Energy: Which Way for Africa?

Published on 30th October 2012

Today, the world is concerned about several energy-related questions: future demands of energy far outstripping supply creating massive price increase, uncertainty of supplies due to instability in producing regions, safety of energy sources and limited resources. These concerns have to be addressed.

Africa has equally pressing issues that need even more urgent attention. For instance, access to electricity, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, is only 31%. When it comes to rural areas where the majority of the people still live, access is only at 12%.

Furthermore, projections indicate that by 2030, Africa will be the only region where the number of people without access to electricity will actually increase. This, in addition to Africa facing higher energy costs than any other region, according to the World Bank.

While this is so, available evidence shows that there is a direct link between energy consumption and levels of people’s wellbeing and development. It does not come as a surprise that Africa remains the least developed region where the quality of life needs great improvement.

For African countries to develop and their people enjoy a decent standard of living, we need to address the imbalances of energy between the developed and developing countries, and raise the level of consumption and utilisation. We can do this with relative safety because we have learned from the mistakes of the past when use of energy resources was often at enormous environmental cost.

I would like to propose some measures that can create greater equilibrium among world energy users, increase its access and spur development in Africa.

Over the last few decades, it has become clear that when the world acknowledges that there is a problem and acts to resolve it, the outcome is impressive. For instance, the Millennium Development Goals adopted by the UN as minimum benchmarks for improved life in various areas have triggered positive change in developing countries.

As a beginning, therefore, the world community should treat access to energy as a basic right, and essential to the development process. Appropriate policies can then be developed and resources mobilised to make energy accessible to all at affordable cost.

Once this has been recognised, we can then set up a consumption benchmark as a measure of well-being, indicating minimum energy consumption per capita. This would achieve several things: reduce waste, increase efficiency and cut costs, enabling wide access to developing countries.

Equally urgent is to make technologies, especially those for locally available renewable energy, easily accessible and affordable. Specifically, we should encourage investment in technologies that could also make African countries modernise faster. There are precedents to learn from. Mobile telephone technology has made it possible for African countries to close the communications gap. More significantly, applications of this technology have had great social and economic impact that could not have been imagined only two decades ago.

Lastly, since the major concern today is about increasing demand and limited resources, it is important that wasteful and unsustainable consumption of energy is tackled head on, the environment protected and equity achieved. For this we need a regulatory mechanism to which we all subscribe.

By H.E Paul Kagame,
President Of The Republic Of Rwanda.

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