Institutions refers generally to the set of instruments through which people, living in a state and believing in common core values, govern themselves and includes policy, laws, rules and regulations as well as custom. Governance refers to the processes through which these institutions are implemented. Governance is based on values and principles that a society – local, national, regional or global – holds. Governance invariably relies on interaction between the state, civil society and the private sector, although the relative roles of these sectors differ depending on the priorities and values of a given social system. For example, the extent of public participation in decision making is often a reflection of this.

Governance takes place within all domains including the economic, political and administrative, and its form affects development, including the potential for market efficiency, sustainable environmental management and the realization of rights. Good governance practices improve the potential for economic growth and create new opportunities for development and improving human well-being (WRI and others 2004, World Bank 2005b). Such measures may include elevating environmental management as a policy priority and allocating the necessary resources for the implementation of measures, assigning accountability for failures, and facilitating participation from civil society. It may, as proposed in Chapter 8: Interlinkages: The Environment and Policy Web, require linking the economic, political and administrative aspects of governance more directly with environmental policy and practice, and developing appropriate legal and management tools to ensure this. Or, as discussed in Chapter 9: Genetically Modified Crops, demand establishing better integration between science, public values and policy. It may also, as discussed in Chapter 12: Environment for Peace and Regional Cooperation, require improved regional cooperation, greater transparency and higher levels of accountability to avoid conflict and promote the fairer distribution of benefits, and costs, associated with environmental use.

In 2002,
the AU noted that
Africa was losing
$150 000 million
a year to corruption,
which increases
the costs
of goods by as
much as 20 per cent.

NEF 2005

It is impossible to achieve sustainable economic development without good governance, and peace and security are essential aspects of this (UN 1998). In many countries poor governance practices have resulted in military coup d’états and electoral systems that were essentially symbolic and not designed to allow for changes in government. Military interventions have led to various forms of instability and the rise of insurgencies, riots and ethnic strife and rivalries. Military costs have placed an enormous strain on economies. Corruption, and the embezzlement and externalization of public funds remain critical problems, with estimates that such externalization amounts to as much as a quarter of GDP (NEF 2005). In 2002, the AU noted that Africa was losing $150 000 million per year to corruption, which increases the costs of goods by as much as 20 per cent (NEF 2005).

However, as the new millennium approached, once again “winds of change” blew across Africa, as people in many countries, as well as at the regional level, demanded greater accountability from their elected leaders. They called for fairer and more transparent public processes, and respect for human rights. With increasing social consciousness, new forms of organizations have emerged. Civil society organizations have emerged in large numbers and their influence is steadily increasing. These serve as important checks on government.

As poor governance practices have been called into question, citizens have demanded the right to be involved in decisions that affect their well-being, including in the environmental sector. Local participation in environmental decision making has increased considerably (Keeley and Scoones 2003). The opportunities increased public participation presents for development and good policy making are discussed throughout this report. Chapter 1: The Human Dimension examines the increasing role of civil society in the environmental sector and the chapters in Section 2: Environment State-and-Trends: 20-Year Retrospective consider the opportunities such involvement creates in specific environmental sectors, including forests, freshwater and coastal and marine environments. Section 3: Emerging Challenges considers the importance of public participation in developing policy responses in the critical areas of GM crops, invasive alien species, chemicals and conflict.

The opportunity for improving governance is constrained by several factors including weak states, weak democratic processes that feature personalized power and corruption, and inequity. Inequity and poverty shape the capacity to participate effectively in public life, as is evident from the marginal role that women still play in governance.

Nevertheless, in facing these governance challenges, a wide range of responses have been adopted by governments at the regional, sub-regional and national levels. At the regional level, these responses include the AU Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption and the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) developed by NEPAD. For a full discussion of the APRM see Chapter 8: Interlinkages: The Environment and Policy Web. All efforts are made to reduce conflicts in countries where they presently exist through assistance to provide basic services and through the breaking of the poverty trap.