Environmental Ethics: An African Understanding

Article excerpt


Africa has a complex history of valuable heritages as well as multifaceted challenges in her cultural-politico evolution. Since primordial times, African people have had a humane and peaceful society and environment informed by a sound ethics. But owing to some internal dynamics in the people's culture and some other external constraints and forces, African states are now experiencing acute developmental challenges which have impacted negatively on their environment. Besides political issues arising from leadership ineptitude and capitalist aggrandizement, which have brought about vices of corruption, injustice, poverty and underdevelopment of the continent, there is now a new dimension to the African crisis. And this is the environmental imbroglio.

It is a known fact today that the environment crisis is one of the most pressing and timely concern of our planet in the turn of the 21st century. As a global phenomenon, no society is totally immune against the threats and dangers, which the environmental crisis poses to humanity and our collective planet, the earth. But with respect to the African experience, a vast area of land rich in natural resources of all categories, flora and fauna of immense diversities, the dimension of the global environmental crisis in the continent has a peculiar character. The causes of environmental pollution and degradation, environmental injustice, poverty of effective coping and management strategies in challenging the environmental crisis, and lack of a viable environmental ethics that takes cognizance of the peculiar dynamics of the environmental crisis in Africa are issues worth courting with philosophically.

In this paper, therefore, we seek to explore the role of African philosophical thinking on the African environment in particular and the contemporary society and global world order in general. The primary aim of doing this is not to ethno-philosophically describe, merely, how traditional Africans have managed their environment in pristine manner. Nor is the focus of our defense to establish the primacy or superiority of the African option over and above the existing theoretical perspectives in environmental ethics in Western discourse. Rather, the primary objective of this paper is to contribute to the consolidation of an emerging orientation in African environmental ethics and effective environmental management.

This paper considers as fundamental, such questions as: what is the condition of the African environment? Why is the African environment pathetic than other regions of the world? What are the efforts made and being made in the process of saving the African environment? Do the Africans care for the environment? What are the imperatives to be taken into consideration in salvaging the African environment from further deterioration? What is the need for an environmental ethics that is African in orientation? How coherent is it with the existing known ethics of the environment: enlightened (weak) anthropocentrism, animal liberation/rights theory, biocentrism and ecocentrism (which include the land ethic, deep ecology and the theory of nature's value)?

In addressing this host of fundamental questions, this paper is divided into four parts. Part I proceeds with a discussion of ethics and the environment. The second and third parts of the paper survey the arguments of Ogungbemi and Tangwa respectively on an African understanding of environmental ethics. In the fourth part, we evaluatively posit some critiques of their argument.

Ethics and the Environment

Ethics is a normative study of the principles of human conduct in relation to justice and injustice, good and evil, right and wrong, and virtue and vice. It questions what ought to be done and the extent to which there is justification for a past action that had been done. By environment, we mean our surroundings, including the life support provided by the air, water, land, animals and the entire ecosystem of which man is but a part (Osuntokun, 2001:293). …