Africa-Press – Angola. The African Development Bank Group estimates that more than 640 million Africans have no access to energy, with the continent enjoying an overall electricity access rate of just over 40 percent. Multinational energy giants have systematically underfunded local energy projects, all while searching for new sources of oil and gas for Western markets.
Despite its untold riches in energy and other natural resources, Africa remains the least developed continent on the planet when it comes to access to the benefits of this wealth by ordinary citizens. The International Energy Agency has estimated that among Africa’s 54 nations, only nine – Algeria, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Libya, South Africa and Tunisia, enjoy electrification rates of 85 percent or above.
Even countries endowed with large reserves of oil and gas like Nigeria, Angola, Sudan, Congo and Uganda have been unable to provide the vast majorities of citizens with access to these resources, with 38 percent of Nigerians, 57 percent of Angolans, and 71 percent of Ugandans lacking access to electricity.
For nations with smaller energy reserves, and those without proven oil and gas assets, the figures are even gloomier, with just 9 percent of Chadians and residents of the Democratic Republic of the Congo hooked up to the electricity grid, while only 12 percent of Liberians, 14 percent of the residents of Niger, and 18 percent of Somalis enjoy access.
The causes of the continent’s stunted energy status are multifaceted, ranging from the legacy of colonialism to decades of plunder of energy rich nations’ resources by foreign multinationals, to a dearth of capital for domestic investment, to efforts by Western powers and international institutions they control to force the region to reject fossil fuels in favor of renewables.
The problem has only been exacerbated by the global energy crisis caused by Western nations’ efforts to sanction or restrict Russian oil and gas purchases. In August, Germany’s Handelsblatt newspaper reported that European states have made a push to fix the energy shortfall by outbidding developing nations for contracts from other global suppliers, driving poorer countries out of the market.
Last year, Nigerian Environment Minister Mohammad Mahmood Abubakar accused the developed West of deliberately defunding Africa’s natural gas projects on the grounds that they contribute to the global climate crisis, notwithstanding the fact that the entirety of Sub-Saharan Africa produces just 0.55 percent of the world’s carbon emissions.
In 2021, the European Investment Bank stopped financing hydrocarbon development projects in Africa altogether as part of an “ambitious new climate strategy and energy lending policy.” The same year, the World Bank announced plans to shift resources from energy projects to “combating climate change.” Problems
“Africa’s oil and gas sector is experiencing underproduction and underinvestment as major international majors exit portfolios in key hydrocarbon producing countries such as Nigeria and Angola,” says N.J. Ayuk, chairman of the African Energy Chamber, a Johannesburg-based nonprofit advocating energy development in Africa, for Africans.
Characterizing energy poverty as the “single most important issue” facing the continent, the expert dismisses Western-backed institutions’ efforts to push Africa toward renewable energy, pointing out that as things stand, underdevelopment of hydrocarbon resources means that 45 percent of the continent relies on highly polluting hard biomass for energy.
As for renewable sources of energy like solar, wind and hydrogen power, Ayuk warns that the push being made in this direction threatens to “cripple” the continent.
“Many existing power grids in Africa remain underdeveloped, such that an intermittent supply of energy can threaten the stability of an entire grid,” the observer says, referring to the tendency for renewable energy to depend heavily on weather conditions.
Another problem is Africa’s “near-complete” dependence on foreign equipment and expertise for its renewables capacity, with the majority of solar cells and windmills made in China, Europe or the United States, who also provide training and tech related to the installation, maintenance and repair.
“Economically, this means fewer home-grown jobs for Africans in this sector until such capacity can be developed. It also ensures [insecurity] of supply in case war or politics cripples the ability to import key raw materials and workers,” Ayuk stresses.
What Is To Be Done? An alternative to listening to foreign dictates on energy policy is to focus on domestic resources, and to partner with those nations which are ready to help Africa secure its energy independence.
For Ayuk, this means intra-African natural gas pipelines capable not only of working to diminish energy poverty, but stimulating a drive toward industrialization which will translate to jobs. To stimulate development, African nations will need to stimulate capital investments and reduce taxes, and to work conscientiously to focus on infrastructure for domestic use, instead of export.
Russia can play an important role in improving Africa’s energy security, the observer believes, with Moscow needing to step up its game on the fulfillment of memorandums already signed, and to engage in the financing of gas projects, as well as sharing the country’s substantial expertise on the construction of infrastructure.
Earlier this year, Nigerian Minister of Petroleum Resources Timipre Sylva announced that Russian investors had expressed an interest in the financing of a massive gas pipeline project running from Nigeria to Morocco. If implemented, the prospective 5,600+ km piece of infrastructure would connect nations along the entire West African coast to natural gas, serving as a catalyst both for electrification and for regional economic development.
Nigeria has over 206 trillion cubic feet of proven natural gas reserves valued at trillions of dollars, but has long been starved of capital for the development of these resources.
Speaking to Sputnik last week, Sylva expressed confidence that Nigeria and Russia would be able to cooperate to help stabilize the global supply of energy.
However, last month, Biden administration climate envoy John Kerry warned against long-term gas projects in Africa, claiming countries that make investments would be unable to recoup their investments beyond 2030, and that the continent should instead focus on cleaner energy sources.