The Great Transitions scenario seeks to adapt the good aspects of the other scenarios to strengthen the three pillars of sustainable development – environment, society and economy. This scenario views neither the Market Forces nor the Policy Reform as sufficient to address the ills that economic growth has placed on the environment, but sees the need for the evolution of a new development paradigm in which the sustainability of the environment is not compromised. It is envisaged that behavioural patterns that characterize modern societies, such as consumerism, give way and that instead people define a new level of satisfaction that is not materialistic. Furthermore, in this scenario it is envisaged that there will be a cultural renaissance that de-emphasizes the current “craze” for imports of food items, consumables and luxury goods (UNEP 2002a).

The major paths through which the Great Transitions scenario evolves include a new set of strategies that differs from current strategies and approaches, and that approaches development at conceptual, methodological, institutional, operational and financial levels. The “African Renaissance” can represent a major conceptual basis for this scenario, as it (Achebe and others 1990):

  • Argues that future development paths must be, unlike conventional approaches which are unilinear and crisis-driven, dialectic and crisis-free;
  • Has a vision that is methodologically “surprise-rich, inductive and retroductive, as opposed to the conventional wisdom that is surprise-free, deductive and predictive”;
  • Is locally owned and initiated, and is supportive and nurturing of people and promotes people-intensive development; in this respect it departs from the donor-fed and controlled development paths that are directive and capital-intensive visions; and
  • Departs from the existing institutional set-up that is state-centred, concentrated and monopolistic to promote an approach that is “grassroots-oriented, multiple, dispersed and pluralizing.”

Central to the Great Transitions scenario is the general disillusionment with dominant societal values, such as consumerism, and the prioritization of the economy over the environment with its negative impacts on human well-being, development, and the environment itself. In this scenario, a new generation of thinkers – scientists, leaders, civil society organizations (CSOs) and activists – come together and shape national and global dialogue and policy towards promoting the interlocked goals of environmental sustainability and development. Africans show disenchantment with present values and see that the only development that is acceptable is sustainable development that respects the environment. Against this development it assesses what remains of environmental resources and identifies the opportunities these present for development. The vision of Jeffrey Sachs, in The Africa challenge: the mission – how Africa lit up the world, echoes the promise of the Great Transitions scenario:

“It is 2025, and Africa is booming. Conflict has been resolved, democratic leaders have established unprecedented calm. And as the fight against disease gains momentum, it is African scientists who offer salvation to the rest of the world” (Sachs 2005).

There is general disillusionment with dominant societal values, such as consumerism, and the prioritization of the economy over the environment with its negative impacts on human well-being, development and the environment.

The attributes of the Great Transitions scenario are based on visions of a desirable and environmentally sustainable future. The feasibility of a Great Transitions scenario for Africa is supported by the body of ideas among great thinkers in Africa and beyond, and in the development of the Omega and Millennium Plans of Action. Many events in Africa since the turn of the century have already set the stage for such a possibility. The renewed determination of the leaders of Africa to advance pan- Africanism, and to reactivate and rejuvenate interand intra-African partnership, including partnership between Africa and the international community, within the principles enshrined in the Lagos Plan of Action (LPA), is historically very significant (Nyong’o and others 2002, OAU 1980). The strategy adopted by NEPAD for achieving sustainable development in the 21st century goes beyond all previous initiatives. The Revised Framework of Opportunities for the Implementation of the New International Order in Africa, produced by the ECA, postulates that a credible and appropriate development strategy for Africa must satisfy four basic principles:

  • Self-reliance;
  • Self-sustenance;
  • The democratization of the development process; and
  • A fair and just distribution of the fruits of development through progressive eradication of unemployment and mass poverty.

The Great Transitions scenario can be made to embrace the MDG, as a mechanism for turning around both strategy and methods of development. Using the MDG targets, the scenario can be made to actively and consistently adopt the targets as the minimum conditions to be met by the year 2025 in the case of the sustainability of the environment and earlier in the case of others. Achieving these targets necessitates constant and extensive interactions between all stakeholders, a process that, though cumbersome, becomes beneficial as it is inclusive and democratic.