Africa is undergoing a major transformation as the Organisation of African Unity is changing into the African Union (AU), a more integration-oriented institution.
At the same time, African Heads of State have launched a major initiative, the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad), to put the region on the track of sustainable development.
What critical role does the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) intend to play within this new environment and the broader context of sustainable development?
How will AMCEN influence the outcomes of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in line with its priorities? How will Africa's environmental perspectives be fully integrated and taken into account in the discussions in Johannesburg?
Barely two months before the WSSD, African Ministers and experts are coming together in Kampala next week to discuss these key questions and consequently deliberate on the strategic involvement of AMCEN in the emerging initiatives in Africa and to shape a new vision for the Conference.
A vision that should clearly indicate the environmental issues and problems of the continent, the instruments that are needed to address these problems and specific proposals for practical action to be undertaken at all levels.
AMCEN, in operation since 1985, has attained modest achievements particularly with respect to provision of regional leadership on issues pertaining to consensus building and regional environment issues.
However, the Conference has not risen to the challenge of building the much-needed strategic partnerships with the new global and regional initiatives.
To date also, AMCEN has not enjoyed a broad cross-sectoral support at the national, sub-regional and regional levels. AMCEN needs to position itself strategically within the framework of new regional institutional developments such as the AU, Nepad and, most importantly, prepare for the implementation of activities related to the outcome of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD).
In this context, the objective of the ninth session is to provide a platform for the environment ministers to critically analyse the AMCEN in light of the perspectives offered in the context of WSSD and the major developments occurring in the region.
Of special significance is the key question on the links between environment, poverty reduction and economic development.
In particular, the conference will discuss means of effectively interacting with the African Union and New Partnership for Africa's Development.
Ministers are expected to look at, among other things, the need for institutional linkages with the Secretariat and the Heads of State, Implementation Committee of the Nepad, the Commissions of the AU and the sub-regional economic communities. Nepad process has integrated the full development of its environment initiative.
Resources mobilised through the GEF by UNEP are being used to support the work of a steering committee.
This committee is expected to finalise the draft environment initiative of the Nepad to be tabled before the ninth session.
The conference will be looking back over the past 17 years to evaluate its performance in the face of pending environmental challenges and emerging threats such as growing population, poverty, natural disasters, wars, the unabated burden of national debt and diseases.
Other challenges include introducing clean technologies, enforcing environmental agreements, empowering of local communities and securing access to the international markets for their goods and services.