A Need for Collaborative Leadership to Address Social and Environmental Issues In Africa

by Ayouba Abdou Sani (ELP 2017) | Co-Founder and Executive Director, Young Volunteer for Environment, Niger

I have spent the last 8 years of my life following and addressing issues related to youth, women and environmental development in Niger and other African countries in the Sahel region. As an activist, I have the opportunity to work closely with community members, government officials, and actors in the private sector, among others. On a daily basis, I work to develop strategies for better project implementation.

I am Sani Ayouba, former Niger scout movement member, Mandela Washington 2014 fellow, the co-founder and executive director of the nonprofit organization Young Volunteer for Environment. We’re an organization that leads the involvement of women and young people in the process of sustainable development in Niger. In our organization, we believe that young people motivated with necessary skills can and must play a key role in the development of the African continent.

Africa, the struggle to address environmental issue

Africa is facing many challenges, especially in terms of environmental and sustainable development. West African countries for example are experiencing the impacts of climate change, desertification and loss of biodiversity. In my country, for example — a typical Sahel country, landlocked and with irregular rainfall — we struggle with drought, flood, diseases and the ability to address food security and a better livelihood.

Since 1992, during the Earth summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, most African countries developed programs and strategies to preserve and protect our environment globally and individually and promote good governance or sustainability in the management of natural resources. In 2012, I was at the UN Rio+20 conference as an African youth delegate to advocate for more stakeholders involvement in “The future we want.” We maintained the same engagement as Africa CSO actors in 2015 during the process and the adoption of the 17 SDGs and the Paris agreement on climate to ensure the effective involvement of stakeholders.

Looking back, we see that Africa has participated in the adoption of all its instruments and developed several development programs. Still, ownership and effective implementation of these commitments are slow to take off. The results and impacts of these policies have not yet benefitted the continent.  I salute the few countries in the Continent who, despite the challenges, are still committed and developing in sustainable ways.

Why is it so difficult to see change? Is it a question of means, resources, skills, mindset, or willpower? According to me, it is a lack of leadership and pan-African patriotism. Africa is resource-rich, and we have a huge population of young people with expertise in several areas. This is an opportunity that our leaders must utilize and advocate for to transform the continent.

More Collaborative leadership in Africa

As a 2017 Beahrs ELP participant, the three-day session on collaborative leadership with Susan Carpenter helped me to understand the challenges and the impact of weak leadership in some important issues. By analyzing all of the above, I am convinced that the development of a servant leadership will help to address the many development challenges we have faced since our independence. The practice and use of collaborative leadership tools will strengthen ownership and will lead to consensus on several challenges. The practicability, the multiplicity and diversity of this leadership approach will be leveraged to boost Africa in the concert of nations. We frequently see our leaders confronted with difficulties on a united African position on global issues. The African leaders tend to pursue their own agenda. Such attitudes are reflected even at the country level, often leading actors to conflicting opinions in the implementation of development programs and projects. I have experienced it at the national and international level — the weakness of the consensus, the difficulty of having united positions haunts our leaders. Regional integration is still an issue in some areas.

I would like to remain Afro-optimistic. That is why I carry on with my commitment to promote change to my scale of influence. Back home, I am an influencer and my participation to the ELP will play a meaningful impact. I’m convinced that the ELP is a transformative program, based on a transformative approach to scale up our leadership on environmental issues.