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African ministers of environment need to implement policies to stop plastic pollution

Plastic pollution: Plastic toys, plastic plates, plastic mats, plastic brooms and so on should be discouraged or discontinued gradually. 

Some policies need small or no financial resources at all to be implemented.  A typical and conspicuous example that comes to mind is the minimisation or even elimination of littering and plastic pollution in the environment, in communities and in cities. 

Brands like bottle skips are always on top in awareness initiatives.

It takes only a pronouncement from a responsible authority to stop plastics or litter being thrown all over places, on streets and bushes.   An awareness of environmental pollution was long realised by our African governments as evidenced by the establishment of the first African Ministerial Conference of Environment {AMCE} in December, 1985, following a conference held by the same organisation in Cairo, Egypt. 

However, awareness of a problem without crafting a solution for it is meaningless.  The latest African Ministerial Conference on the Environment was last year, on September 16, 2022.  The latter conference was the 18th session of the AMCE. 

That being as it may have been, there is no evidence. whatsoever, on the ground to show that our ministers or ministries have been attending these conferences.   Plastic pollution is on the increase in virtually all our cities and communities. 

The maladies that befall communities along with the proliferation of the environment with plastic and defacing of the landscape by sporadic mining dumps and trenches are countless.  These hazards do not affect only humans directly but also indirectly.  Livestock consume plastic and get sick and die because plastic, when consumed by animals does not digest.   Game and other animals fall into the trenches dug by illegal miners.  

The effects of pollution on society in general are dire.  Overall, it lowers the standards of living of citizens and even shortens their lifespan.

The mandate of the African Ministerial Conference of Environment is to provide advocacy for environmental protection in Africa; to ensure that basic human needs are met adequately and in a sustainable manner; to ensure that social and economic development are realised at all levels; and to ensure that agricultural activities and practices meet the food security needs of the region. 

Protection of the environment through having it free of pollution could be one of the easiest to implement. It is a stressful experience to walk through an environment — a community that is polluted with plastic or litter. 

Surely, attending of conferences by ministers for 18 times is many times costlier than issuing a pronouncement to stop pollution of the environment.  One wonders whether, this is a result of a lack of understanding of priorities by African ministers. 

Do our African ministers of environment put first priority on accomplishing the mandate for AMCE or they put first priority on the attendance of conferences per se?   It takes an Act of Parliament that can be crafted and passed within a year to stop plastic pollution and littering.  Ministers of the environment ought to take responsibility and implement their mandate.  It can be done. 

If Rwanda as a country with a newer administration than most of our African States, can do it and do it well such that it is now regarded as the Switzerland of Africa because of the cleanliness of its cities and communities, why can’t other African countries do the same?

It is high time that ministers of government be evaluated and made accountable in their ministries.  Any visible discrepancies that we see in environmental pollution in our cities and in our communities, should result in the appropriate sanctioning of government ministers in charge of the portfolio.  In our situation, if there is a minister who should be shown the door, it is the Minister of Environment. 

Gauging from the situation on the ground in the whole nation, it appears that the minister does not have his priorities right.  Pollution is rampant in the country.   This could be stopped through appropriate statutory enactments.  Cities should also follow suit.  By-laws in cities ought to be put in place by city councils to stop pollution.  Plastics should be banned.  Industries making plastic bags ought to be replaced by indigenous industries that make indigenous baskets made of reeds. 

There is need for African cultures and industries to be revived, those that use for the manufacture of products, materials that are environmentally friendly.  Reed is natural; it is from a plant.  Natural products do not pollute even if they are left lying on the ground.  They decompose and become part of the soil.  Anything that is natural does not pollute or harm the environment.  

For example, peels of a banana or orange or any fruit for that matter even if dropped on the ground is never hazardous; it decomposes. It is human-made products that are a threat to the environment.  Our societies ought to slow down on embracing industrial products that emphasise the use of man-made inputs. 

Plastic toys, plastic plates, plastic mats, plastic brooms and so on should be discouraged or discontinued gradually.  We have had our culture of making use of wood, grass and clay to make toys, mats, brooms, pots, plates and even chairs.  A whole viable indigenous industry is neglected.  We have tended to overlook our traditional environmentally friendly means of making a living.   There is a need for the revival of such indigenous industries.

Pollution has adverse economic consequences.  Investors shun places that are polluted.  Employees get stressed in polluted areas and their absenteeism from work skyrockets as a result.   Ambiance is what all people are looking for.  Industries tend to move to areas that are clean and are free of pollution.  Residential properties lose value in areas that are polluted.  There is indeed a lot at stake. 

In conclusion, all ministers of government and city councillors ought to take responsibility in managing their portfolios.  Pollution, particularly plastic pollution is the last thing citizens want to experience.  It ought to be nipped in the bud. If it gets noticeable by the public in general, it will have already reached disaster stage.  

Nevertheless, it is never too late to address and deal with these problems of pollution.  We need to relook at indigenous industries and do away with plastic bags and paperbags.  Reed, and wood, for example, are in plentiful supply.  Such resources can even be grown. They are not pollutants.

  • Reinford Khumalo is a Professor of Business Leadership and Organisational Behaviour.  He writes in his personal capacity.  He can be contacted through e-mail: reinford.khumalo@gmail.com


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