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Tackle energy poverty slowing Africa's growth

Pupils in Samburu study using a kerosene lamp. [File, Standard]

Energy poverty in Africa is denying many opportunities to develop and live better.

Reports indicate that at least 600 million people in Africa lack access to electricity, while another 900 million have no clean cooking energy, leading to the destruction of forests to access wood fuel.

The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG)7 targets access to clean and renewable energy for all by 2030, but which will need huge investments at a time a lot of African countries are burdened with debts used to sustain their economies that have been battered by calamities, Covid-19 pandemic, complementing endemic corruption, poor planning even with untamed appetite for debts.

Africa, despite contributing only four per cent of global carbon emissions, suffers more loss and damage from climate change, which can be reduced with better infrastructure, sufficient energy, technology and capacity to build resilience, a role many states have left to civil society organisations.

While energy poverty cannot be tackled without involving sectors such as finance, water, technology and policy, the urgency with which this needs to be achieved may be unrealistic, considering the huge capital investments needed. Yet this is what Africa needs now. This calls for concerted effort targeting partnerships that will birth large-scale investments in the energy sector, especially by private entities, with a focus on the unexplored renewable and cleaner sources such as wind, solar, geothermal and hydropower, and ensuring just transition.
Global lending institutions hold a key role in achieving the SDG7 that will revolutionise industrialisation, farming, manufacturing, and more, and in turn create newer job opportunities, economic development and climate resilience.

Africa needs a realistic strategy, engineered by local and global experts who understand how addressing the energy poverty will save Africans’ lives. It is in Africa that international firms are getting raw materials for manufacturing. Some of that could be done locally if Africa had the best technology and adequate energy. And since the continent has a market, goods would be cheaper, making the cost of living lower, as we deal in local currency not spend on imports. 

In the longer term, this may reduce nations’ reliance on donor funding and tame the brain drain.
Many Africans are dying because they have to walk long distances to access powered hospitals. They waste food because they cannot store for long, yet they have to survive from hand to mouth. Children cannot study long enough, while many ideas stay idle for lack of power. Many are those nursing respiratory problems caused by in-house pollution as they use kerosene and wood fuel to light or cook.

The place of energy on security and long business hours is known.
It is by tackling the energy poverty that we will also protect water towers, which are the carbon sinks and homes to many a biodiversity, some now extinct or endangered.
Governments must collaborate, exploit local opportunities, mobilise and grab every chance to hasten access to energy by all.