Author (Your Name)

Catherine Benson, Colby College

Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis (Open Access)


Colby College. Environmental Studies Program


Thomas H. Tietenberg


The current impoverished, environmentally degraded state of Africa suggests that international aid projects have proven largely unsuccessful in tackling the enormous development and environment challenges faced by Africa. Africa has historically been inundated with groups trying to implement change in the form of political, economic, and environmental agendas, beginning in the colonial period and continuing today. The abundance of advice and financial assistance poured into this region have resulted in a continent lagging behind other developing regions to an even worse extent than prior to aid projects. The environment of development in Africa is complex; nowhere else in the world are development and the environment as closely linked as in sub-Saharan Africa. Unfortunately, the importance of the environment in the development nexus has often been overlooked or downplayed. Development and the environment have historically been portrayed as contrasting objectives which traditionally oppose each other. Recently, however, development thought has evolved to consider the necessity of examining the two as interdependent variables. Although much of Africa's development and environment challenges remain uncertain, an innovative approach to development in Africa which considers previously overlooked variables is essential if the region is to achieve sustainable development in the near future. "Foreign aid in different times and different places has ...been highly effective, totally ineffective, and everything in between" (World Bank.c.2). Aid programs have often failed Africa. Since the 1960s, billions of dollars in aid have been put into African development and yet, in the last half century, African development has taken a step backward and lags behind other regions that have received similar aid (Ayittey 10). Average income, investment. and savings per capita have declined in the region, as has Africa's share in world trade markets (World Bank.h 9). Africa is now considered the poorest region in the world with a gross national product per capita (excluding the richer South Africa and Nigeria) of three hundred and eighteen dollars (World Bank.b 5). A study by the Heritage Foundation found that "apart from a handful of Middle Eastern countries, sub-Saharan Africa was the only region of the world that enjoyed no appreciable improvement in its level of economic freedom between 1975 and 1995" (Ayiney 249). Africa is the second-largest continent after Asia and contains a mosaic of cultures, languages, and peoples (See Appendix A). Sub-Saharan Africa is composed of forty-eight countries (Ayittey 25). Its varied landscape includes vast deserts, savannas, coastal areas, rainforests, and the longest river in the world, the Nile. Forests cover twenty-five percent of Africa while only six percent of Africa is arable ("Africa" 131). Low estimates approximate the number of languages spoken in Africa at eight hundred, while others estimate up to seventeen hundred languages. The major religions are Islam, Christianity, and a variety of indigenous religions.("Africa" 132). The "scramble for Africa" resulted in the division of Africa among European powers (Ayittey 41). Boundaries were arbitrarily created with little regard for the cultural, ethnic, religious, and ethnic homogeneity already in existence (Richmond and Gestin 17). Consequently, today Africa is a region in which country boundaries do not necessarily reflect boundaries observed by ethnic groups. Few of the states are ethnically homogenous and loyalties are to family, community, or tribe rather than to individual countries. Cultures and ethnic groups span the borders, as do many development needs.


Environmental policy -- Developing countries, World Bank -- Developing countries, Economic assistance -- Developing countries