An alternative development vision for Africa’s just transition

As a first step in changing path, Africa needs a renaissance of Africa-based, endogenous ideas and leadership that clearly envision the connections and interdependencies between energy, food, industrial, and other systems and development pathways that respect climate constraints. In practice, this means redefining what progress and well-being mean for Africa and asserting new and independent visions of genuine people-centred development.

At the heart of this shift is openly exploring alternative directions for creativity and inspiration that are nourished by Africa’s rich cultural variety and regional diversity, and that open new political spaces. At the same time, ideas need not necessarily be new but can be inspired by a long tradition of African original thinking and the need and desire to leave behind structures that reproduce colonial relations and dependencies.

What needs supporting is the inspiring vision of an ‘integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens, representing a dynamic force in the international arena’ as set out in in the African Union’s Agenda 2063: ‘The Africa we want’. This vision should be underpinned by concrete analysis and understanding of structural deficiencies and traps, as well as the risks and opportunities presented by a rapidly evolving reality. Such a route can steer Africa away from the precipice of despair and towards a renewed vision of well-being and prosperity centred around elements such as:

  • Development framed in terms of endogenous values, cultures, and resilience, so that is has authentic meaning for each society such that it builds on specific histories and contexts, ecological systems and resources, and cultural heritage. Development must be centred in the creativity and aspirations of the people who live at a place and must not be imposed from outside.
  • Setting basic needs, sufficiency, and solidarity as core priorities. All Africans have a right to energy, health, food, shelter and social protection, and caring communities living in harmony with healthy ecosystems. These rights should be the cornerstones of a good life and at the centre of policymaking where the ideas and values of sufficiency are firmly embedded.
  • Centring feminism, equity and social justice at the heart of society. Equity between and within nations, across generations, gender, class, race, sexuality, and religion is necessary for thriving, resilient societies where all people can flourish.
  • Measuring meaningful progress. African economies will grow in size and complexity as they build systems that genuinely cater to the real needs of people. However, economic growth, in terms of GDP only, means little and tends to favour the wrong priorities. African countries can take inspiration from existing examples that measure well-being, prosperity, and good lives to guide their priorities.
  • Building broad-based collective power and participation for thriving local economies. Development must stem from and be anchored in community participation. Together, Africans can foster thriving local economies and caring societies. African experts, civil society, and social movements are key both for the development of flourishing local economies and for generating necessary political pressure for change. African women, youth, and indigenous communities have historically been, and continue to be, primary drivers of change and progress.
  • Enhancing self-reliance and enable economic diversification. African countries can and must break away from current entrapments with international debts and prescriptions that only aggravate unhealthy dependencies. African countries can diversify their economies and prioritise energy and food sovereignty to enhance autonomy and self-reliance.
  • Avoiding destructive extraction ofresources. Africa can build regenerative societies that draw on what nature replenishes while minimising extraction. Minerals and metals critical for the zero-carbon and renewable energy transformation need to be extracted in ways that truly benefit Africa, create real opportunities, and minimize impact on ecosystems. Opening societies up to short-term extraction and profiteering sets Africa on a path to unsustainable resource mining that undermines the very basis of societal well-being.
  • Respecting environmental limits and precaution. All human activity is bound by environmental as well as natural resource limits that cannot be compromised without adverse impacts. All decision-making must be subjugated to the precautionary principle and a commitment to ensuring that Africa is not a testing ground for unproven and potentially risky technologies and that development does not infringe upon the complex and intersecting natural planetary boundaries (including climate change, ocean acidification, ozone depletion, phosphorous and nitrogen cycle disruption, biodiversity loss, freshwater use, land-system change, aerosol loading, and chemical pollution). Crossing any of these boundaries would put functioning of human societies at major risk.
  • Building South-South collaboration and collective self-reliance. African societies have plenty to share and learn from the experience of others in the way they benefited from having built autonomous policies and practices, especially examples from regions of the Global South. There is tremendous scope for pan-African and South-South collaborations where new forms of industrialisation drive the creation of value and wellbeing, rather than merely responding to markets.
  • Engaging in the world with assertiveness and skilfully navigating geopolitics. Collectively, Africans need to navigate and engage in world politics with assertiveness and confidence, grounded in placing people first. An Africa united on strong principles and values can secure its space in the development of a shared future that counters the hegemony of world powers. A self-confident Africa can offer much needed voice and action towards the important global mission of building climate compatible, zero-carbon societies based on egalitarian principles.
  • Asserting African agency and building equity-based and reformed international structures. Africa is a victim of historic and deeply fortified colonial structures that persist to this day. Africans can only truly succeed if they address the international conditions around trade, investments, international debts, and other structural constraints. Rather than aid, Africa needs reparations at scale. This calls for Africans to drive and realise the possibilities for profoundly changing the course of their development.
  • Embracing structural transformation and systems change. Together, these various dimensions of Africa’s development vision signify a need for far-reaching change to the way societies and the capitalist, economic system function today. It necessarily calls for deep, structural transformation, where whole systems of economics, governance, production, social services, foreign relations and, not least, energy, are re-shaped. While this may appear far-reaching, it is less radical than believing that business-as-usual presents a viable option. By remaining on the current path, the escalation of intertwined crises will cause much larger, faster, and more disruptive change.


These elements of a vision constitute a significant challenge and contrast to the prevailing, mainstream model of development, which has reigned and shaped the global order for many decades. It is in the power of African societies to formulate their own long-term vision rather than being subjugated to the agenda of former colonial powers, other emerging countries, or large corporations. A Pan-African vision must be centred on economic strategies that undo the structural traps of external debt and dependence on the Global North, and that ensure Africa’s abundant natural resources and human capabilities are prudently used to enhance Africans’ quality of life in a just and equitable way for generations and centuries to come.


Excerpt of: Just Transition: A Climate, Energy and Development Vision for Africa (Just Transition, 2023)


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