Environmental law has been strengthened across Africa since UNCED. Environmental rights approaches have been developed in many African countries, including Benin, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique, the Seychelles and Uganda. Such approaches create a sound basis for dealing with the problems posed by chemicals, protecting human health and a safe environment, while promoting sustainable development.

The development of national legal instruments to implement a comprehensive approach to chemicals, however, has lagged behind. This is exacerbated by shortages of resource allocation for enforcement, monitoring, and training. Effective legislation will require the monitoring as well as the establishment of proper management and disposal systems. Establishing such systems and obtaining the requisite equipment is expensive. Opportunities to bring chemical producers in as part of a solution may be difficult. While it is important for legislation to create proper liability and cost-recovery measures, through, for example, the incorporation of the polluter pays principle, it is also important to look at possible incentives. Public knowledge and information about chemicals and their impacts, underlies the choices of consumers and, should be promoted. Consumer and shareholder values, interests and concerns can be an important shaper of corporate policy.

Technology and capacity issues will also need to be addressed in the implementation of legislation. For example, the development of environmentally acceptable disposal facilities requires a delicate balance between technology complexity and applicability. The requirement of the Stockholm Convention, that the parties develop NIPs, provides unique opportunities for countries to reassess their strengths and weakness in the area of chemical management at national level with global support.


Institutional arrangements for the sound management of chemicals in African vary from one country to another. In many countries responsibility lies with several agencies. For example, Zimbabwe has four different ministries that administer chemical-related environmental laws, Botswana also has four ministries, while in South Africa responsibility is shared among departments for environment and tourism, agriculture and the provincial governments.

Box 9: Systematic chemical assessments

Systematic assessments are used for ascertaining the nature and extent of impacts and risk posed by individual chemicals at the local, regional and global levels. The assessment of chemical related risks must be based on a life cycle assessment. This requires considerations of the wide spectrum of activity related releases including:

  • Manufacturing;
  • Processing;
  • Handling;
  • Transportation;
  • End use; and
  • Disposal.

Such assessments are essential for determining release conditions and whether the distribution should be broad, or preferentially concentrated in one medium.

Source: CSE 1999

During the 1990s, most African countries established a wide variety of new institutional arrangements for environmental management, protection and restoration. For example, many countries in Northern and Southern Africa created new environment ministries while most Eastern African countries favoured separate environmental protection agencies, as in Uganda and Kenya. Western and Central Africa have a mixture of both. However, the absence of coordination seriously undermines the formulation of a strategic approach and the translation of treaties related to chemical management into country programmes. When sectoral approaches dominate, the mechanisms for cooperation and coordination among different agencies are often ineffective.

Most countries face problems of access to adequate financial resources. Environmental ministries often have smaller budgets and weaker political voices than, for example, those that directly manage productive natural resources such as agriculture or determine economic policy. The result has been uncertainty and a reduced ability to plan and carry out core activities. Effective budgets for agencies have also shrunk. Competing for scarce funds and political commitment, existing institutions are frequently torn between competing priorities. The provision of budgets that cover the operations of institutions will remove some of the bottlenecks experienced. However, there is a need to identify new and additional sources for financial assistance. New financial resources are needed to undertake the programmes related to:

  • Ensuring the protection of children and other vulnerable populations from the risks posed by chemicals, while increasing chemical safety at all levels.
  • Promoting corporate social responsibility through the development of approaches that reduce human and environmental risks for all and do not simply transfer risks to those least able to address them.
  • Promoting best practices in the manufacture, distribution, trade, use and disposal of chemicals and products required to meet sustainable development objectives.
  • Reducing the risks posed by chemicals to human health and the environment, with a focus on measurable indicators.
  • Updating and bringing laws in line with current scientific knowledge.
  • Clarifying and harmonizing responsibilities of different ministries.
  • Identifying and filling in gaps in the legal framework for environmental protection.

In order to promote the sound management of chemicals in Africa, it is essential that appropriate institutional, policy, legal and administrative arrangements are in place in all countries in the region. Although institutional arrangements for chemical management will vary from country to country due to different socioeconomic conditions, there are some essential elements for the sound management of chemicals that should be included.

An effective legal and policy framework for the management and control of chemicals should be multisectoral with the ability to promote a coherent and coordinated approach. This requires:

  • Information gathering and dissemination systems;
  • Risk analysis and assessment systems;
  • Risk management policies;
  • Implementation, monitoring and enforcement mechanisms;
  • Effective management of wastes at source;
  • Rehabilitation measures for contaminated sites and poisoned persons;
  • Effective education and information communication programmes;
  • Labelling requirements that support sound use and consumer choice;
  • Emergencies and disaster responses;
  • Liability and responsibility rules; and
  • Environmental impact assessments and social impact assessments.

This could be supported through:

  • Multi-stakeholder participation;
  • Rights of access to information;
  • Application of the precautionary approach or principle;
  • Cost-benefit analysis; and
  • Adoption of the polluter pays principle (PPP).
Table 2: Priority areas for promoting best practice in chemicals management and usage
Priority areas Actions

Mining Improve laws, licensing, surveillance and enforcement; health and safety, education and training at community to regional levels.
Agricultural usage Improve monitoring, education and training at community and industry levels.
Petrochemical production and usage (including plastics) Improve laws, licensing, surveillance and enforcement; health and safety, education and training.
Waste management and pollution control Improve local waste services, sewage systems, industrial and agricultural effluent control; improve compliance with marine disposal convention (e.g. International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL)), health and safety standards.
Distribution, storage and disposal (including illegal dumping) Improve laws, licensing and enforcement; health and safety, education and training; improve enforcement of existing conventions (eg Bamako); apply technological developments.
Inter-sectoral and intergovernmental cooperation Promote consultation and engagement between stakeholders, locally, at the catchment level, nationally and internationally, especially in respect of air- and water-borne chemical dispersal.
Information systems, monitoring, Research and Development (R&D) Apply ground-truthing and remote-sensing monitoring techniques, standards for monitoring, establish performance indicators, improve evidence base including community reporting, costing.
Human and operational capacity Develop professional, technical and managerial resources; equipment and physical infrastructure investment and maintenance.

Source: Buccini 2004, ECA 2001, SAICM 2004, UN 1992, UNEP 2006