More equitable distribution of Africa’s wealth will promote harmonious coexistence among people, while polarized benefit sharing brings with it deprivation, insecurity and unrest. Peace and cooperation are crucial for any kind of economic activity leading to economic growth to prevail, and for equitable benefit sharing. Addressing these issues requires multidimensional responses.

Even with good knowledge and understanding of the environmental processes, there can be unsustainable use of the natural resource and a high rate of degradation of the natural environment. Deficiencies in governance are key contributory factors. Corruption, which is a growing scourge in Africa, undermines people’s rights and fair distribution and access to resources and national wealth.

In countries with weak governance systems, the values and aspirations of important but not powerful sections of society may be under-represented. In such instances, a small group of interests become dominant, resulting in benefits accruing to a few. In “effective” democratic processes, the participation of communities in decisions which affect their well-being and livelihoods creates an opportunity for multiple interests, views and knowledge (including indigenous knowledge) to be incorporated in planning and in the decision-making processes. This ensures ownership of the processes, costs and benefit sharing, and inculcates a sense of responsibility in all involved and is thus preferable to a top-down process.

Furthermore, in order to facilitate changing the current situation, environmental management, and legal and institutional reforms should take on board new initiatives, including market economic instruments for allocation and demand management of environmental resources. The operationalization of the polluter pays principle and precautionary approach requires the backing of enforceable legal provisions, which are still largely non-existent. In Africa, these processes are beginning to take root in many countries and therefore there is an opportunity to strengthen these efforts. It should, however, be noted that change dynamics are not linear or evolutionary. This means they differ from area to area and therefore require specific policies and solutions (Scoones and Wolmer 2003) which take account of sub-regional, national and local specificities.

Weak and inappropriate institutions and practices undermine sustainable development. This is the case particularly when institutions lack capacity or are highly bureaucratic. In Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda, public sector institutions are often seen to be constraining rather than enabling people to construct their own livelihood paths out of poverty. In Tanzania, it was found that a combination of poorly functioning markets and disabling institutional set-up procedures, including high taxation and rent-seeking behaviour, made it difficult for people to sustain their livelihoods. In Malawi, access to natural resources was difficult for most due to non- supportive property rights regimes for land, forest and aquatic resources. Local government decentralization was found to create new business opportunities, although licences and imposition of taxes act as barriers to trade and enterprise development. In Uganda, as in Tanzania and Malawi, rural taxation was found to be a barrier to poverty reduction goals (Ellis and Bahiigwa 2003, Ellis and Mdoe 2003, Ellis and others 2003).