Much like in Frank Herbert’s "Dune", a science-fiction epic about characters attempting to rule a planet torn apart by conflict, the issue of balancing desires for resources, and their impact on people, faces much of Africa today. The planet that serves as the stage for that story, a barren desert where control over said resources dictates human events, in many ways mimics the present situation on the African continent. Addressing environmentalism and conservationism in Africa poses a multifaceted challenge as the continent faces a myriad competing priorities and obstacles. 

According to Tracy Bach, professor at the Vermont Law School specializing in Environmental Health Law who has taught at the Université Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar, Senegal, “desertification, biodiversity loss, and rising sea levels” are just a few among the many issues with which Africa must contend. The responses to these issues have varied across the continent. Take Senegal as an example, where the government has done significant work to address climate change through inter-departmental committees dedicated to achieving solutions. Combining the resources of different parts of government has proven key since, as Bach put it, “climate change is so pervasive you need people from ministries such as agriculture, urban planning, and sanitation” working together in order to address it. An effort to save the coastal homes of N’Gor in Dakar, that lie just a half meter above sea level, poses a problem not just for urban planners or construction workers, since it impacts multiple industries affected by this phenomenon, from fishing to tourism.

  Dire as it may seem, the present situation pales in comparison to the importance of the future of Africa’s environmental impact. From the high fertility rates across the continent contributing to rapid population growth to weak enforcement of regulations, obstacles abound. As it stands now, “Africa's fossil-fuel CO2 emissions are low in both absolute and per capita terms” as measured by the U.S. Department of Energy, yet dramatic change in future numbers remains a near certainty. Historians look back today and see the pitfalls of industrialization experienced in the United States and Europe, yet Africa seems doomed to repeat that trend. “Not reliving the same mistakes of industrialization elsewhere,” as Bach put it, is the main concern.

Today, various ways of addressing environmentalism in Africa exist. One prominently argued approach centers around Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and how, as long as environmentalism appeals only to the higher levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy that most citizens in developed countries can concern themselves with, whilst ignoring the base needs that many in Africa have yet to meet, it will appear as nothing more than Western ideology. This, however, focuses only on the tip of the iceberg.

Though it remains important to tackle this problem at the level of local individuals, believing that this stands as the most important way to do so represents an erroneous approach. In order to effectively address Africa’s environmental impact, this challenge requires attention at the uppermost echelons, through the legislative branches of governments. Granted, legal systems in Africa vary in efficacy along a broad spectrum, with the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index rating Sub-Saharan African nations anywhere from the top third to the very bottom of the list of indexed nations. Regardless, the enforcement of laws, particularly those relating to environmental impact and restrictions, remains weak.

African impact on the environment, a complex issue, requires attention at various levels of society. First, not only must every nation’s book of law address more specific ways of controlling and moderating Africa’s growing impact on the planet’s environment, but enforcement of these laws must drastically improve. That, in and of itself, presents a mammoth task, as it will require addressing structural problems in many other aspects of government. Most Sub-Saharan African countries come in on the lower half of the most recent Corruption Perceptions Index, according to Transparency International; a sad fact and a depressing reality. Corrupt governments do not fix the very systems that could prosecute them; therefore, improving the leadership of governments remains paramount. Many African states elect governments via a direct democracy, meaning that, in theory, people vote to select their leaders, though this often falls short in practice. 

The key to addressing Africa’s lack of a legal framework therefore lies in the people electing better governments. This requires improved education. For any feasible solution to Africa’s future environmental impact on this planet to exist, education of the population presents a vital first step, which can help lead to better governments being elected, which can in turn foster stronger judicial systems and better enforcement of laws in all sectors. One cannot approach Africa’s environmental effects on the Earth in the future as an isolated problem. For any feasible long-term solution, entire systems of government must improve, and ameliorated environmental laws will result.

 Frank Herbert’s "Dune", which ultimately centers around the uneasy balance between the environment, its resources, and the people on a small planet far, far away, mirrors the uncertain future of African environmentalism. It will take a sacrifice of short term goals for long term ones, a willingness to compromise, and motivation to work past the mind-numbingly tedious African bureaucracies that have retarded development for so long. One other thing about "Dune": It has a happy ending. Only time will tell if this can one day be accomplished on this continent.

Works Cited

Bach, Tracy. Personal interview. 26 Apr. 2013.

Boden, T.A., G. Marland, and R.J. Andres. 2011. Global, Regional, and National Fossil-Fuel CO2 Emissions. Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy, Oak Ridge, Tenn., U.S.A. doi 10.3334/CDIAC/00001_V2011

Herbert, Frank. Dune. Philadelphia: Chilton, 1965. Print.

"Rule of Law Index Scores and Rankings." The World Justice Project, n.d. Web. 05 May 2013. <>.

Uwimana, Chantal. "Corruption Perceptions Index 2011: A Call to Action." Transparency International, 30 Nov. 2011. Web. 05 May 2013. <>.