Africa has long been seen as a lost cause, but now economies are growing. Is the era of BandAid over?
Yes, primarily because telecommunications have changed the situation. People communicate with each other, the market and the world. In a way that’s a challenge, because they’re more demanding. But the major remaining problem is the complete lack of infrastructure. Investment in infrastructure is costly and takes time. At this stage, economies are still based on fossil fuel and coal. That’s very expensive, and in rural areas 90% of people lack electricity. A number of African economies are growing thanks to their extractive industries, but Africa needs reliable energy both to eradicate poverty and to facilitate sustainable growth. Of course, it also needs to develop renewable energy because they can’t afford oil. If Africa doesn’t tap its renewable potential, the growth will be slow. That’s why we, as Africa’s development partners, need to help the countries invest in renewable energy, especially solar. That’s where the continent has huge potential.
Sources like wind and solar are quite efficient. You don’t need to build big power generators. You can use microgrids instead of heavy grids. You don’t need huge investments in railroads for construction that takes a lot of time. People expect life to improve before you can finish such major infrastructure projects. If you have energy, it changes your perception of life: you can read in the evenings, you can cook, get better healthcare. Renewable energy is a shortcut to development.
If Africa develops, climate change will worsen, as more Africans drive cars, fly, and use more electricity. Is that another reason renewable energy in Africa is so important to the West?
Renewable energy is definitely an important tool in the fight against climate change. Africa’s renewable energy potential is huge. Biodiversity is another reason to support it. Africa has a lot of biodiversity, but when you go somewhere you usually smell burning wood. Charcoal is a main energy source in many areas, but when you chop down trees for charcoal you damage biodiversity. And we should support Africans in resisting the calamities that come with climate change. When areas are affected by droughts they have access to wells, but the wells are powered by diesel, which they can’t afford. If they had access to renewable energy, their water supply would be safe.