The billion people living in Africa can live a life filled with economic opportunity, employment and better education and health care. But to achieve that, governments have to make energy affordable and more accessible. This requires co-operation and co-investment between nations and regions.
Smart planning and co-operation is required if African governments want to create energy infrastructure that benefits all of Africa’s people. (Image: Brand South Africa)
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The aspirations of Africa’s billion people are hindered by a lack of access to modern reliable and affordable energy. It cripples African economies, making it a crisis that affects national security.
On average, global cities are growing by 1.84% a year. African cities, however, are growing faster as more of the continent’s population move to urban centres. Mbouda in Cameroon is the fastest growing city, at an annual rate of 7.8%, but Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, is not far behind with growth of 7.2%.
Africans are drawn to cities for economic opportunities, employment, better connectivity, and access to essential services and education. This turbocharged urbanisation presents governments with challenges as existing infrastructure is strained.
But there is also an economic dividend to urbanisation. It does not need to impede Africa’s progress. History shows that urbanisation can often translate into improved living standards and social harmony.
These benefits do not occur spontaneously. Smart planning is required if Africa’s advantages are to lead to prosperity and not more urban fragility. Indian economist Amartya Sen has argued that economic development depends on the poor having access to economic opportunity, safety and political participation. An important aspect of these safety and security freedoms is access to energy.
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One of Africa’s biggest infrastructure challenges is the provision of energy. African governments now see the provision of energy and the infrastructure used to extract, store and transport energy as key to national security. Secure energy supply is also about the relations between African nations. Co-operation between trade partners and neighbours lessens the risk if energy is being used as another weapon in conflict.
Africa’s growing economies will only deliver on their promise if governments begin to think regionally and continentally when it comes to creating energy security. As trade within grows, an integrated energy network becomes more important.
Investment outlay for any energy project is prohibitive, but the pooling of resources would speed up investment in the kind of infrastructure that Africa needs to ensure energy security. Ethiopia, for example, could not afford the $4.7-billion (R78-billion) it is spending on building its Great Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile. The 6 000MW it will generate will be shared between Ethiopia and its energy-starved neighbours. This is an investment in the region’s economy.
The project will connect to Kenya’s power grid, thereby creating the kind of economy that attracts international investors, which is vital for continued growth in Africa. It has been estimated that investment in hydropower and regional grids would save Africa at least $2-billion (R30.5-billion) a year and reduce the cost of electricity for African consumers.
African governments need to look past the scale of the problem and develop and adopt local, regional and continental policies to curb energy poverty and security. Half of the world’s population deals with a lack of access to a regular supply, and 80% of those people live in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
Close to 50% of sub-Saharan companies own or share a generator. Without affordable and reliable energy supply, emerging tech hubs such as Nairobi cannot support the platforms and aspirations of young Africans carving out new careers and innovations.
Some African governments – Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa and Ethiopia – recognise that a lack of reliable and affordable energy can drag growth. They have embraced policies that ensure future energy security. In the wider economy, a safe, reliable and affordable energy supply is a boon to economic growth, while a lack of energy strains a country’s social system and the economy.
Trade with emerging economies, especially China, means there are new funding sources for the building of energy and other infrastructure across Africa. This shift in trade and investment from the extraction of natural resources to more strategic investment means Africa’s trading partners see opportunity and a long-term future in Africa.