Stakeholder Engagement in the Implementation of NEPAD’s Environment Initiative:

Identifying Opportunities for Research and Capacity Development

A UNITAR/UNEP side event at the AMCEN-12
Johannesburg, 11 June 2008
The side event was organized in the margins of the 12th session of the African Ministerial Conference for the Environment (AMCEN-12) to discuss experiences gained by governments, civil society and business in exploring new ways of collaboration in achieving the environmental goals pursued by AMCEN. Attended by over 50 delegates from governmental delegations and non governmental groups, the side event featured statements of 7 speakers, originating from different countries, backgrounds and stakeholder groups with the goal of sharing experiences gained in engaging stakeholders in environmental governance.
Speakers identified opportunities for knowledge sharing and capacity development. There was a common recognition of the benefits brought by participatory processes. However, these processes  do not come without cost. Sometimes they can be demanding in terms of both resources and time. Key suggestions arising from the side event were the need to provide capacity building to strengthen capacities of government officials and stakeholders (i.e. NGOs, local communities, etc) prior to the design and engagement in public participation processes. Another suggestion was the benefits that assessing lessons learned from past participatory processes would bring to countries to strengthen the design of future engagement. At the side event UNITAR announced support to three African countries for National Profile and Action Plan Pilot Projects on Principle 10 Implementation.
Panel presentations were followed by an interactive discussion. A summary of panelists’ remarks and subsequent discussion is provided below.
L-R: Gustavo Mañez i Gomis, UNITAR; Merle Sowman, University of Cape Town; Zaheer Fakir (South Africa); Berhanu Solomon Genet (Ethiopia); Mohamed Hamouda (Libya); Mary Fosi Mbantenkhu (Cameroon); and Hany Shalaby, African Development Bank
  • David Ombisi, Project Manager, UNEP Regional Office for Africa
Mr. Ombisi opened the side event by stating the relevance stakeholder engagement has in the implementation of the NEPAD Environmental Initiative. He pointed at the recently completed National Action Plans Action Pilot Projects and noted that three out of the five countries that developed Action Plans were present in the panel (Ethiopia, Libya and Cameroon).
  • Gustavo Mañez Gomis, Training Associate and Project Manager, UNITAR
Mr. Mañez Gomis expressed that a “one size fits all approach” to stakeholder engagement is not appropriate, given diverse national socio-political and cultural contexts. He suggested that knowledge generation and exchange of experiences, rather than prescriptive approaches may be an appropriate way to enhance capacity development.
Panel Statements and Discussion
  • Zaheer Fakir, Chief Director: International Governance and Relations, Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, South Africa (moderator)
Mr. Fakir stated that environmental management is not only an issue that concerns government. Instead, it is an effort that needs active participation of all relevant stakeholders. He indicated that this side event would provide an opportunity to discuss ways of engagement to realize this collaboration in the African continent.
  • Berhanu Solomon, NEPAD Project Coordinator, Environmental Protection Authority, Ethiopia
In the development of the National Action Plan for the implementation of the Environment Initiative, Ethiopia incorporated wide stakeholder involvement which led to a participatory definition of the country’s priorities. This generated stakeholder ownership over the Environment Initiative. Experiences gained over the last years by Ethiopia’s Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), point at the critical importance of including stakeholder participation in environmental decision-making. However, a challenge when implementing participatory processes is the shortage of technical and financial capacities in government. 
  • Dr. Mohamed Salem Hamouda, Technical Advisor, General Environmental Authority, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
Dr. Hamouda stated that close collaboration of various ministries, governmental bodies, NGOs, business and research institutions was a pre-requisite for the successful development of Libya’s National Action Plan. Good communication channels between government and stakeholders and cooperative planning are key aspects that must be accounted for in order to achieve effective stakeholder engagement. He identified capacity building in the effective design and implementation of these partnerships as an area which needs further strengthening in Libya. 
  • Mary Fosi Mbantenkhu, Technical Advisor, Ministry of Environment and Nature Protection, Cameroon
Ms. Fosi MbantenkhuCameroon’s Environment Initiative National Action Plan, a national multi-stakeholder process was set up to identify priority actions and follow-up. Due to this early involvement stakeholders felt ownership over the process, by assisting to identify other key actors who were forgotten in the process. Drawbacks of the consultative process included its high cost and length. She recognized a participatory process may be time consuming, in addition previous capacity building is needed since some stakeholders are not well informed of all the issues at stake.expressed that in the development of
  • Hany Shalaby, Principal Environmentalist, African Development Bank (ADB)
Mr. Shalaby outlined that in some cases participation or the absence of it, can mark the success or failure of projects. Participatory processes bring new perspectives on board and enrich the final outcome, and if well undertaken, a public participation process can greatly contribute to implementing the final decision-outcome.
  • Augustine B. Njamnshi, Bioresources Development and Conservation Programme, Cameroon
Mr. Njamnshi coordinated the The Access Initiative (TAI) in Cameroon, a project promoted by a global NGO coalition to assess and identify key constraints to implement Principle 10. This experience laid the ground for the subsequent coordination of government with NGOs in the development of the Environmental Initiative National Action Plan. He indicated it is necessary to build capacities in the public, NGOs and in local communities in order to better participate in decision-processes. The public needs to be trained “to ask the right issues” in order to have more impact.
  • Prof. Merle Sowman, Director, Environmental Evaluation Unit, University of Cape Town (UCT)
UCT in collaboration with UNITAR developed and tested a methodology to elicit lessons learned from stakeholder involvement in environmental decision-making through a participatory research process. The research revealed that public participation is firmly rooted in South Africa’s environmental agenda. Key findings were that the public wanted to be involved earlier, and in a meaningful way, that decision outcomes are more likely to be acceptable by all if a robust public involvement process has taken place, and that greater efforts are required to ensure meaningful involvement of historically disadvantaged and marginalized groups. Lastly, the research identified opportunities for strengthening skills of government officials showed with regard to public participation processes and methods. This research methodology developed through the project is now being used in other countries. 
After the panelist’s presentations the public raised a number of questions and issues for debate. Below is a summary of key aspects raised:
  • How can public participation of local communities take place effectively in the context of strong development needs and poverty existing in the African continent?
  • How can public participation be effective when local communities and groups lack technical knowledge about the issues at stake?
  • Experience in the field of conservation shows that when participatory processes are undertaken with local communities, conservation and poverty reduction is a topic identified by local communities. This suggests that useful approaches and solutions originate come from local communities when they are allowed to participate.
  • Need of undertaking capacity building activities with communities and local groups before a participatory process takes place to allow them to participate more effectively.
  • In some occasions local communities invited to take part in decision processes may not add much value. Some participants would only attend to meetings and workshops to eat and drink. Whereas participation should be broad and encompassing, it is also important to target well the right participants to obtain benefits from the process.
  • Importance of adjusting documents and information provided in a participatory process to the capacities of local groups and communities (e.g. translation into local languages, developing summaries of documents understandable to local communities, using plain language, etc).