This book focuses on an important but, to date, under-investigated issue: environmental nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in sub-Saharan Africa. It reports results from a study of Cameroonian NGOs based on lengthy face-to-face interviews with their leaders, documents collected from them, and a survey of relevant literature from Cameroon and elsewhere in Africa. The study looks at the NGOs as organizations and addresses classic research questions about organizations. What goals do the NGOs choose; what strategies, activities, and organizational structures do they select to pursue their goals; what factors affect their choices; how successful are they in reaching their goals; and what factors affect their success?
Certainly, there is ample work for environmental NGOs in sub-Saharan Africa. Although its environmental problems are, in some respects, different from those of the Global North, Africa’s problems—deforestation, desertification, declining biodiversity, loss of fertile soils, water pollution, urban air pollution, solid waste management, and others—are no less significant in their impacts on citizens’ health and welfare. Many of the problems—soil erosion, lack of potable water, and declining fisheries, for example—are also deeply intertwined with problems of development (see chapter 3). Solutions are urgently needed, and it is unrealistic to think that government alone can provide them. Nonprofit NGOs consequently have an important role to play in solving these problems.
Efforts by NGOs from the Global North to address some of subSaharan Africa’s environmental problems, such as protecting wildlife and providing clean water, are widely known. Less visible to the outside world, however, are the vibrant homegrown NGO sectors in many sub-Saharan African countries, including NGOs that seek to address pressing environmental problems ranging from waste disposal to soil erosion to environmental education. The continent has a long history of NGO activity, and the democratization wave of the early 1990s, along with the withdrawal of the state from some arenas owing to economic crises and budget cuts resulting from structural adjustments, opened new opportunities for NGOs. At the same time, concerns about government ineffectiveness and corruption and increasing attention to the role of civil society by scholars and aid agencies have resulted in growing emphasis on environmental NGOs as key actors in solving environmental problems in developing nations. Consequently, their number and the resources available to them from abroad have increased rapidly. At the same time, however, both practical experience and recent research results have raised significant questions about the effectiveness of African NGOs in addressing environmental problems (see chapter 2).