human suffering, says Ibrahim Thiaw, Executive Secretary, United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

The United Nations has recognized the Great Green Wall Initiative as one of 10 pioneering efforts to revive the natural world, designating it as one of its inaugural World Restoration Flagships.

Tangem said this recognition of the Great Green Wall Initiative as a key programme for land restoration had elevated it beyond being an African project.

“When people were still talking about the reality of climate change, Africa saw the need to respond to this challenge through this programme. The project has taken desertification and drought to the global agenda,” Tangem said.

Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), warns that the world cannot turn a blind eye to the impacts and effects of degraded lands in places like the Sahel, where millions face multiple vulnerabilities, including climate shocks and conflict. Action to tackle the drought is of utmost urgency, Andersen stressed.

Noting that desertification was becoming a massive crisis, Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, which is part of the International Drought Resilience Alliance, said the alliance is focusing on finding nature-based solutions and the right technology and societal approaches to prevent further land degradation.

Presidents Pedro Sánchez Pérez-Castejón of Spain and Macky Sall of Senegal rallied world leaders to create the Alliance as “a specific solution for the United Nations” to the impacts of climate change. In a joint communication, they declared that building resilience to drought disasters was the way to secure the gains made on sustainable development goals, particularly for the most vulnerable people.
IPS UN Bureau Report


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Can the UN do a Better Job with Democracy?

UNDEF was created by UN Secretary-General Kofi A. Annan in 2005 as a United Nations General Trust Fund to support democratization efforts around the world. It was welcomed by the General Assembly in the Outcome Document of the 2005 World Summit (A/RES/60/1, paragraphs 136-137)PDF. UNDEF funds projects that empower civil society, promote human rights, and encourage the participation of all groups in democratic processes.

The large majority of UNDEF funds go to local civil society organizations. In this way, UNDEF plays a novel and unique role in complementing the UN’s other, more traditional work — the work with Governments — to strengthen democratic governance around the world. UNDEF subsists entirely on voluntary contributions from Governments; in 2021, it reached almost 220 million dollars in contributions and counts more than 45 countries as donors, including many middle- and low-income States in Africa, Asia and Latin America. In 15 Rounds of Funding so far, UNDEF has supported over 880 two-year projects in more than 130 countries Credit: United Nations

By Simone Galimberti
KATHMANDU, Nepal, Jan 6 2023 – The UN Democracy Fund, also known as UNDEF, is an interesting tool but it is too small and lacking resources to mark a difference.

How can the UN do a better job at promoting democracy? This is a key question that high-ranking policy makers at the UN should ask themselves.

It is a subject that makes many uncomfortable because democracy still remains a contested topic within the UN due to the resistance by some of its member states which have not adopted standard democratic practices in their way of governing.

Yet, it is worthy for the UN to try to play a bigger role in its promotion as democracy itself is too important an issue to be neglected despite the high sensitiveness around it.

If you think well, it is almost a miracle that the UN is celebrating International Day of Democracy that falls every year on the 15 of September.

It is, without questions, one of the most undeterred and less prominent celebrations endorsed by the UN and the lack of visibility of the day might not be a mere coincidence. Finding ways and tools to elevate democracy at the UN is a conundrum that is hard to untangle.

For example, how can the UN Democracy Fund also known as UNDEF be more effective and more inclusive?

Credit: United Nations

UNDEF is one of the most flexible programs promoted by the UN and probably one of the best, if not the most suitable to reach out members of the civil society that often are working in dire conditions under dire legislative and regulatory environments and, consequentially, are starving for funding.

From gender empowerment in politics to press freedom to dialogues about democracy and fights against corruption, we have a program that could do wonders if expanded and enhanced.

UNDEF recently closed its annual round of applications (its 17th since its foundation) and once again as every year, it gained some spotlights before returning to the shadows of international development.

While its application process is relative straightforward for being a UN program, its review process is overly complicated and based on multiple vetting layers that, at least apparently, seem to be overlapping each other and unnecessary.

Yet, even when a project is selected, the most difficult part comes when, as the web site of UNDAF explains, “shortlisted applicants are now required to complete the final stage of the selection process: negotiating a formal project document with UNDEF. Only upon successful conclusion of this process will the project be approved for funding”.

This last procedure is simply unhelpful and certainly does not make life easier for any organization that gets selected.

Perhaps such a complex governance structure exemplifies the exceptionality of the UNDAF that, it is important to note, is not embedded in any official programs nor is led by any UN agency but it is rather something on its own standing.

It’s autonomy is not itself a negative factor, actually it can even bring more effectiveness by leveraging its nimbleness but only if this approach comes with intention and an overall purpose to allow it to be more agile and independent.

Instead, I am afraid the way UNDAF is run just the result of a difficult environment, a sort of expedient that allows to “manage” something strategically meaningful but that, at the same time, is also something that is seen critically by those members of the UN that have not embraced democracy as their system of government.

The fact that the fund and the money it manages is just a drop in the ocean might confirm the latter option. According to its web site, UNDEF “receives an average of about 2,000-3,000 proposals a year and only some 50 are selected”.

It is not surprising that only 7 full staff are managing the entire fund with the precious support of an equal number of interns.

Moreover, the UN should also not shy away from supporting innovative practices in the field of democracy. For example, it should embrace deliberative democracy or any other forms of bottom- up policing aimed at giving a voice and, importantly, an agency to the citizens.

It is certainly something less controversial than liberal democracy that is put in question by countries like China.

Indeed, even a country like China with its one-party system of governance has in the past (especially in the pre-President Xi’s era) embraced, at least partially, bottom-up participation through deliberation.

One way for the UN to play a bigger role in supporting democratic practices is to champion them from the angle of good governance and deliberative practices can be very useful on this regard. This was the main task assumed in the past by the UNDP.

What is this program, one of the biggest and most resourceful, doing at the moment to advance democracy? What are its plans for the future?

In its attempt to enable transformative changes across all the SDGs, something that as the UNDP also points out, requires structural transformations, there is the risk to lose the focus on good governance, once a strength of the program.

In its new Strategic Plan 2022-2025, governance is one of the six so called “Signature Solutions” and it is at the center of holistic, whole of the government “systems approach” that is supposed to ensure structural changes.

Still. if you read the definition of governance in the plan, you might wonder how important democracy and human rights are.

“Helping countries address emerging complexities by “future-proofing” governance systems through anticipatory approaches and better management of risk”.

This is a definition that might come from the blueprint of a top global consultancies that has to do business with autocratic regimes rather than the “formula” to promote true democratic change.

It is not, therefore surprising that in the entire document, the word “democracy” does not appear even one. Unsurprisingly UNDP almost never runs civil society or democracy enhancing funding directly benefiting local grassroots organizations.

Perhaps only the UNDP Governance Centre in Oslo, currently in search of a new strategic direction, could help its “parent” organization to re-discover an interest on democracy.

Another key agent within the UN system for the promotion of democracy via the strengthening of human rights is, obviously, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights.

The new High Commissioner, Volker Türk, a veteran of the UN and a national of Austria, initially was thought to be the unassuming candidate that would not make much noise in the international community.

Instead from his initial statements, Türk is taking head on some of the most controversial and sensitive and yet very important files.

Perhaps, OHCHR as the organization is known, could take a very important role in working more directly with the civil society to advance human rights and with them, democracy.

UNDAF’s role and mandate could be boosted and supported through a strategic partnership with OHCHR or even through multi-funding arrangements from other agencies and programs within the UN system.

Let’s not forget that it was then UN Secretary-General Kofi A. Annan that back in 2005 came up with the idea of a special thematic fund promoting democracy.

The fund remains within the mandate of the current Secretary General, Antonio Guterres who leads the Advisory Board of the UNDAF.

Guterres should explore all the options to strengthen UNDAF as currently it is structured, a United Nations General Trust Fund but with much broader resources or as a standing alone entity something that hardly can materialize.

Paragraphs 135 and 136 of UNGA Resolution 60/1. 2005 “World Summit Outcome” welcoming the creation of UNDAF, reinforce its rationale:

“Democracy is a universal value based on the freely expressed will of people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems and their full participation in all aspects of their lives”.

Surely, UNDAF should complement and reinforce the work of UNDP and OHCHR as it explained in its TOR.

What at the end can make the difference can be the willpower and commitment of Guterres to include democracy in his ambitious reform agenda of the United Nations.

The writer is the co-Founder of ENGAGE, a not-for-profit NGO in Nepal. He writes on volunteerism, social inclusion, youth development and regional integration as an engine to improve people’s lives.

IPS UN Bureau


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African Parliamentarians Strongly Committed to Population and Development

APDA organizes regular conferences bringing together various parliamentarians from Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Europe to address critical issues on population and development – including youth employment and other issues arising from ICPD25 take center stage. Here Bridget Bedu takes a test in computational electronics as her daughter Giovana plays under the desk at the National Vocational Technical Institute training center. Credit: IMF Photo/Andrew Caballero-Reynolds

APDA organizes regular conferences bringing together various parliamentarians from Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Europe to address critical issues on population and development – including youth employment and other issues arising from ICPD25 take center stage. Here Bridget Bedu takes a test in computational electronics as her daughter Giovana plays under the desk at the National Vocational Technical Institute training center. Credit: IMF Photo/Andrew Caballero-Reynolds

By Cecilia Russell
JOHANNESBURG, Jan 6 2023 – Many Ghanian Members of Parliament (MPs) champion adolescent reproductive health rights to stop the practice of child marriage, which is prevalent in some areas of the country even though the country’s Constitution and Children’s Act outlaw it, Dr Rashid Pelpuo (MP) told IPS in an exclusive interview.

Pelpuo, who is President of the African Parliamentarians Forum on Population and Development, also said it had become “normal practice” for MPs to work to support youth and “lead discussions on issues of family planning and adolescent reproductive health at youth sensitization programmes.”

He told IPS the Presidents of the Pan African Parliament (PAP) and the African Parliamentarians Forum on Population and Development recognize: “Our shared interest in, commitment to, and existing cooperation on population and development issues such as sexual and reproductive health and rights, including family planning and HIV/AIDS…” This commitment is expected to be signed in a memorandum of understanding in 2023.

President of the African Parliamentarians Forum on Population and Development and Member of Parliament Dr Rashid Pelpuo.

President of the African Parliamentarians Forum on Population and Development and Member of Parliament Dr Rashid Pelpuo.

Here are excerpts from the interview:

IPS: While Ghana’s Constitution and its Children’s Act both outlaw child marriage, according to a study, 1 in 5 girls get married before age 18 and 1 in 20 before they are 20. These marriages are more common in the northern regions.

How are parliamentarians dealing with these issues?

RP: The issue of child marriage in Ghana is traceable to an age-old tradition of marrying women early ‘before they are spoiled’ – a woman who has ‘known a man’ before marriage was a disgrace to the family that has brought her up. Though this situation no longer exists, the practice of early marriage of women continues, especially in rural Ghana.

Parliamentarians of the Population and Development Caucus and others are strong advocates against this practice both in and outside Parliament.

According to the Ghanaian 1992 Constitution and the Children’s Act, it is unlawful to marry a girl before she’s 18 years of age. In a few cases when such laws are violated by a man who marries before the minimum age or even before the girl has finished her basic education, MPs will normally work with law enforcers to free the girl and help prosecute the culprit.

A good number of MPs have signed on as champions of adolescent reproductive health and rights and are key supporters of family life education. This year alone, MPs have worked with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in key locations to interact with young people and address their health and education challenges by referrals.

IPS: West Africa’s population accounts for about 30% of Africa’s population. From roughly 367 million people today, it is expected to increase to almost 570 m by 2035. However, the region is yet to benefit from the ‘demographic dividend.’ Many say that a high population of youth is a challenge for the government; there is a high cost of health care, education, and other services and high levels of unemployment. How are parliamentarians working towards policies that may reduce fertility rates, improve education, family planning, etc.?

RP: The fertility rate in Ghana is 3.696 births per woman (Ghana Statistical Service, 2022), as against the fertility rate of Africa at 4.212 births per woman. Ghana’s fertility rate has been consistently declining since 1985 and is expected to be 2.9 births per woman in 2025. As part of efforts to sensitize the public about unplanned birth and avoidance of teenage pregnancy, Parliamentarians often interact with youth leaders along with experts on the issue of reproductive health.

For example, in November last year, MPs interacted with young people about issues with their reproductive health. Also, at the beginning of December 2022, on the occasion of the birth of the world’s 8 billionth child, MPs held a workshop, with the UNFPA sponsorship, to view the implications of having a global population of 8 billion on Ghana.

After that programme, the MPs pledged to revise their annual advocacy on Ghana’s population growth and concerns to quarterly advocacy through statements on the floor of Parliament. The thrust of MPs’ work in supporting the education and awareness of the youth is in policy advocacy and direct interaction with the youth. It has become normal practice for MPs to lead discussions on family planning and adolescent reproductive health issues at youth sensitization programmes.

A chunk of the programme of the African Parliamentarians Forum, often sponsored by the Asian Population and Development Association (APDA) and the UNFPA, centers on issues of family planning, reproductive health, and universal health. This appears to be a direct response to the high fertility rate of sub-Saharan Africa at 4.6 births per woman (World Bank Report, 2021). Knowing the frequent occurrence of teenage pregnancy and unplanned births throughout the continent, it has become a necessary effort to sink home the need for policy advocacy in these areas for all African countries.

In a memorandum, yet to be signed by the Presidents of the Pan African Parliament and the African Parliamentarians Forum on Population and Development, Parliamentarians recognized “our shared interest in, commitment to, and existing cooperation on population and development issues such as sexual and reproductive health and rights including family planning and HIV/AIDS…”

IPS: In Ghana, the maternal mortality rate is shrinking. Figures quoted online are that it is 308 per 100,000. It is much higher in other countries in the region; in Ghana’s neighbor Nigeria, the rate stands at 917/100,000. While both seem to be going down (which is good), they are a long way from the 70/100,000 in the SDG 3 targets. What are parliamentarians working toward to improve this in Ghana? Is there regional cooperation to address this?

RP: Parliamentarians often make policy statements on maternal health directed at the ruling government to address the concern about the unacceptable situation of high maternal deaths in Ghana. Issues on maternal death are paramount in our health policies. Ghana has introduced a Free Maternal Health Care Policy (FMHCP) on which pregnant women register for free health insurance and receive free medical care. Parliamentarians have played an advocacy role in developing this policy and have been reaching out to women who may not be aware of it to help them take advantage of it. The impact has been very positive (and shows) in annual improvements in maternity health.

There has been regional cooperation in discussing and sharing information on Universal Health Care and reproductive health and rights. The African Parliamentarians forum has had a number of meetings and conferences with their counterparts from other regions, especially with the Asian and European Parliamentarians forums that touch on issues on reproductive health and policy sharing. Major cooperation in areas of maternal health is recorded in various international conferences that tackle the problems of high maternal mortality. Such conferences include Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH), New Delhi, India, in December 2018, and Women Deliver (Africa Parliamentarians), Vancouver, Canada, in June 2019. Such arenas of cooperation give a good comparative understanding of how various countries across regions tackle reproductive health challenges.

IPS: Could you elaborate on APDA’s role in facilitating regional cooperation on the ICPD25 programme of action?

The Asian Population and Development Association (APDA) was established in Japan as a Non-Governmental Organization directed at addressing the challenges posed by issues on population and development. It serves as the Secretariat of the Japan Parliamentarians Federation for Population (JPFP) and directs its focus on the role of the Japanese MPs and their counterparts in Asia, Africa, Arab and other regions. APDA’s research focuses on three main areas, which are gender, health, and social policy issues. Since the establishment of the ICPD 25 as a focus area of intervention, APDA has organized various programmes.

APDA often organizes conferences in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East under ICPD 25 thematic areas. These conferences often bring together various parliamentarians from Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Europe to address critical issues on population and development. Issues such as youth unemployment and other goals of ICPD25 are center stage at the conferences.

Indeed each year, APDA, in collaboration with the UNFPA, organizes annual conferences on ICPD25. In recent times APDA has organized webinars and conferences for regional participation both in June, July and September 2022.

In September 2022, the conference with the theme “The Role of Parliamentarians in Realizing the ICPD25 Commitments” was patronized by Asian and African Parliamentarians.

Another follow-up meeting on ICPD25 Commitments was held in June 2022 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It was supported by UNFPA ESARO and Japan Trust Fund (JTF) with cooperation from the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF). More than 100 participants, including parliamentarians, officers of national committees on population and development, and UN experts, attended.

In effect, APDA has always supported the implementation of the ICPD25 in various ways but mostly through international conferences that ensure regional cooperation and participation.

IPS UN Bureau Report


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