Critical enablers for an African circular economy transition

There are a number of enablers that need to be developed to ensure that the CE develops in Africa in a manner that enhances economic productivity, supports job creation, provides substantive climate change benefits, and remains inclusive. These include:

  • • Developing country-level CE visions that are supported by political will;
  • • Developing regulatory frameworks that enable new ways of doings things;
  • • Cooperation at a global level that supports the development of system enablers such as capacity building, research, development and innovation, and investment.

Together these factors will ensure that circular activities remain at the heart of African economies rather than being eroded as the continent urbanises.

A circular economy vision supported by political will

Within some African countries, there are roadmaps that refer to CE activities, and the Durban Declaration has set the CE as a policy agenda for the continent; however, specific circular economy policies, plans, or strategies have yet to be developed in any African country. Roadmaps and strategies are possibly one of the most effective means of accelerating the CE transition in any country or city, as they align actors to a specific set of objectives and create opportunities for collaboration between actors. However, if these roadmaps and strategies are not supported politically, they are likely to be ineffective to catalyse any measurable action.

Going forward, it will be critical for circular economy awareness-raising and capacitybuilding activities to be delivered in Africa as stated in the Durban Declaration, particularly amongst policymakers, in order to gain buy-in and as a result drive the transition forward.

Enabling regulatory frameworks at the country, provincial, and city levels is needed

Many countries in Africa have developed or are in the process of developing robust waste management regulatory frameworks. However, ambiguity around definitions (including the definition of what “waste” actually constitutes to avoid the overregulation of managing both biological and technical nutrients) and misalignment between different acts (environment and waste management) are often cited as major barriers in the development of CE activities on the continent. Reform is needed to update regulations and legislation in order to create an enabling regulatory framework for CE activities.

Cooperation at the global level to support system enablers

Cooperation is needed at the global level to support African countries to maintain and improve circularity at the heart of their economies rather than letting it be eroded as the continent urbanises. Greater cooperation is needed at the international level to agree on common rules and standards for making fair and ethical trading part of global value chains (Ethical Corporation, 2019). This cooperation will be particularly important where there may be a risk of displacing informal-sector waste collectors and for materials streams like e-waste, where there continue to be significant environmental and health risks related to current processing and disposal methods. International institutions such as the AACE, OECD, UN Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), and UN Environment Programme can play critical roles:

  • • Ensuring that meaningful dialogue is created between developed countries and African governments;
  • • Supporting the piloting of CE solutions that have been developed in African countries by SMEs;
  • • Facilitating the proactive engagement of multinational companies with suppliers in African countries, including SMEs and those operating in the informal sector to scale up curricular activities in a manner that is inclusive and avoids the displacement of vulnerable workers.

Cognisance also needs to be taken that the strategies and materials required by a developed continent such as Europe to enter a renewable energy transition are reliant on an extraction-based economy, for example, for the necessary components and parts of battery storage. However, thought needs to be given as to how this relationship and business model will work within a CE context, as it cannot be undertaken at the expense of the African continent getting locked into a linear operating system as a supplier of the required extracted resources.

Capacity building to increase awareness of circular economies and create the skills needed for circular economies in Africa

Capacity building is needed to increase the level of understanding and awareness of the circular economy and to gain buy-in from critical stakeholders, policymakers in particular, to ensure that Africa is self-reliant, with the skills and knowledge to be able to develop circular practices. Importantly, capacity-building activities in Africa should take into account the local context such as the current state of waste management infrastructure, regulatory framework, and the role of the informal sector in the country.

Enhanced research, development, and innovation based on the African context

Research, development, and innovation (RDI) are needed to support the creation and utilisation of local technologies and business models that are fit and truly 'appropriate' for African contexts. Technologies are required that are decentralised, modular, cost effective, weather robust, and in many cases requiring basic operational skill levels that the African labour market can provide.

Financial support to ensure that circularity remains at the heart of African economies

Finally, financial support is needed to support African governments’ investments in CE activities. There are numerous models to achieve this, including grants, equity investment, bonds, and crowdfunding. One popular approach is through micro-finance and small revolving loans, for example. Lend with Care (Guardian, 2013) and Grameen Bank (Yunus, 2013). Incubator and accelerator initiatives are also becoming more common.

An enhanced people-centric approach to circular economy development

For CE to be politically supported in Africa, it will need to develop in a manner that supports widespread job creation. An enhanced people-centric approach to the development of CE is suggested, one that considers the available workforce and the role of the informal sector to repair technical nutrients and regenerate biological nutrients. Repair-based, refurbishment, and remanufacturing activities would be preferred, as they are known to be high job-creating activities.

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