Africans Decry Europe’s Energy Hypocrisy
Wealthy European countries that sought to halt funding of fossil fuel projects across Africa are now scrambling to secure the continent’s oil and gas.
Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Africa Brief.
Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Africa Brief.
The highlights this week: Egypt withdraws troops from Mali, residents in Ghana are experiencing record inflation, and the fate of Russia’s planned naval base in Sudan.
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Europe’s African Gas Projects Are Under Fire
Europe, one of the largest consumers of Russian gas, is scrambling to find African alternatives as Russia threatens to permanently turn off the taps.
Russia’s gas supply to Germany via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline was halted for routine maintenance last week, and there are concerns that Russia may not restart it. Moscow has already cut natural gas supplies to Poland, Finland, and Bulgaria, which refused Russia’s demand to pay in rubles. The Bavarian Industry Association forecasts that Germany could lose almost 13 percent of its economic performance in the latter half of this year if Russian gas stops flowing.
Facing an energy crisis, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz went to Senegal in May to pursue the development of a gas field that’s expected to open next year. European Union diplomats began talks with Nigerian officials in April, seeking to tap the country as an alternative gas supplier. Meanwhile, Italy has struck agreements with Algeria, Angola, and the Republic of Congo.
This month, Italian President Sergio Mattarella visited the Mozambican capital of Maputo to discuss energy collaboration. The Italian energy company Eni announced recently that its floating liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant off the coast of Mozambique’s insurgent-plagued Cabo Delgado province is expected to achieve its first LNG cargo in the second half of 2022.
As Europe scrambles for energy supplies, observers and Africans themselves are denouncing what they see as energy hypocrisy, considering that most African countries live under regular power shortages and are severely impacted by climate change. African governments have sought to develop new fossil fuel projects to meet local needs, but Western governments have demanded that multilateral lenders such as the World Bank stop funding those projects to reduce global carbon emissions.
“Our countries cannot achieve an energy transition and abandon the polluting patterns of the industrialized countries without a viable, fair, and equitable alternative,” Senegalese President Macky Sall said in a defiant speech at last year’s meeting of the U.N. General Assembly. “Stopping funding for the gas sector … would be a major obstacle.”
A report released last week suggests some African countries will have to cut public spending elsewhere to meet the cost of adapting to a warming planet, which will eclipse their spending on health care. The entire continent is responsible for just 3 percent of global carbon emissions. That figure is far lower when coal-intensive South Africa, the biggest carbon emitter in Africa, is excluded. The average European uses more than six times as much electricity as the average African consumer.
Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in a recent op-ed in the Economist called out Europe for its insistence that poorer nations freeze their carbon emissions, which richer countries in real terms have not committed to doing, “because of a naive belief in leapfrogging, the assumption that, like skipping landlines for mobile phones, Africa can ‘leap’ to new energy technologies.” African leaders say those requests amount to a wish to keep the continent poor.
One argument against fossil fuel-dependent industrialization is South Africa, where scheduled power cuts, known as “load-shedding,” could rise tenfold by 2026 unless the country adds renewable energy sources, according to a study by Meridian Economics. The state-owned utility Eskom, whose aging coal plants have become unreliable, supplies 90 percent of the country’s energy. At the U.N. COP26 climate conference last year, Western nations pledged $8.5 billion to help the country transfer to greener energy.
But in the immediate term, Verner Ayukegba, a senior vice president at the Johannesburg-based African Energy Chamber, points out that South Africa should be exploring a whole mix of energy sources, including gas, because while greener sources are important, it is those living with lights on in New York or London who have the luxury of thinking about renewable energy. “If you are in a maternity ward in a hospital in the outskirts of Maiduguri [in northern Nigeria], it really doesn’t matter if your hospital is powered using coal. … What you need is power,” he said.
Despite Nigeria being Africa’s second-largest oil producer, 85 million Nigerians—almost half of the country’s population—live without grid electricity. Nigeria has the largest known gas reserves in Africa and, due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, has seen the revival of stalled projects such as the trans-Saharan gas pipeline, which would run through northern Nigeria to Niger and Algeria and then on to Europe.
Ayukegba argues that African governments need to focus on infrastructure investments for local rather than European and Asian markets. He noted that because the Russia-Ukraine war pushed oil prices, which had been originally forecast at $50-$70 per barrel, above $120 a barrel, Nigeria made significant unexpected profits this year, which he argues should go toward infrastructure investments for local electricity needs.
“One thing which we need to start looking at is, what is the Senegalese demand for power going to be? What is the regional African demand for power going to be?” he told Foreign Policy. “We should be looking at ourselves and saying, what are the priorities that we want to spend if we want to develop power capacity on the continent?”
Ayukegba envisioned an agreement like that which created the African Continental Free Trade Area with “a bigger focus in that sense on investment rather than just on trade.” For example, the African Export-Import Bank recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the African Petroleum Producers’ Organization with the aim of creating an energy bank to support new and existing oil and gas projects.
As it stands, North African countries are the only ones in a position to immediately benefit from an increase in European gas deals. On Monday, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi arrived in Algeria to sign an agreement that aims to secure additional gas supplies for Italy.
The Week Ahead
Wednesday, July 20: The International Monetary Fund holds a briefing on Burundi.
Thursday, July 21: South Africa decides on interest rates.
Monday, July 25: Tunisia holds a referendum on a new constitution, called by President Kais Saied.
The U.N. Security Council holds consultations on its mission in Libya (UNSMIL).
French President Emmanuel Macron travels to Cameroon for a two-day visit.
Tuesday, July 26: Candidates in Kenya’s Aug. 9 presidential election take part in a debate.
What We’re Watching
Egypt withdraws from Mali. Egypt is the latest country to withdraw troops from Mali, citing an increase in attacks, which have killed seven of its peacekeepers this year. “As a result, the Egyptian contingent will temporarily suspend its activities within MINUSMA as of August 15,” said Olivier Salgado, the spokesperson of the U.N. mission in Mali.
The announcement comes days after Mali ordered the suspension of all new U.N. peacekeeping rotations and arrested 49 soldiers from the Ivory Coast on their arrival at Bamako’s airport. Mali’s ruling junta, which came to power in a coup last May, said it considered them mercenaries.
In a bid to assert sovereignty, Mali’s military rulers have expelled French and Danish troops. Germany drew down its EU deployment in Mali and redeployed its U.N. peacekeepers to neighboring Niger after the junta’s use of Russian mercenaries associated with the Wagner Group. Mali’s junta enjoys substantial public support from civilians who have witnessed failed European and regional policies to curb attacks by armed groups.
Ghana’s economic woes. Ghana’s inflation rate climbed to 29.8 percent in June—the highest level in nearly 19 years—as the cost of living continues to spiral. Having reversed a policy of not seeking aid from the International Monetary Fund, Ghana’s government could request as much as $1.5 billion in a bailout package.
The Ghanaian cedi has lost 24 percent of its value against the dollar this year alone, and on top of that, food inflation has risen 30.7 percent (bread prices are up 44.5 percent) and transport costs 41.6 percent more than last year, according to the latest data from the country’s statistical service.
Russia’s naval base dreams. According to two U.S. intelligence officials who spoke to Foreign Policy, Moscow’s hopes of establishing Russia’s first African naval base at Port Sudan have been put on hold due to hesitancy and disagreements within Sudan’s military leadership. Coup leader and de facto head of state Abdel Fattah al-Burhan is keen to avoid alienating the West and key regional allies such as Egypt.
FP’s Amy Mackinnon, Robbie Gramer, and Jack Detsch reported the news, warning that Moscow could seek other options along the Red Sea coast.
This Week in Culture
Language in Uganda. Uganda’s cabinet has adopted Kiswahili (also known as Swahili) as an official language and recommended that it become compulsory in primary and secondary schools. There is a concerted effort across the continent to preserve widely used local languages, and English has been Uganda’s only official language since independence from Britain in 1962. (Uganda’s most spoken language is Luganda.)
Kiswahili has around 200 million speakers, predominantly in East Africa, and the African Union made it an official language in February—the only African language out of the AU’s six official working languages. (The others are English, French, Portuguese, Arabic, and Spanish.)
Crawdads controversy. A film adaptation of the novel Where the Crawdads Sing hit theaters this month, reigniting scrutiny over the activities of its American author, Delia Owens, in Zambia’s North Luangwa National Park. Police in Zambia still want to question Owens and her then-husband, Mark Owens, in the case of an alleged poacher whose murder was filmed by ABC News in a televised documentary that aired in the 1990s.
There are claims that the novel’s plot resembles the “righteously motivated murder.” The Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg has updated his 18,000-word investigation, originally published in the New Yorker in 2010, in which he claims that Owens’s stepson, Christopher Owens, then 25, was a member of a scouting party that allegedly shot the man and that Mark had helped dispose of the body. Zambian officials say there is no statute of limitations on murder.
Chart of the Week
Richer nations have stopped financing local consumer gas and oil projects in Africa while simultaneously backing African projects for export markets. As Todd Moss and Vijaya Ramachandran noted in a December 2021 article for Foreign Policy, if Africa (excluding North African countries and South Africa) tripled electricity consumption using natural gas overnight, the additional emissions would equal just 0.62 percent of total global emissions today.
What We’re Reading
Investigation of Nigeria’s frontrunner. In West Africa Weekly, David Hundeyin examines how Bola Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos state and front-runner in Nigeria’s 2023 presidential election, became involved in a drug investigation.
In the 1990s, Tinubu fought a lawsuit in which the U.S. government accused him of being connected to a bank account laundering the proceeds of heroin trafficking—eventually reaching a $460,000 forfeiture settlement without indictment. A current court case in Nigeria also accuses Tinubu of secretly controlling and siphoning funds through the firm Alpha Beta Consulting, which collects taxes in Lagos. Tinubu has denied the reports as “unsubstantiated allegations.”
Abortion rights in Chad. The U.S. Supreme Court decision to strike down Roe v. Wade will have consequences far beyond the United States. In New Lines, Line Sidonie Talla Mafotsing reviews the poignant drama Lingui, The Sacred Bonds by Chadian filmmaker Mahamat-Saleh Haroun.
Set on the outskirts of the capital of N’Djamena, the film follows single mother Amina, who discovers that her 15-year-old daughter, expelled from school for being pregnant, wants an abortion in a country where seeking the procedure for social and economic reasons carries a jail term. Supported by a secret network of women, Amina tries to find a backstreet doctor willing to perform the procedure.
As Mafotsing writes, “Haroun transports us to a Chadian society in which politics and religion form their own bond,” but the resilience of the women appears stronger.
Nosmot Gbadamosi is a multimedia journalist and the writer of Foreign Policy’s weekly Africa Brief. She has reported on human rights, the environment, and sustainable development from across the African continent. Twitter: @nosmotg
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