C-19: Africa’s “wicked problem”: An Africa in Fact pandemic blog series

How African governments go about the challenges of dealing with the pandemic will shape the future of the continent for many years. In this Africa in Fact series of blogs, six of our correspondents across the continent will report over the next twelve weeks on aspects of their governments’ policies and actions.

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the corona virus a pandemic on 11 March, and most governments, including many African governments, have adopted a range of measures to contain it. Most countries have opted for a lockdown, with citizens required to stay at home and observe social distancing when not at home. The Asian Development Bank estimated that the drop in economic activity will cost between $5.8 tn and $8.8 tn, equal to between 6.4% and 9.7% of global economic output (BBC, 15 May 2020).

The Asian Development Bank estimated that the drop in economic activity will cost between $5.8 tn and $8.8 tn, equal to between 6.4% and 9.7% of global economic output (BBC, 15 May 2020).

In their lack of preparedness, governments and elites around the world show that they have failed to learn the lesson of the crisis of 2008, commented Nobel-prizewinning economist Joseph Stiglitz on 15 April in Foreign Policy: they had been happy to create a new international financial system that was “good at absorbing small shocks, but was systemically fragile”. They had not, he suggested, planned for systems that were resilient to large shocks.

Other prominent global thinkers also briefly outlined their views on the core issues relating to the pandemic. Most were concerned that businesses and governments would resort to economic nationalism, and that the crisis will usher in growing inequality both within and between nations with many attendant issues, such as food security and energy security. Global trends toward digitalisation and work automation will also likely speed up – further widening the technological gap between the developed and developing countries. Many businesses (mostly small companies) and jobs will be lost.

While the pandemic is the first crisis to “engulf” both developed and developing economies, according to Harvard’s Carmel M Reinhart, it will likely have very different effects on them. The poor living conditions of most of Africa’s inhabitants will make it difficult to contain and mitigate the pandemic, while some governments’ “neglect of marginalised segments of society” has left many people vulnerable to the disruption of such a large-scale shock, according to Eddie Ndopu, a UN Secretary-General’s Advocate for the Sustainable Development Goals (weforumorg, 1 April 2020).

In mid-April, the ILO said the pandemic would destroy 195 million jobs globally and “drastically cut the income of another 1.25 billion, most of whom are already poor”. The pandemic is a “magnifying glass” on inequality both in and between countries, according to columnist Andreas Kluth (Bloomberg, 13 April 2020). In the US, the wealthy can self-isolate while workers must continue working, thus facing a greater risk of infection. The virus moves faster through poor neighbourhoods, and disproportionally kills black people.

Yet these social differences are even more extreme in a “shantytown in India or South Africa”, Kluth points out. For many people in developing countries, social distancing is impossible. Moreover, as Richard Cash and Vikram Patel argue in 2 May 2020 article in The Lancet, lockdown conditions are also not practicable, and hunger is an immediate threat to the two billion people who work in informal economies around the globe. As a result, inappropriate policies aimed at addressing the pandemic might result in more social uprisings, especially in developing countries.

Estimates of the immediate, public health effects of the coronavirus on Africa vary widely. A mid-April report by the UN Economic Commission for Africa predicated some 1,2 billion infections and 3.3. million deaths in Africa from the virus over the next year. However, the WHO estimates that about a quarter of a billion Africans will be infected, and that the continent will suffer about 190,000 deaths from the virus. It must be said that the reports are not strictly comparable, as they are based on different sets of data.

The WHO estimates that about a quarter of a billion Africans will be infected, and that the continent will suffer about 190,000 deaths from the virus.

The WHO study argues, for instance, that Africa’s youthful population will contribute to lower transmission rates. It is believed that the Covid-19 virus is more infectious and fatal for older people, for men, and for the obese. If so, lifestyle factors, such as the continent’s relatively low proportion of obese people, may help, as Karen McVeigh suggests, writing in The Guardian on 15 May 2020. But in reality, both studies are based on limited assumptions. “Prediction”, as the scientists insist, is a matter of probabilities.

“[A] disproportionate share of the world’s poor risk massive upheaval as health, political, and economic systems struggle to manage the pandemic,” according to Kaysie Brown and Megan Roberts, two senior officers of the UN Foundation (‘Tackling COVID-19’, Council on Foreign Relations, 24 March 2020). Of all the continents, Africa is likely to be most seriously affected on every level.

No fewer than 33 African countries are among the least developed in the world. According to a 2016 RAND Corporation report, 22 out of the 25 countries most vulnerable to infection outbreaks are in Africa (Kaan Devecioglu 2 April 2020, Andolu Agency). “The welfare of a billion people depends on how governments balance saving lives from the virus while minimising economic damage in a continent where more than 400m people live on the equivalent of less than $1.90 a day,” according to The Economist on 26 March 2020.

In this series of blogs, six Africa in Fact correspondents across the continent will use the “wicked problem” lens to report on their governments’ policies and actions. In outline, a “wicked problem” has “multiple stakeholders involved in complex and unpredictable interactions”, according to Williams and Van ‘t Hof (2014). More specifically, “wicked problems” may have no definitive description, nor any one “correct” solution, and it can even be difficult to know when and if they have been solved. Our blog series will look at the following six broad themes, each of which represents part of the C-19 “wicked problem”:

  • Leadership Style;
  • Rule of Law;
  • Work and Jobs;
  • Public Health Measures;
  • Social Support Measures; and
  • Planning The Future We Want.

Each of these areas represents a choice out of many options. But each theme selects an area of life, at least, that is clearly crucial to Africa’s future. How, in fact, have African governments been dealing with this unprecedented crisis in these areas?

Certainly the Covid-19 pandemic represents “something new under the sun”, according to Columbia University’s Adam Tooze. No crisis in the modern world has been so extensive, multi-facetted, or fraught with large but unpredictable consequences. Governments around the world, and African governments in particular, face immense pressures and challenges.

No crisis in the modern world has been so extensive, multi-facetted, or fraught with large but unpredictable consequences.

Yet as noted, in policy studies, such situations can be described as “wicked problems” and they can be addressed. They involve multiple stakeholders in complex and unpredictable interactions. That is, every complex problem has constituent parts in various relationships with each other. Together, they make up the overall shape, or structure, of the problem. A systemic analysis of a “wicked problem” will start, then, by looking closely at the stakeholders involved, as well as their relationships and their perspectives. The approach is outlined in the following steps:

 

Relationships

  1. Who and what are the elements of the problem situation?
  1. How do their processes contribute to the situation?
  1. What sort of relationships exist between them? (friendly, antagonistic e.g.)
  1. What patterns emerge from these relationships?
  1. Which relationships are key to the situation?

 

Perspectives

  1. Which stakeholder roles are key to solving the situation?
  1. What are the key stakes involved?
  1. What are the stakeholders’ perspectives on the situation?
  1. How do their perspectives shape their actions and expectations?

 

Evaluation

  1. Which key relationships are privileged and marginalised?
  1. Which key perspectives are privileged and marginalised?
  1. What ethical, political and pragmatic considerations are important?[1]

 

This approach does not, and cannot aim at a particular “solution” that is specified beforehand. The angle we take on the problem will influence our decisions in each of these areas.

In the context of Africa’s response to the C-19 crisis, stakeholders might be governments, scientists, citizens, and medical supplies companies, for example. Or they might be governments, workers, businesses and legal advisers. Similarly, the relationships between stakeholders will be shaped by the angle we take. Pharmaceutical companies might have a cooperative or an antagonistic relationship with government, depending on context.

And finally, even how we evaluate the overall situation – that is, what we regard as a “solution” – will also be partly determined by the angle we take. Is the main purpose to protect public health? Or is it to protect the economy? Or to ensure that the country is closed to outside influence? And how might policymakers be influenced to protect health and economic dynamism simultaneously?

“Wicked problems” may appear intractable, but they have been effectively studied and addressed just because they are an increasingly influential factor in modern societies. Very different answers to these questions are playing out in different governments’ responses to the crisis today. And as with other “wicked problems”, we believe that a clearly outlined systemic approach to the major themes of Africa’s C-19 crisis can provide a helpful backdrop to evaluating and strengthening the response of African governments to the pandemic.

 

We are pleased to have a stellar group of writers working with us on this series. They are:

Vanessa Offiong – Abuja, Nigeria

Amindeh Atabong – Yaounde, Cameroon

Tamrat Georgis – Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Mark Kapchanga – Nairobi, Kenya

Sarah Nyengerai – Harare, Zimbabwe

Owen Gagare – Harare, Zimbabwe

Paula Fray – Johannesburg, South Africa

 

To find out more about each of them, check out their biographies elsewhere in this Africa in Fact microsite. Each of the countries they work from is having a very different experience of this C-19 crisis. We look forward to hearing from them over the next twelve weeks as they build up a truly pan-African picture of the pandemic and what our governments are doing, or could better be doing, to mitigate it.

 

We’d love to hear from you! Join The Wicked Conversation by leaving your comments below, or send your letter to the editor to richard@gga.org.

 


[1] Adapted from Williams and Van ‘t Hof, Wicked Solutions, 2014, pp 18-22.

 

Richard Jurgens is editor of Africa in Fact. He spent ten years in exile with the ANC, in Africa and Europe. Since 1994 he has worked as a journalist, editor, translator and writer, with experience in South Africa and Europe in mainstream media, corporate communications and alternative media. An author with several books to his name, he has a BA (Hons) in philosophy and is currently pursuing a Master’s in public policy studies at the Wits School of Governance.

Demystifying the science

Digital tools: mining the data

An African NPO combines traditional investigative reporting techniques with data analysis and geo-mapping to help track eco-offences

Assessment of eight coal mines in Mpumalanga showed pollution of both surface and underground water resources.
Photo: Oxpeckers

South Africa has laws and processes in place that cater for public participation in the environmental impact assessments (EIAs) needed before most new developments can go ahead, including mining. The problem is that many local residents affected by these developments struggle to access critical information about what is happening – often they have to read about them in small type on notices pinned to fences and trees, or in obfuscated newspaper advertisements.

At an Editors’ Lab Hackathon in 2013, a team from Oxpeckers Investigative Environmental Journalism, a non-profit organisation that combines traditional investigative reporting with data analysis and geo-mapping tools to expose eco-offences and track organised criminal syndicates in southern Africa, put together an innovative solution: build a digital app that would alert residents to developments happening in their neighbourhood. The app would enable users to search for new developments in their area, give inputs where appropriate, and register to receive alerts whenever new information became available.

This was the start of #GreenAlert, an open-source web and mobile platform that provides citizens with a simple tool to track EIAs and other land-use change notices, and that aims to stimulate public engagement, improve accountability and promote civic engagement through active citizenry. Based on the #GreenAlert project, Oxpeckers went on to build a similar initiative in the mining sector. Called #MineAlert, this app is a centralised tool for users to access, track, and share information and documents on mining applications and licences.

The first iteration was launched in April 2016, the second in 2018 expanded the platform to map risks posed to water resources by mining activities, and the third iteration, launched in August 2019, empowers users to track and share water-use licences approved for mining. Both tools are citizen-focused, web-based apps that aim to promote transparency and an informed citizenry. Using location-based  email alerts for development and mining applications, they also provide online access to important documents, such as environmental authorisations, and mining social and labour plans.

The ideal implementation of these platforms would be to update the data inputs via an API (application programming interface) linked to the relevant government departments. Oxpeckers are working on this option, and in the meantime populate the tools with data obtained under South Africa’s Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA), and information provided by users. Long-term impacts of the extractives industry, such as acid mine drainage, are adding to the problems of drought, water security and climate change across South Africa. Rural communities are usually the first to experience first- hand the negative impacts on freshwater resources.

“Since the platinum mine began operating in our area there’s been polluted water discharged into our rivers. Our livestock drink from there and are dying. Our community is angry,” tweeted one community member, Mathapelo Thobejane, during a recent #MineAlert community symposium. Most    communities affected by mining have no prior knowledge that a mine is planned in their area, what the conditions of related permits such as water-use licences are, or how to go about addressing negative impacts. They often don’t know how to seek redress when things go wrong, other than to become angry.

Goals for rehabilitating derelict and ownerless mines are often not met. Water pumped out of these abandoned mines leaches heavy metals, including aluminium, cadmium, iron, and manganese, into nearby water reserves and pollutes the quality and quantity of potable water. With these risks in mind, #MineAlert partnered with South Africa’s Water Research Commission (WRC) to develop simplified, user-friendly maps that pinpoint identified strategic freshwater areas most vulnerable to mining activities. The WRC had collated data on water systems, geology, mining activity and ecosystem vulnerability around South Africa, and built models to estimate risks posed to freshwater resources.

#MineAlert translated this complex data into a series of heat-map layers that provide instant visualisations of the risks to freshwater sources and ecosystems posed by mining activities. The visualisations span all mineral provinces, with a greater level of detail in areas where mining frequently takes place. As a country that is considered to be one of the driest countries per capita in the world, South Africa depends greatly on its strategic water source areas. These are natural “water factories”, supporting growth and development needs that are often situated far away.

Strategic water source areas (SWSAs) cover just 8% of the country’s surface but supply 50% of the annual runoff, according to the WRC. They supply 50% of the population with water, 64% of the economy and about 70% of the water that is used by agriculture. Although 21 SWSAs have been identified, only 11% of them receive formal protection. The #MineAlert Mining your Water map layer, launched in August 2019, drills down into granular data on priority freshwater resources to investigate the impacts of mining on those.

It pinpoints where water-use licences granted for mining project are situated in SWSAs – and shares the conditions that apply to the licences. Knowing what conditions and guidelines mining companies should adhere to in terms of water-use regulations is a useful way of tracking and understanding the impacts of mining on water resources, and of holding the companies involved to account. The need to monitor water-use applications and licences was emphasised by a recent Oxpeckers investigation that exposed sweeping water permit violations at mines across South Africa.

Based on data shared in parliament by the Department of Water and Sanitation, the article showed a radical increase in the number of mines flouting water-use regulations.holding the companies involved to account. The data Oxpeckers uses on its digital platforms is aggregated and analysed in journalistic investigations. For example, in 2015 Oxpeckers investigated whether the mining industry in South Africa was abiding by the undertakings that companies, by law, make to rehabilitate mines that are no longer in use.

Drawing on the mining licences data shared on #MineAlert, and working with other Oxpeckers team members, journalist Mark Olalde sourced and collated data on mine closures and the financial provisions for rehabilitation of end-of-life mines. He spent 21 months pestering government departments for information, formally submitting requests under the PAIA and travelling from pillar to post to secure the data.”Thursday mornings were for sitting in the office with a cup of freeze-dried, instant coffee,” Olalde recalls.

“#PAIAday, as I called this weekly ritual, was my method for prying as much formerly secret information as possible from the country’s Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) into the public domain. Between sips of coffee, I would call/email/pester every provincial DMR office on my list for the week.” Olalde then curated and analysed the datasets to produce a series of investigations on mine closure trust funds, financial provisions for rehabilitation and closure certificates, starting with ‘Mine closures: What’s happening in your backyard?’.

His second investigation, ‘Coal mines leave a legacy of ruin’, revealed that since at least 2011 no large coal mines operating in South Africa had been granted closure. This means the mines have not been rehabilitated and were simply abandoned, leaving a legacy of local and global pollution. The third and final investigation, ‘R60-billion held for mines that are never closed’ exposed “a failed system of mine closure in which there is little oversight, large mining house carry the brunt of responsibility for financial provisions that are never used and mines that are never fully closed”.

This work on mine closures not only liberated previously unseen datasets but has been discussed during parliamentary committee meetings and has resulted in the government amending the regulations pertaining to Financial Provision for Prospecting, Exploration, Mining or Productions Operations. The revised regulations will repeal and replace the Financial Provisioning Regulations of 2015 and include changes in the calculation of financial provisions.

The Department of Environmental Affairs is drafting new regulations to govern financial provisions for mine closures that could fundamentally transform how clean-ups are funded. Previously governed by the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, financial guarantees and other aspects of mine closure now fall under the National Environmental Management Act. The new regulations come with more stringent requirements for transparency, including for auditing financial provisions, which are proposed to occur every three years and to include “independent specialists”.

Will rising temperatures make some areas uninhabitable for animals and humans? Will today’s coastal towns be under water in future? These are the type of questions scientists all over the world are trying to answer by predicting how local climates and the global climate will change over the next decades. Climate modelling is an incredibly complex science. Carefully generated algorithms that try to consider all the variables are fed into powerful computers that calculate how climates might change. The variables that influence the climate include things like how cloud cover affects sunlight penetration, how air flows over mountain ranges and across oceans, how the sun heats up different parts of land and sea at different rates, and how much pollution is in the air over different parts of the world.

Oxpeckers set about demystifying the science with ClimaTracker, a geojournalism tool that uses interactive maps and journalism to make complex climate modelling easily accessible. Its aims include working with civil society and government entities to inform vulnerable communities and to assist in strengthening their responsive capacity by reporting on both good and bad adaptive practices for building resilience.

Using heat maps based on climate modelling data generated by researchers at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), ClimaTracker features a temperature timeline that shows how much average temperatures have changed and are likely to change in the future. Farming maps, based on a climate model called ACRU developed by Professor Roland Schulze at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, show how these temperature increases will affect the average yearly primary production in different parts of South Africa over the next 100 years.

Food security is one of the biggest worries associated with climate change; what do rising temperatures and changes in agricultural production mean for the average household? Oxpeckers has created the ClimaTracker Food Basket Calculator to show the costs of climate change in real terms. The tool offers a gamified user experience that brings the message home by letting users calculate and compare their average food basket costs from year to year. Users select items they are most  likely to purchase in a shopping trip to get an idea of how much crop and animal product costs have increased, or decreased, over the year.

All this information is useful for journalists reporting on climate change, adaptation and food security. Again, using and linked to the data that powers the platforms, Oxpeckers created and published a series of related journalistic investigations.

Fiona MacLeod is a seasoned investigative environmental journalist who is pioneering the use of new media tools to expose eco-offences. She currently heads up Oxpeckers Investigative Environmental Journalism.

 

A clear and present threat

Climate change: perceptions and experiences

Although nearly 60% of Africans are aware of climate change, some of the continent’s most influential countries lag behind in widespread awareness

Across the continent, African citizens have begun to witness the consequences of climate change, driven by human industrialisation and the pursuit of economic growth. Climate change is a gradual process of average climate modification, which is what has made it difficult to track or detect based only on human personal experience. Every day we experience variations in temperature according to the time of day or season of the year. This makes it challenging for ordinary citizens to really comprehend the risks associated with a global average temperature change of 1.5 or 20C.

Factors that influence Africa’s vulnerability to climate change stem from its high dependence on natural resources, limited financial and institutional capacity, low GDP per capita and high levels of poverty. Employment in agriculture remains high across the continent; as of 2019 an average of 44% (of total employment) was in agriculture. The graph below provides the estimates for agricultural employment for African countries that have more than 40% of total employment in agriculture. Long-term temperature and rainfall variations will have a serious impact on the livelihoods of African citizens.

Agriculture remains an important economic activity for more than half the continent and will be a sector greatly affected by climate change. In the recent Afrobarometer Round 7 (2017- 18) Survey, “climate  change” was not identified as the most important problem respondents believed their government should address, although many respondents cited water supply (23%), food shortages (17%) and agriculture (9%) as urgent issues that needed to be addressed. Those responses are embedded in the issues that climate change poses for African citizens. Climate change will certainly have an impact on any developmental progress made in these areas by African governments.

Preparing for, and adapting to, the effects of climate change will require a coordinated effort across the continent. North Africa will witness a reduction in arable land and a shortening of crop-yielding seasons due to a predicted decrease in rainfall and increase in average surface temperature. Similarly, East Africa and southern Africa are regions sensitive to climate variability and most farming practices are dependent on seasonal rainfall. West Africa’s vulnerability also relates to climate-sensitive economic activities such as livestock rearing, rain-fed agriculture, fisheries and forestry.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that, under a high-emissions scenario, land temperatures over the African continent are likely to rise faster than the global land average. National governments are well aware of the risks climate change poses for future development on the continent, but under-resourced and fragmented institutional frameworks have caused most countries on the continent to be among the least prepared to adapt to climate change, according to the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative Index.

Building up resilience and capacity will require a coordinated effort by both national governments and their populations at large. Perceptions of climate change are arguably guided by national government and business rhetoric on the topic as well as by the personal experiences of ordinary citizens with regards to weather pattern variability. Afrobarometer’s Round 7 Survey conducted 45,823 interviews across 34 African countries, covering almost 80% of the continent’s population, between 2016 and 2018.

The survey included nine questions relating to climate change. The first question asked respondents to rate climate conditions compared to a decade ago; some 48% answered “worse” or “much worse”. An overwhelming majority of respondents from Uganda (85%), Malawi (81%) and Lesotho (79%) had witnessed worse weather conditions for agricultural activities. Only 23% of Mozambicans agreed that climate conditions had worsened, but this fieldwork was conducted prior to the devastating cyclones that hit the country in 2019.

Figure 3 indicates the distribution of respondents who had heard about climate change and believed they had experienced “worse” weather conditions over the past decade. Less than half of the South African citizens had heard about climate change and even fewer believed it had made weather conditions worse. Most ordinary citizens had heard of climate change, but opinions were mixed on whether it had made weather conditions worse.

Citizens were asked to rate whether extreme weather events such as drought or flooding had become “more” or “less” severe where they lived over the past decade. Almost half the respondents reported drought as being somewhat or much more severe, while 28% thought it had become less severe. Figure 4 shows the countries where drought has worsened. In early 2017 drought hit Uganda and its impact was felt most along its so- called “cattle corridors” and into its agricultural sectors. During this period, food insecurity rose to acute levels across most of the eastern and northern parts of Uganda.

The severity of flooding was similarly seen as much worse in both Uganda (73%) and Madagascar (67%), which could be closely linked to the increase in drought intensity. When examining the demographic splits for the continent, respondents living in rural areas were more likely to observe worse weather patterns than those living in urban areas. There was a similar contrast among age groups; respondents over the age of 56 were more likely to provide a more negative view of historical weather changes than the younger age groups.

Occupation also played a role in the kind of response citizens gave: six out of 10 respondents whose occupations were in agriculture, fishing or forestry observed worse or much worse climate conditions over the past decade. Exposure to news from any source was also associated with higher levels of awareness. However, those who got their daily news from either the internet or social media sources were much more likely to have heard of climate change. Part of being informed about climate change is understanding the meaning of the concept itself. Citizens were asked whether climate change meant negative, positive or other changes in weather patterns and on average two-thirds associated it with negative changes in the weather.

Figure 5 indicates whether those who had said “yes” to hearing about climate change had in fact an understanding of its negative effects on weather patterns. Zimbabwe stands out in that although most of their respondents had heard of climate change, only 31% thought it might be an adverse phenomenon. Among the continent’s most politically influential countries such as Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa, only around one in four citizens had a basic awareness of climate change. Overall, Africa’s perceptions of climate change lack any uniform pattern and awareness remains as varied as its natural environment.

Many countries are experiencing changes in their weather patterns and evidence suggests these are having a dire impact on farmers and food security. Although nearly 60% of Africans are at least aware of climate change on average, some of the continent’s biggest players lag behind in widespread awareness and understanding. Collective awareness and an understanding of climate change by ordinary citizens will be crucial when governments try  to adapt and mitigate its consequences for socio-economic development. Capacity building for early warning systems and mitigation strategies are important to assist those citizens who are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Monique Bennet is a senior researcher at Good Governance Africa. She has a keen interest in data science, data visualisation and statistics using the R programming language. Throughout her studies, research topics such as development, democracy and the environment within the context of developing countries have been her focus areas.

Leading from the front

Youth: their time is now

Young people are playing a crucial role in advancing climate action and climate justice

Elizabeth Wathuti
Photo: Raphael Obonyo

Climate change continues to threaten human existence, economic growth and the livelihoods of vulnerable populations, and experts predict that Africa will be struck more severely than most by the impact. Across the continent, young people are enraged about the lack of action on climate change and are demanding action and taking action. As United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres summed up in his speech at the G-7 Summit in August last year, 2015 to 2019 were the five hottest years on record. At the same time, according to the World Meteorological Organization, the level of CO2 in the atmosphere is the highest in human history.

The recent Special Report on 1.5°C (the impacts of 1.5°C global warming above pre-industrial levels) from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change summarised the scientific evidence. The report is in its findings: limiting unequivocal warming to 1.5°C requires major and immediate transformation across all sectors of society. There is a need to reduce annual emissions by half of their current level by 2030 if we are to have a chance of limiting warming to 1.5°C. According to Doug Ragan, UN Habitat’s Child and Youth specialist, “Climate change also threatens human security because it undermines the environment, livelihoods, communities and the ability of states to provide the conditions necessary for sustainable peace.

Young people’s voice, agency, and leadership have played a crucial role in advancing climate action and climate justice.” Indeed, young people in Africa are leading the way in the fight against climate change and stepping up to help their communities because they know the future depends on their actions. Adjany Costa, a 29-year-old environmentalist agrees that youth innovation and energies are essential in the fight against climate change. She has been at the forefront in demanding conservation of precious water and biodiversity hotspots in Angola. Her efforts have not gone unnoticed; in 2019 she received the young Champion of the Earth award from the UN Environment Programme.

In Ghana, Kwabena Danso, young entrepreneur and founder of Boomers International Ltd, is working with other young people on a project that encourages bamboo farming. Currently they work with more than 200 rural farmers to get them into bamboo agroforestry, which will empower them economically, protect the environment (bamboo improves soil fertility and absorbs more carbon than any other plant) and at the same time, provide the company with a sustainable supply of raw materials for making bicycles. Bamboo can therefore support a healthy, non-polluting form of alternative transport, meeting growing mobility needs while addressing climate change, environmental degradation, poverty, and high unemployment among young people.

Adjany Costa Photo: Raphael Obonyo

As Danso says, all we have is one world and we have no option than to protect it – this is the mandate of the youth of our time. Young Africans are making change happen, through their activism and also through their jobs and livelihoods. Another example is Alhaji Siraj Bah, a 20-year-old activist from Sierra Leone, who has set up an enterprise making biodegradable paper bags from banana fibres. He started his company with just $20, with the aim of combating plastic pollution, deforestation, air pollution, improper waste management and youth unemployment. His company, Rugsal, also produces smokeless, long-lasting and affordable briquettes from coconut waste.

There is no doubt that young people in Africa are charting the future as they help their communities adapt to the climate changes already happening. In Kenya, young people like Elizabeth Wathuti are mobilising to create a positive environmental impact. Wathuti, 24, founded the Green Generation Initiative in 2016 to address global environmental challenges such as deforestation, pollution and environmental injustices. She has organised a number of tree planting activities, including clean-ups and environmental education activities, all the while increasing awareness of the environmental challenges created by climate change.

Growing up in Nyeri county, a Kenyan region known for its beautiful forests, in a village where  planting  trees and drinking from clean streams was the norm, she connected with nature at a young age. Her first act as an environmental activist was planting her a tree when she was seven years old, inspired by the late Nobel Laureate Professor Wangari Maathai, who at that time was the Member of Parliament in her home region, Tetu. “Many people say that Africa will be the hardest hit by the impacts of the climate crisis, but the reality is that Africa has already had to go through a lot of challenges as the reality of the climate crisis has already hit home,” she says.

Kwabena Danso Photo: Raphael Obonyo

“It is not a future concern; it is about now, and things will only get worse for us if global action is not taken.” Through her organisation, Wathuti gives children and young people practical environmental education, greening and So far, she has trained and nurtured more than 20,000 children in different schools across Kenya, encouraging them to love nature and be conscious of the environment at a young age and their role in addressing the ongoing climate crisis. The adopt-a-tree campaign has helped inculcate a tree growing culture among people, especially children. Out of the more than 30,000 trees they have planted in schools, including fruit trees, thus far, 99% have survived.

Wathuti believes that the impact the campaign will have is not the number of trees planted so much as the number that will reach maturity. “We have a critical role to play as young people – and we must do all we can to tackle climate change,” says Charlot Magayi, the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Kenyan-based Mukuru Clean Stoves, a social enterprise that recycles waste metal to produce improved, efficient cooking stoves. Magayi partners with local women business owners to distribute to the last mile. “The stove’s ventilation is improved to ensure toxic smoke emissions are reduced by 70%,” she says.

In Uganda, Leah Namugerwa, a 15-year-old climate activist and student has been striking every Friday for greater action on climate change, plastic pollution and more. Also, she’s started the Birthday Trees initiative, encouraging people to celebrate their birthdays by planting trees. At the UN Habitat’s World Urban Forum in Abu Dhabi in February this year, Namugerwa led young people gathered at the Youth Assembly to demand urgent and substantive action on the climate crisis. “Adults are not willing to offer leadership,” Namugerwa told the gathering, “so I offer myself.”

As Ovais Sarmad, the Deputy Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change, has remarked, young people have brought a breath of fresh air to the ongoing conversation about climate change: they continue to remind leaders of the need for urgency the world faces and of the imperative to work towards a cleaner and greener future.

 

Raphael Obonyo is a public policy analyst. He’s served as a consultant with the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA). An alumnus of Duke University, he has authored and co-authored numerous books, including Conversations about the Youth in Kenya (2015). He is a TEDx fellow and has won various awards.

Rethinking Public Healthcare Systems In Africa: a Covid-19 reflection

‘The right to life’ is fundamental; an imprescriptible right inherent to all human beings. The Equity and Human Rights Commission states that governments should take appropriate measures to safeguard life by “taking steps to protect you if your life is at risk.” With public healthcare in Africa suffering chronic shortages of critical drugs, medical brain-drain, insufficient public healthcare funding, as well as inadequate pharmaceutical production, are African governments taking appropriate measures to safeguard citizens’ lives?

Approximately 80% of Africans in the middle-income bracket, and below, rely on public health facilities. Leading killers on the continent, often described as ‘the big three’ include malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. Important to note (as per the figure below) is the transition over recent years to lifestyle diseases like obesity and diabetes. Approximately 50% of under-five deaths in Africa are caused by pneumonia, diarrhoea, measles, HIV, tuberculosis and malaria.

 

Source: Monique Bennett ©, Good Governance Africa

 

According to the International Finance Corporation, health care in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) exhibits the worst performance in the world, with few countries able to spend the $34 to $40 a year per person that the World Health Organization (WHO) considers the minimum for basic health care. Africa’s capacity for pharmaceutical research and development, as well as local drug production, still has a long way to go. Fewer than 40 out of 54 African states have some level of pharmaceutical production.

Most African countries rely on imported pharmaceutical ingredients. The implication may be that citizens will not have access to affordable locally manufactured medicines as prohibitively expensive imports dominate the markets. Another implication is that the shortages of medicines in some public healthcare facilities like local clinics mean that they will often refer sick patients to larger hospitals for basic medicine. This creates a bottleneck at these larger facilities and diverts resources away from their core focus, the very opposite of what should be happening in system-governance terms.

Beyond the medicine shortages and bottleneck problems, several other factors inhibit access to health care, one of which is access to skilled personnel. A brain-drain of homegrown doctors migrating abroad amplifies the pre-existing challenges. Another factor is the sheer under-allocation of resources towards healthcare. Current health expenditure as a percentage of GDP for SSA sits at 5.2% compared with a global average of 9.9%. Compounding the situation, corruption often diverts the little that is allocated away from where it is needed most.

The WHO defines having access to health as having medicines continuously available and affordable at facilities that are within one hour’s walk of the population. To this effect, mobile healthcare services have seen success in some parts of Africa, particularly in remote rural areas.

More research and deliberation are needed on how the major differences between Africa, America, Europe and Asia might matter. Thus far there has been no technical guidance on how African governments should approach their considerably different contexts. The advice is often the same globally while the context is not. African governments should focus on designing tailor-made public healthcare strategies in confronting C-19, for example, subject to each country’s unique demographic and socio-economic characteristics:  “[F]ailure to recognise that one size does not fit all could have lethal consequences in this region, maybe even more lethal than those of the virus itself.”

Sustainable Development Goal 3 calls for the promotion of healthy living and the well-being of all. Countries have committed to ensuring healthy lives and promoting wellbeing for all as well as achieving a range of health targets by 2030. What role should African governments and partners play to support the continent in achieving set targets?

First, a re-allocation of expenditure towards investing in healthcare personnel could contribute to the reduction of brain-drain of homegrown doctors. On average, according to the WHO, 39% of African health budgets are spent on medical products, while expenditure on the health workforce (14%) and infrastructure (7%) is low. An analysis of spending patterns suggests that countries with well-performing health systems invest up to 40% on the health workforce and 33% on infrastructure.

Second, performance (efficiency) has to be improved. In the same WHO report mentioned above, performance is described as an integrated measure of a country’s ability to improve access to services, quality of care, community demand for services and resilience to outbreaks. In SSA, performance is poor across all these dimensions, but particularly in the areas of ensuring access to services and resilience to outbreaks. Precarious health systems are not able to withstand shocks such as disease outbreaks, evidenced by the C-19 pandemic. This is a function of a combination of funding shortages, sub-optimal resource allocation and corruption. The people, institutions and resources needed to deliver health related services are only performing at 49% of their potential capacity.

Third, the pandemic has exposed gaps in health services that require urgent attention in many African countries. A lack of access to testing (along with results backlogs) are hampering efforts to save lives. While many African countries responded swiftly by enacting measures to slow the spread of the pandemic, many also lack the capacity to test for C-19, isolate people with confirmed or suspected cases, trace contacts, and treat those with severe illness. The economic impacts, too, of swift responses were arguably not sufficiently considered.

What matters most for effective C-19 treatment is ICU/oxygenation availability. The global data strongly suggests that economic interventions (lockdowns and/or bans on alcohol, etc.) make little difference – on a log scale, the infection rate is almost exactly the same shape over time in every context. This suggests that optimal responses are those that effectively communicate the message of social distancing and invest in oxygen capacity for those most badly afflicted, but do not shut down economies.

While African governments urgently address the demands of the Covid-19 pandemic, they should simultaneously address co-morbidities (particularly diseases presenting with a cough or fever, along with diabetes). Given the known influence of clinical activity and health seeking behaviour on TB and HIV detection, primary healthcare staff need to be alert for these conditions during the C-19 pandemic. Undetected TB and HIV will exacerbate the C-19 death count.

Finally, an extensive opportunity cost associated with governance responses to pandemics is “C-19-diversion” (resources allocated to C-19 at the expense of other important burdens that suddenly appear less urgent because of the novelty of pandemics). Diabetes and cancer treatments are among the casualties of this diversion. Diabetes is the co-morbidity most strongly associated with C-19 deaths. African governments should, therefore, urgently invest in eliminating it, for instance through removing taxes on nutritious foods and imposing high taxes on refined carbohydrates. More efficient C-19 testing, combined with efforts to reduce co-morbidities, will likely lead to better future healthcare outcomes.

During and beyond the C-19 pandemic, African governments should re-think their public healthcare systems and tailor-make them to serve their unique contexts, bringing the healthcare element of the right to life front and centre in their policies and programmes to improve citizens’ lives.

This article originally appeared in Business Day

 

Christine Dube is the Lead Researcher of our Governance Insights & Analytics programme. She completed her Bachelor of Social Sciences degree in Industrial, Organisational and Labour Studies in 2011, her Honours in Commerce in 2012, and her Master of Commerce at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in 2013. Her experience includes risk analysis, finance, administration as well as marketing and sales. Her interests include monitoring economic and social developments.

#ZimbabweanLivesMatter: Can South Africa get it right this time?

Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced during a press briefing, that his government has postponed independence day celebrations and discouraged locals from travelling to all affected countries, even though the country has no detected cases so far of the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Harare on March 17, 2020. (Photo by Jekesai NJIKIZANA / AFP)

 

Amid a spiralling economic and political crisis, President Emmerson Mnangagwa addressed the people of Zimbabwe on Tuesday 4 August. His speech, although sudden – four days after his government’s violent  clampdown on the July 31 citizen protests – was highly anticipated. There may have been a desperate hope in some sections of the bruised citizenry that the president would, perhaps in the remotest of ways, acknowledge their suffering and hint at atoning for the state’s brutality. However, the ‘crocodile’ neither acknowledged the legitimacy of the widespread grievances against his leadership nor took any responsibility for bringing the country to this precipice. Instead, President Mnangagwa argued that his administration “has been undermined by the divisive politics of the opposition, sanctions, cyclones, droughts and now COVID19”, and blamed widespread protests on “a few rogue Zimbabweans acting in league with foreign detractors.” The President’s speech exposed a tone deaf and intransigent government at war with its long-suffering citizens.

For the past two decades Zimbabwean citizens have engaged in diverse, valiant efforts to use every legally available avenue to expedite democratic reform. Many Zimbabwean citizens have made heroic efforts to shed light on the gross corruption and mismanagement that has characterised ZANU-PF’s rule and created a staggering man-made disaster. They are currently caught between a regime willing to go to any lengths to crackdown on dissent, the need to navigate the day-to-day difficulties of securing precarious livelihoods, and the fear of contracting COVID-19. In the face of an unrelenting regime and rising from the crushed hopes of 31 July 2020 protests, Zimbabwean citizens have grafted the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter campaign onto ‘the energy and anger of the global’ outcry that #BlackLivesMatter. Can the South African government, whose President has taken  an unequivocal stance on #BlackLivesMatter continue on an indeterminate posture on the plight of its neighbour’s black lives? Their economic and political fate, as aptly observed by SAIIA CEO Elizabeth Sidiropoulos, is intertwined with its own and that of the region.

South Africa is ideally placed to push for change in Zimbabwe, with the two countries sharing many social, political, and economic ties. South Africa remains one of the country’s most important trading partners. Zimbabwe imports 40 percent of its total imports and exports 75 percent of its total exports to South Africa. However, despite the countries’ growing stake in each other’s fates, South Africa’s response to the deepening crisis across the Limpopo leaves much to be desired. Zimbabwe is now considered one of the four most food-insecure countries in the world, alongside Yemen, Somalia and South Sudan. More than 60 percent of Zimbabwe’s 15.6 million people are considered food insecure. Around one in three children under 5 years old suffer from stunted growth as a result of chronic malnutrition. The country has the highest inflation rate in the world at around 800 percent, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects economic contraction of 10.4 percent in 2020, following a 12.8 percent contraction in 2019.

The healthcare system has collapsed, and every day Zimbabwean citizens face persistent fuel shortages and rolling blackouts. The number of Zimbabweans using illegal entry points along the Limpopo River to access medical services and basic commodities has dramatically increased in recent weeks,  heightening the chances of cross-border transmission of COVID-19 in both directions. As many desperate Zimbabweans will make the dangerous journey south, the South African government is poorly prepared to deal with an escalating migrant crisis. The country is wrestling with its own record unemployment levels. Increasingly, regional integration and the flow of people, commodities, knowledge and information means that insecurity anywhere is a threat to security everywhere, challenging the principle of non-interference which has guided foreign relations between southern African states and become institutionalized in the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Decades of  non-interference, liberation politics, and ‘quiet diplomacy’ on behalf of the ANC has simply allowed a political and military elite in Zimbabwe to plunder the country’s resources, undermine democracy, and create an economic crisis with implications for the wider Southern African region.

A more urgent and concrete stance is imperative. It is befitting therefore that after what had seemed like another bout of silence, the Government of South Africa, through the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) ‘noted with concern the reports related to human rights violations in the Republic of #Zimbabwe’. However, from the Mbeki to Zuma administrations, this political gesturing is well-worn. Building on #ZimbabweanLivesMatter, a campaign that has attracted resounding regional and international intervention calls from ordinary citizens, celebrities, politicians, diplomats and multi-lateral institutions alike, it is now ‘easier for SA and the SADC to begin a meaningful engagement with all stakeholders’. But will they? South Africa in particular has an opportunity as a strategic arbiter to harness all these voices across multiple platforms that can begin the work of persuading stakeholders to come to the negotiating table. It is time for the South African government to boldly break out of the ‘liberation war-pact’ cocoon and stand with the citizens of Zimbabwe.

DIRCO’s emphasis on government to government engagement, reported to have been initiated through a telephonic call between Dr. Naledi Pandor and her Zimbabwean counterpart Dr. Sibusiso Moyo, seems to thwart any hopes for including citizen voices. Dr. Pandor’s non-committal reference to ‘South Africa’s readiness to assist if requested’ does not imbue confidence of a radical departure from previous administrations. President Mnangagwa’s 4 August speech and Government Spokesperson Nick Mangwana’s press release (two days later) declaring reports of human rights violations as ‘false’ are not a request for assistance. South Africa now needs to build the diplomatic muscle required to crack through Harare’s hardball defence. Through the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter campaign, the Zimbabwean citizens’ request for assistance has been unambiguously echoed and clearly endorsed regionally and globally. As well noted by the Executive Director of Good Governance Africa, Chris Maroleng, ‘…it is incumbent on…especially…government… in South Africa to stand up and basically call on the government of Zimbabwe to cease and desist from such anti-democratic behaviour.’ South Africa has a unique opportunity to get it right this time. Many are ready to assist.

This article originally appeared in Business Day.

 

Sikhululekile Mashingaidze currently serves as Senior Researcher in the Human Security and Climate Change (HSCC) project at Good Governance Africa. Being engaged as a part-time enumerator for Mass Public Opinion Institute’s diversity of research projects during her undergraduate years ushered her into and nurtured her passion for the governance field. She has worked with Habakkuk Trust, Centre for Conflict Resolution(CCR-Kenya), Mercy Corps Zimbabwe and Action Aid International Zimbabwe, respectively. This has, over the years, enriched her grassroots and national level governance projects’ implementation and management experience. Her academic research interests are in the field of genocide studies with a commitment to deepen her understanding of girls and women’s experiences, their agency in reconstituting everyday life and their inclusion in peace-building and transitional justice processes. Socially she has a keen commitment in supporting girls education, women’s economic empowerment and the fulfilment of their equitable and sustainable development in Africa’s underserved, often hard to reach communities. She enjoys writing and telling the stories of navigating everyday life.

Has the time for hydropower passed?

Hydroelectricity: for and against

Africa has vast untapped sources of hydroelectricity but climate change, particularly droughts, raises questions about sustainability

An aerial view shows the Kariba Dam and the Kariba lake in Kariba on January 20, 2020. From the Zambian side the plant is managed by ZESCO, a state-owned power company. – In the absence of sufficient rain, the Kariba dam, the main source of electricity for Zambia and Zimbabwe, is expected to operate at only 25% of its capacity in 2020. (Photo by Guillem Sartorio / AFP)

Hydroelectricity has an attractive appeal for Africa. It can provide a baseload – a reliable source of electricity – not easily attainable from other clean energy sources, and it also allows grid stabilisation tointegrate more green power. Only about 11% of the continent’s hydropower potential has been tapped but regional plans to more than double hydro production by 2030 exist. Yet, future weather changes such as droughts put power generation at risk.

Ambitions for universal access to power by 2025 mean connecting 200 million households, nearly doubling grid generation, according to a 2018 African Development Bank (AfDB) report. Despite being home to 17% of the world’s population, Africa accounts for just 4% of global power. The continent does, however, have the highest percentage of untapped technical hydropower potential in the world, says Cristina Diez Santos, International Hydropower Association (IHA) Africa analyst.  With energy demand growing twice as fast as the global average, she notes, Africa has the opportunity to use its vast untapped hydropower resources to become the first continent to develop its economy using renewable energy.

Africa has a total installed capacity exceeding 37 MW, accounting for 15% of the total electricity share in the region, but that still leaves 600 million people – about half of the continent’s population – without electricity. For many African nations, hydroelectricity could address this energy gap. The AfDB, through the New Deal on Energy for Africa strategy, a partnership between the bank, governments and other stakeholders that launched in 2016, has backed power projects contributing around 2.78 GW of additional generation capacity, out of which about 755 MW, or less than 30% is from hydropower.

“The sustainable development of Africa’s significant, yet largely untapped hydropower potential, will aid the achievement of the continent’s ambitions in terms of energy access and increased generation capacity to underpin economic development,” Daniel-Alexander Schroth, the acting director for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency at the AfDB told Africa in Fact. “We are [also] cognisant that the complex nature of hydropower projects requires extensive planning, continued partnership, cooperation and learning, especially in the face of climate change challenges.”

Over the past 15 years, the AfDB has invested $560 million in some 20 hydropower projects with a total capacity of over 1.8 GW, out of which around 570 MW are already installed, and the remaining 1.2 GW are yet to be commissioned. The operations supported by the bank’s funding range from small-scale hydro plants such as Sahanivotry in Madagascar (15 MW) and Buseruka in Uganda (9 MW), to large-scale hydro projects like Itezhi-Tezhi in Zambia (120 MW) and Bujagali in Uganda (250 MW). “The threat of climate change will not stop hydropower continuing to be a large part of Africa’s energy mix,” says Malama Chileshe, energy economist at the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) in Lusaka, Zambia.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has Africa’s largest hydropower potential, estimated to be 100,000 megawatts – that is, almost half of the current installed generation capacity on the entire continent, says Chileshe. An estimated $14 billion is required to complete the Inga III hydroelectric mega- dam in the DRC, according to an October 2019 report by the NGO Resource Matters and the Congo Study Group. On completion, the Inga III will become the largest hydropower plant in sub-Saharan Africa. But the DRC, Namibia, Zambia, Ethiopia, Togo, and Sudan are the only African nations that get more than 90% of their power from hydro. “[Hydropower] is barely touched,” says Chileshe.

“It therefore makes sense that efforts should be made to develop the available resource, especially
considering the fact that currently the bulk of power production comes from thermal sources considered environmentally unfriendly.” However, in Africa, the impact of climate change on the power sector and the energy-water nexus cannot  be ignored. Any African countries that are dependent on hydro power will be hard-hit in times of drought. For example, as they had in 2015, in 2019 Zambia and Zimbabwe both experienced erratic rainfall patterns, which resulted in low water levels at the Kariba dam; this led to a loss of more than 70% of electricity production from the dam’s hydro power plants.

In Kenya, a drought between 1999 and 2002 drastically affected hydropower generation, including a 25% reduction in capacity in 2000, Chileshe says. Kariba dam, a double-curvature concrete arch dam in the Kariba Gorge of the Zambezi river basin between Zambia and Zimbabwe, was designed to produce 1,200 megawatts on the basis of 50 years of records of the Zambezi river’s flow. In the past 60 years of its operations, Kariba has spilled five times – illustrating that the original calculations were sound, according to Eddie Cross, a Bulawayo-based Zimbabwean economist. Zambia and Zimbabwe have now doubled generation demand, which has proved to be beyond the dam’s capacity, with water for generation purposes almost running out in 2019, Cross says.

But this year has seen exceptional rains in the Kariba’s catchment areas. At between 55 to 60 billion cubic metres of water inflow, the river’s flow is four times that of 2019, and it is expected that the dam will reach full capacity. “What we are now doing is moving towards using the dam as storage and generating significant solar energy from the sun, and running the Kariba generators at night,” he says. “The whole system needs to be managed,” he cautions. “We have to investigate barrages and river flow technologies below large dams.” Cross argues that hydro is still the best choice for Africa – “it’s cheap and clean” – but he advocates using a mix of technologies.

Wind, hydro and solar are also possible, while coal is still critical for baseload, but should beminimised. While Africa produces just 2% of the world’s energy-related CO2 emissions, climate-related effects
are disproportionately higher in the region, which highlights the importance of a diverse power mix and regional interconnections, Santos says. “Hydropower is a clean power source, which helps to offset the impacts of fossil fuels. Hydropower infrastructure also provides essential adaptation services to reduce the impacts of climate change such as floods and drought,” she told Africa in Fact.

Chileshe says that while developing the hydro potential in places where the rain patterns are still good is important, there is a need for long-term thinking on how Africa will manage the energy- water nexus. Apart from adapting to climate change through diversifying the energy mix to include solar, wind, and geothermal, the continent has to be more interconnected, he argues. “Renewable energies such as solar and wind are associated with issues of variability, due to the constantly changing nature of weather patterns,” Chileshe told Africa in Fact.

These sources of energy need to be coupled with sources that are more reliable, such as hydro, where flowing water is available. Regional integration can also play a role by enabling nations to exchange electricity from regions of plenty to regions of scarcity, he says. For example, when its dry in one  region, it may be raining in another. Endeavours to interconnect the power systems of Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia such as the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP), begun in 1995, and the Eastern Africa Power Pool (EAPP), begun in 2005, facilitate this type of trade, Chileshe adds. Pairing hydro and renewable sources of power could also help manage the effects of climate change, he suggests.

In Scandinavia, for example, Norway has plenty of hydropower plants, while a neighbouring country, Denmark, has wind. Each of these countries can switch off its own form of generation and rely on electricity from the other’s source, depending on environmental and other conditions. “The hydro potential in the African region could be managed in the same way,” Chileshe says. The AfDB also works with regional power pools to ensure that the sustainable development of hydropower resources is underpinned by strong policy, regulatory frameworks, developed regional power markets, sustainable financial and operational performance in the face of climate change challenges, says Schroth.

Santos agrees, saying that if not managed effectively, climate risks associated with dependency on precipitation can lead to shortcomings in terms of a plant’s technical and operational performance. In May 2019, IHA launched a guideline on hydropower climate resilience, which helps decision makers to make effective choices when planning, developing and operating a hydropower project. But, though “cheap and clean”, not everybody thinks hydropower is the right path for Africa. “It is not feasible,” says Siziwe Mota, Africa programme campaigner for International Rivers, which has been assisting dam-affected communities worldwide since 1985, as well as working to protect rivers and the people who depend on them.

“As large dams continue being constructed on the continent, the destruction of river ecosystems and displacement of communities, destruction of livelihoods, and an increase in countries’ debt burden is experienced,” she says. Dams, she adds, also fall short of achieving their intended purpose, especially in the face of climate change and increasingly erratic rainfall, which can reduce energy and water benefits from dams and increase the risks. In March last year, for example, power supply from the Cahora Bassa dam was cut when Cyclone Idai hit Mozambique, highlighting yet another climate-induced disaster that makes big dams vulnerable.

“Dams and reservoirs are significant sources of carbon dioxide and methane, which are greenhouse gases and should by no means be considered ‘green’,” she told Africa in Fact. International Rivers has worked to ensure that dam developers do not gain access to climate finance, such as the Green Climate Fund, for dam projects. Unfortunately, Mota says, African countries are using funds that could be invested in clean, sustainable, renewable, decentralised, alternative sources of energy to either construct, rehabilitate or expand dam projects, leaving little room for investment in clean technologies such as wind, solar or micro- hydropower.

“Hydropower’s time has passed, even though Africa has developed only about 11% percent of its potential,” says David Zarembka, the former coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative, who lives in Lumakanda, a small town in western Kenya. “Those [projects] that are only in the discussing, planning, and financing stages should be dropped. I think that some of the dams now under construction will never be completed.” Zarembka argues that dams take too long to build, usually a decade or more for a large dam. They can also be hazardous if they breach, as happened recently with a dam in Kenya. “Solar, wind, geothermal, and storage are becoming much cheaper than hydro and can usually be built in a year or two rather than a decade or more,” he says.

The amount of hydropower under construction or in the planning stages in sub-Saharan Africa far exceeds its needs for the next decade or two, he argues. Some of those under construction, such as the Grand Renaissance dam in Ethiopia, will become white elephants, he told Africa in Fact. Facing the future should involve energy policy planning that is inclusive of communities and addresses their water and energy needs, while addressing broader social, economic and environmental concerns, observes Mota. “The key challenge for Africa is not merely to increase energy consumption, but to also ensure equitable access to cleaner energy sources, guided by good energy planning,” she adds.

 

Munyaradzi Makoni is a journalist based in Cape Town, South Africa. He writes mostly on agriculture, climate change, environment, health, higher education, sustainable development and science in general. Some of his work has appeared in Hakai magazine, Intellectual Property Watch, IPS, Mongabay, Nature, Nature Index, Physics World, Science, SciDev.net, The Lancet, Thomson Reuters Foundation, and University World News, among others.

Can carbon trading work in Africa?

Carbon emissions: room to grow

There’s big potential for Africa to participate in international carbon markets given its ability to contribute to greenhouse gas mitigation

Women work at a clothing factory funded through the sale of carbon credits in Maungu, near Nairobi, Kenya, 2011 Photo: Tony Karumba / AFP

Carbon emissions trading is a market-based mechanism for trading pollution credits among countries. It includes a range of policy instruments aimed at assisting industrialised countries to achieve
their emissions targets by allowing reductions to take place where they cost the least.
The trade works in several ways: International Emissions Trading (IET), the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), and Joint Implementation (JI). The IET system involves a scheme called “cap and trade” in which governments or intergovernmental bodies such as the European Commission (EC) hand out licences to pollute (or “carbon permits”) to major polluting industries within their boundaries.

Industries can then trade these permits with one another to meet their emissions reduction targets.
Cap-and-trade schemes are the most popular way to regulate carbon dioxide (CO2) and other emissions. The scheme’s governing body begins by setting a cap on allowable emissions. It then distributes or auctions off emissions allowances that total the cap. Member companies that do not have enough allowances to cover their emissions must either make reductions or buy another company’s spare credits. Members with extra allowances can sell them or bank them for future use. Cap- and-trade schemes can be either mandatory or voluntary.

Africa accounts for only 2% of the trading in the global carbon market. Of that 2%, South Africa and North Africa enjoy the largest portion of the projects under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), the main carbon market resulting from the Kyoto Protocol, with the rest of Africa contributing a paltry 0.6%. According to Oscar Reyes, a researcher with Carbon Trade Watch, these figures render Africa marginal to the carbon market, and the trade has been irrelevant to the continent’s efforts to tackle climate change. According to the World Bank, China has dominated the CDM market since its inception, accounting for about 66% of all contracted CDM supply between 2002 and 2008, and 72% of the market in 2009.

India and Brazil rank second and third on the list of sellers in terms of volumes transacted. One reason why the African carbon market is less attractive relates to how electricity is generated. Access to electricity is a major challenge across much of Africa, with less than 25% – and, in some countries, as little as 5% – of the population enjoying access to grid electricity. Thus, the World Bank has calculated that the 47 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, with a combined population of 800 million people, generate as much power as Spain, with a population of 45 million.

The lack of carbon-reduction investment opportunities in the power sector and the limited number of carbon-intensive industries outside northern Africa and South Africa implies that the rest of the continent is not well positioned to influence the direction of the debate around carbon trading. The types of projects that could deliver livelihood benefits to Africans, such as renewable and other small- scale energy projects, are not “cheap” options of carbon abatement, and are therefore less likely to attract the big investors. Given the limited opportunities for expanding the carbon market in Africa through the CDM, attention has shifted to projects that can be delivered through the voluntary market.

These include improved stove and tree planting projects, which have been controversial for a variety of reasons, including the difficulties involved in verifying the offsets. According to ecologist Thomas Crowther and colleagues at ETH Zurich, a Swiss university, a tree can remove seven tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during its life. If so, some five billion trees would need to be planted per year to counter current emission levels globally. Moreover, planting trees to soak up carbon can have detrimental knock on effects. As Robert Jackson argued in a December 2005 presentation at Duke University in North Carolina, growing plantations of fast-growing trees uses a lot of water.

This can reduce “the water available for drinking and irrigation, and harm local aquatic ecosystems”, according to the journal Nature (December 2005). Moreover, “forest soils are saltier and more acidic, compared with other types of plant cover such as crops or grasslands”, Jackson and his colleagues found. Developing  countries, particularly those in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), remain marginalised in global carbon markets despite significant mitigation opportunities in agriculture and  forestry.  However, Africa has significant potential for renewable energy, a key driver of the carbon emissions reduction.

Yet Africa’s share of the carbon markets remains low, as already mentioned. It is puzzling, therefore, that the proponents of carbon trading continue to tout the benefits it offers to the poor in Africa,
in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary. For instance, a project in the Bukaleba Forestry Reserve in Uganda, intended to offset the greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) of a coal-fired power plant to be built in Norway, clearly illustrates the conflict of interests of the offset company, host countries, and the needs of local communities.

The Ugandan government received a meagre once-off fee of $410 and an annual rent of about $4,10 for each hectare of plantation – an absurdly low lease price, given the huge carbon credits the Norwegian company (Tree Farms) was aiming to sell. The project was also responsible for evicting 8,000 people living on the land from 13 villages, depriving them of their livelihoods, and probably driving them to clear land elsewhere. Africa’s share of voluntary carbon markets is also still small, then, as compared to the rest of the world. It’s a huge shortfall considering the potential benefits of carbon offset revenue for sustainable development on the continent.

However, many African countries, including Kenya, Ghana, Mozambique, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo have seen a surge in international demand for offset projects in the voluntary carbon markets such as delivering clean cook stoves and water purification devices, which are likely to increase participation in these markets (Bloomberg Energy, 2013). There are several reasons why Africa has failed in the carbon markets. Some scholars have blamed this on uncoordinated marketing efforts, as well as regulatory and policy challenges. They argue that the implementation thereof and global connections can make it a challenge for carbon trading to work.

There have also been circumstances under which baseline-and-credit CDM schemes have resulted in the maltreatment of indigenous peoples and their environment. Other scholars argue that cases of trade fraud and accounting discrepancies have hindered the development of these markets in Africa, with constraints ranging from the structure of the carbon markets themselves to the continent’s own unique situation; the perennial challenges of doing business in Africa have also affected its access to international carbon markets.

Yacob Mulugeta from the University of Surrey’s Centre of Environment and Sustainability says adequate legal and institutional frameworks are lacking, or are weak, and barriers to trade and investment, which may inhibit access to new technologies, and the high investment risks in some African countries, have also resulted in potentially lower prices for CERs. Another barrier to trade, he says, is the overall policy framework in potential host countries, which may include policies not conducive to CDM, for example high levels of taxation, high interest rates, a lack of support for foreign direct investment and uncertainties around fiscal policies.

Financing has also been cited as a major barrier to renewable energy and energy efficiency (RE/EE) projects, which deliver carbon emission reductions and sustainable development benefits to low-developed countries in Africa. But Africa’s potential to participate in international carbon markets is large, given its ability to contribute to greenhouse gases mitigation. Its potential for renewable energy generation, climate smart agriculture and extensive forestry sector all provide huge GHG mitigation potential. There are also vast areas of low productivity land where management could be altered to increase carbon stocks and create credits.

Overcoming the challenges that hinder their exploitation could see Africa increase its ability to tap into the international carbon markets. If Africa is to benefit in the carbon market, it will need to start leveraging other sources of finance, increasing its investments in renewable energy, catalysing the continent’s carbon markets by putting in place regulatory systems, and increasing public funding for seed capital for carbon reduction projects. Africa will need to develop and implement its own climate and carbon finance strategy, built on the recognition that the continent can contribute most effectively to mitigating climate change by promoting sustainable land-use practices.

 

Tom Mboya is a Kenyan journalist working with an INGO in Nairobi. He was the 2009 Joel Belz International Media Fellow and the 2017 Coaching and Leadership Fellow, which is a programme offered by The Media Project and the Poynter Institute. His works have been published around the world.

Time for a low-carbon economy

Extractives: green industrialisation

The business case for greening the extractive industry is strong, especially with the growing trend of ethical investing

Sentinel copper mine in Zambia
Photo: Ross Harvey / courtesy of Sentinel Copper Mine

Everything we consume has its origins in either agriculture or the extractive industries. Our smartphones are laden with minerals and metals. Even agricultural fertilisers come from mined minerals. But the way we’ve extracted, historically, has been both ecologically and socio- economically destructive. Across many jurisdictions, mineral and hydrocarbon extraction has produced negative externalities – a divergence between private returns and social costs. In other words, it’s left holes in the ground, decimated ecosystems and imposed a healthcare burden on workers.

Acid mine drainage (AMD) in South Africa provides one example. It occurs when pyrite (fool’s gold) comes into contact with oxygenated water. The consequent oxidation process produces sulphuric acid. Pyrite is a common minor constituent in South Africa’s coal and gold ore bodies. Mining fragments these bodies and large quantities of acidic water are released into the environment, initially into the groundwater and ultimately into streams and rivers, rendering the water toxic to varying degrees. Large settlements in the Witwatersrand area now live with the risks posed by this toxic water and associated sinkhole formation.

AMD expert Terence McCarthy notes that mining has funded much of South Africa’s development, but as it enters its twilight “we are now beginning to grasp the environmental damage that the [gold mining] industry has caused and will continue to cause in the decades to come. We have also seen the impact that coal mining has had, particularly on water quality in the Olifants River system.” We must learn from these experiences and prevent further coal mining in key freshwater catchments and rivers.

Beyond AMD, a recent court settlement in the Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg awarded a total of R5 billion in compensation to mine workers afflicted by silicosis or tuberculosis contracted while mining at six of South Africa’s gold mining companies between 1965 and 2019. Had these costs appeared on the offending companies’ financial statements, they likely would not have been offloaded onto the adjacent communities who could least afford it. Globally, estimates suggest that 24.5 deaths are attributable to each Terawatt hour of coal-fired electricity produced.

Coal is a health hazard, not only to those who mine it but also to those who live near coal-burning power stations. In addition to mining’s direct negative externalities, the short-term rents generated by mining have often precipitated authoritarian consolidation, inequality, corruption and generally poor governance. Elites have captured the spoils at the expense of broad-based benefit. This malaise is part of a broader problem – our economic models (and resultant activity) have ignored planetary boundaries, the limits of what our interconnected life-support systems can sustain. We are consequently at risk of inducing catastrophic climate change.

If greenhouse gas emissions are not severely curtailed, or biodiversity-killing pollution not upended, ecological disaster awaits. Global collective action is now required to change the way that we produce and consume. A major part of that new policy direction has to entail the greening of the extractive industries and the integral connection of mining to green industrialisation. Not only is this possible; it’s imperative. The business case complements the moral case. Such a reorientation would simultaneously address the negative legacy effects of mining and create sustainable links to other sectors of the economy.

The technological quest for a low-carbon economy is well underway. Transport and energy revolutions are upending old systems. Electric vehicle and renewable energy production, however, require significant quantities of minerals and metals – double the volume currently mined, according to the World Bank. But most remaining coal and hydrocarbon deposits will have to be left in the ground, rendering the need for a “just transition” away from dirty technologies to clean ones. To support this transition, the mining industry needs to be reoriented to supplying the minerals and metals required for generating and transmitting renewable energy, for building electric vehicles, and continued inputs for other products such as smartphones and batteries.

Through the adoption of new technologies, we can mine in a less environmentally destructive manner. This would also create upstream opportunities to produce the capital equipment required for less environmentally invasive mining methods. Practically, what might this look like? To begin with, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can transform geological exploration. Sensors on UAVs can detect geothermal activity, which helps exploration firms to drill and sample only in areas where resources are indicated. In the production phase, robots can work in hazardous environments instead of people, improving mine safety considerably.

Underground deposits can be accessed through relatively minor invasion, akin to laser or “keyhole” surgery. A 2015 paper, ‘A vision of Zero Entry production Areas in Mines’ (ZEPA), co- authored by four scientists from Lulea Tekniska Universitet Institut in Sweden, proposes that in mines “all work processes should be remotely operated or automated, while special mine robots should be developed for the preventive maintenance of equipment and safe retrieval operations”.

The Kankberg Gold Mine in Sweden exemplifies the art of the possible. Boliden (the mining company), in partnership with Ericsson, ABB and Volvo “plans to eventually operate with no personnel in the mine itself”. Connecting different technologies such as a 5G wi-fi network and a Smart Ventilation system, the mine is now completely automated. The resultant process optimisation has saved 54% of the mine’s energy consumption. This represents a saving of 18 MW a year on a mine that previously consumed 34 MW a year.

In South Africa, mining consumes about 15% of the country’s national electricity supply, equivalent to roughly 5,100 MW. If the sector could reduce this demand by half, it would free up 2,550 MW from a supply-constrained grid. The industry paid 86 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) for coal-fired power in 2017/18. A reduction of 2,550 MW a year would represent a cost saving    of R2.25 million. Further cost savings would be wrought if a larger portion of power was sourced from renewables, as global procurement prices of solar PV power are now around the equivalent of 26c/kWh. Procuring renewable energy and decreasing overall demand is therefore eminently sensible business practice for the mining industry, with positive spillover benefits for society and the environment.

Note that modern mines need to achieve a plant recovery rate of at least 90% to cover escalating fixed costs. With declining grades and the need to mine deeper ore bodies, new methods are required to reduce rock movement, mine more selectively, and achieve quality over quantity. Motivated by these requirements, “in-place” mining and processing at the point of extraction is gaining traction. It will deliver a smaller surface footprint, reduced tailings generation and low-capital-intensive mines. Mining projects could attract financing more easily and deliver returns more quickly than with the conventional model.

Emerging digital technologies in automated rock-face mapping, material characterisation and fragmentation analysis, and rock preconditioning can also be built into the equipment and preprogrammed for specific mines. The machines that cut hard rock are now able to identify and exploit natural rock cleavages to make cutting more efficient. Declan Vogt of the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in South Africa notes: “If rock can be cut rather than blasted, mining can become continuous, leading to process and efficiency improvements.”

Crushing technology is  also  becoming  nimbler,  making  obsolete  the  big crushers typically required at processing plants. Employing upstream technology at the rock face, to selectively mine and pre-concentrate material for subsequent metal extraction, avoids the many negative environmental impacts usually associated with mining. In the case of copper, crushing is among the largest components of a mine’s energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. These can be drastically reduced by in-pit mobile crushing, which, according to research scientists Terry Norgate and Nawshad Haque, “eliminates the need for trucks by having the shovel feed the run-of-mine ore directly to a continuous and dedicated belt conveyor handling system”.

Of course, these new technologies are disruptive. Mining will become less directly labour-absorptive and more capital-intensive. But they may also result in lower cost margins and greater wealth creation, which can be allocated towards research and development initiatives that develop local upstream    or side-stream capacity. As economist Ricardo Hausmann famously pointed out in 2014, Finland did not become wealthy because it turned its forests into furniture; it became wealthy because the quest for more efficient tree cutting methods produced Nokia. How? Through the development of appropriate technology.

One copper mine in Zambia is charting the way in this respect. Sentinel Mine, adjacent to Kalumbila, is a “pocket of effectiveness” – an example of how mining should and could be done. Input crushing and investments in data analysis, artificial intelligence and machine learning are already a feature. Once the ore body is depleted, the river – currently diverted – will be restored. Every effort is being made to prevent soil and water contamination. The surrounding forest, part of the ecological restoration programme funded by the mine, currently supports a sawmill and furniture-making factory. When the mine closes, the factory will continue, and the entire concession converted to a nature reserve with a five-star tourism offering.

The town itself is separated from the mine and boasts an industrial development zone, which can tap into upstream, side-stream and downstream links with mining. The business case for greening the extractive industries is strong, especially with the growing trend of ethical investing and the importance of environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) reporting. Internalising the cost of negative externalities, it turns out, is a sound business investment

Dr Ross Harvey is Director of Research & Programmes at GGA. Ross is a natural resource economist and policy analyst, and he has been dealing with governance issues in various forms across this sector since 2007. He has a PhD in economics from the University of Cape Town, and his thesis research focused on the political economy of oil and institutional development in Angola and Nigeria.
Sixolile Ngqwala is Data Analyst in GGA’s Governance Insights and Analysis department and holds a Masters of Commerce (MCom) in economics from the University of Fort Hare, where he was involved with the National Income Dynamics Study (NIDS) in econometric research (econometric modelling, data coding, data mining, data analysis and interpretation). He has a BCom Hon in economics, and an undergraduate degree in Business Management and Industrial Psychology.

All-out war

Climate change

The African Union is actively mobilising resources to help members implement the Paris Agreement, but funding challenges abound

Left: Flash floods on the eastern banks of the Nile river, 50 km north of Khartoum, Sudan, 2019 Photo: Ebrahim Hamid / AFP

Land erosion, drought and desertification, flooding, the Sahara Desert expanding southward at a rate of 48 km a year, change in the distribution of rainfall, rivers and freshwater resources’ drying-up, among others. This is what Africa’s environment looks like right now. Experts say climate change has already had a devastating impact on food and agriculture, livelihoods, human health and ecosystems. Climate change has generated deadly inter-ethnic conflicts over land and water resources, especially in the Sahel region, and is also said to be triggering mass migration as disgruntled people leave their homelands in search of greener pastures.

A 2018 World Bank report, Groundswell – Preparing for Internal Climate Migration – estimated that climate change will push more than 140 million people to migrate within countries by 2050, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, south Asia and Latin America. Environmental degradation on this scale has exposed the limited ability of many African countries to manage climate change. In response, the African Union (AU) has launched a series of measures aimed at redressing the suffering caused by climate disasters.

The Addis-Ababa-based continental body is mobilising resources to support member countries in their implementation of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), said Leah Naess Wanambwa, Senior Policy Officer at the Department of Rural Economy and Agriculture at the AU. To date, 51 of the 54 UN-recognised African countries, which are members of the AU, have ratified the Paris Agreement. Currently, four countries are receiving technical and financial support through a joint initiative between the AU Commission and the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), Wanambwa added, without naming these countries.

“The African Commission is in the process of mobilising additional support to cover more countries,” she told Africa in Fact. The continent’s leadership had shown consistent and coordinated resolve to support actions at the country, continental and global levels, said Kwame Ababio, Senior Programme Officer at the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD)’s Technical Cooperation and Advisory Services, an AU economic development agency.

“For the continent, climate change presents an existential danger, both now and in the immediate future. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its fifth assessment report, described Africa as being among the most vulnerable continents to climate change and its impacts,” Ababio told Africa in Fact. He added that the limits of Africa’s adaptive capacity to climate change were exacerbated by widespread poverty and an “overwhelming” dependence on the continent’s environmental resources for livelihoods.

The AU’s high-level approach to supporting affected countries is led by the Conference of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change (CAHOSCC), the standing committee of the African Union Heads of State and Government Architecture. Implementation, particularly with regard to policymaking and finding coordinated African positions on issues on climate change, is led by the African Ministerial Conference on Environment (AMCEN). In recent decades, African countries have sometimes been at odds with one another due to the divergent political agendas of their leaders. This has sometimes affected the continent’s ability to solve its own problems.

Recently, in January 2020, the AU expressed serious doubts about the credibility of the 2019 presidential election in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and called for the announcement of the results to be suspended. The DRC government, led at the time by Joseph Kabila, rejected the AU’s call on national sovereignty grounds. In the event, in early February the country’s independent electoral commission accepted the results, and the international community, African countries included, accepted the outcome of the DRC’s January elections in the name of stability. “In doing so, they have failed the Congolese people,” wrote Mo Ibrahim and Alan Doss on 9 February in The Guardian.

Analysts believe that Kabila manipulated the results to place his ally Felix Tshisekedi on top, instead of Martin Fayulu, who is thought to have won the election outright. The issue divided African leaders, with politicians holding economic interests in the DRC swiftly siding with Kabila. The gathering economic and social crisis in Zimbabwe that resulted from Robert Mugabe’s long occupation of the top spot is another recent example. While South African leaders opted for quiet diplomacy on Zimbabwe, Botswana’s former president Ian Khama openly called on the late Mugabe to step down.

However, African leaders have moved to tackle climate change by uniting and speaking with one voice, said Wanambwa. As an important part of this, in 1995 the African Group of Negotiators on Climate Change (AGN) was established at COP1, the first UN climate change conference, in Berlin, Germany, to represent the interests of the region with a common and unified voice. Currently, the African Commission also provides some support to the AGN with regard to its participation in the climate change negotiations which have been ongoing since then, she told Africa in Fact.

The AGN negotiates the continent’s position at the climate conventions at the experts’ level. The African Commission’s support has been aimed at ensuring that experts provide technical backing to the AGN on the different thematic areas under the convention. The African voice at climate negotiations has grown from strength to strength and been united, according to Wanambwa. Ababio agreed, saying the AGN had engaged with a wide range of groupings to arrive at a common African stance in relation to many issues raised within the UN Framework Convention on Climate.

It is critical for Africa’s very survival that climate change be mainstreamed into major economic sectors, he added. African governments were spending an estimated 2-9% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) [estimated between $51.6 billion and $232.2 billion] on tackling climate change, while the annual costs of building resilience could range from $140 billion to $300 billion by 2030,” Ababio explained (The estimation above is calculated on the basis of Africa’s total nominal GDP, which was about $2.58 trillion in 2017).

“Bold climate action” could deliver at least $26 trillion in global economic benefits between now and 2030, according to a September 2018 report, Unlocking the Inclusive Growth Story of the 21st Century, released by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate. In 2007, the AU launched the Great Green Wall of the Sahara and the Sahel Initiative, in partnership with the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). The proposed 8,000 km-long line of trees and plants will stretch across the entire Sahel and traverse some 20 countries from the Atlantic coast of Senegal to Djibouti.

It’s an ambitious undertaking that many observers describe as the AU’s biggest climate change project to date. According to the AU, the aim is to reverse land degradation and desertification in the Sahel and Sahara region, boost food security and support local communities to adapt to climate change (See also Joe Walsh’s article on page 136).

Such efforts and initiatives appear to have gained support from  some independent voices, such as Uganda-born environmental activist William Leslie Amanzuru, winner of the 2019 European Union Human Rights Defender Award. Amanzuru’s organisation, Friends of Zoka, advocates for the protection of the 6,145-hectare Zoka Central Forest Reserve located in northern Uganda. While he praised the AU for what it was doing to fight climate change on the continent, he told Africa in Fact that he deplored the lack of political will shown by most member states. Widespread lack of political will was the biggest problem for the continent’s efforts to combat climate change, he said.

Financial   assistance   to member states  granted  by  institutions   such the African Development Bank (AfDB) for climate change redress was being diverted to political purposes, Amanzuru claimed. The AU needed to design appropriate accountability mechanisms for these funds, he urged. The AU certainly does face serious funding challenges with regard to its capacity to respond to climate change. In 2016, the AfDB estimated that Africa was accessing only about 3% of international climate finance.

“At the national level, there is inadequacy in governments’ capacity at the human and institutional level to meet international standards and fund eligibility requirements,” NEPAD’s Ababio told Africa in Fact. Without external support, African countries would only be able to implement about 30% of their commitments in terms of the Paris Agreement, he warned.

Kinshasa-born Issi Sikita da Silva is an award-winning freelance journalist. Winner of the SADC Media 2010 Awards in the print category, he has travelled extensively across Africa and lived in South Africa for 18 years, where he worked in the media industry for 10 years. He is currently based in West Africa.

The long path to a green future

Greendustrialisation: now or never

African economies looking for a sustainable industrialisation model find themselves at a crossroads with little time to decide the way forward

Ruth Amoah (right) and her workers at small chocolate producer Moments Chocolate’s workplace remove husks from roasted cocoa beans in Accra, Ghana, 2019
Photo: Cristina Aldehuela / AFP

Lack of industrialisation is often pointed out as the key factor behind Africa’s underdevelopment. Among those supporting the idea are  Mike Morris and Judith Fessehaie, who wrote in their 2014 paper, The Industrialisation Challenge for Africa: “Only a massive industrialisation effort will enable Africa to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development”. According to United Nations (UN) statistics from 2019, Africa is home to more than 1.2 billion people or 16% of the world’s population, 85% of whom “are still poor if judged by the standards of upper-middle income countries”.

Yet, the continent accounts for less than 2% of international trade and global manufacturing. Based on the current demographic trend, the UN forecasts that Africa’s population will reach 2.5 billion people by 2050 – a dramatic increment that will put further strain on already scarce jobs and insufficient public services and natural resources. Due to low levels of industrialisation, Africa is by far the continent that produces the least CO2 emissions. UN statistics for 2016 show that Africa emits just 4% of the amount of CO2 going into the atmosphere. According to an early 2020 Oxfam study, “The average Brit will emit more carbon in the first two weeks than the citizens of seven African nations (Rwanda, Malawi, Ethiopia, Uganda, Madagascar, Guinea and Burkina Faso) emit in an entire year”.

Nonetheless, Africa pays the toll for pollution as much as any other part of the world, and available data suggest that the continent is affected by climate change more immediately than other regions. “For sub-Saharan Africa, which has experienced more frequent and more intense climate extremes over the past decades, the ramifications of the world’s warming by more than 1.5°C would be profound,” said the UN’s spokesperson for sustainability issues, Dan Shepard, when summing up the conclusions of the 2019 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“Temperature increases in the region are projected to be higher than the global mean temperature increase,” wrote Shepard on the panel’s conclusions, which predicted a decrease in precipitation in Africa of up to 20% if the projected warming is not corrected. As the developed world pushes forward to move away from a model of industrial production based on burning fossil fuels that is proving unsustainable, African economies find themselves at a crossroads with little time to decide the way forward. Stepping up efforts to boost production through energy sources that are being dropped elsewhere does not seem like a viable option for Africa.

On the one hand, it would be met with reticence from donors and partners much aware of the urgency of greening the economy. Besides, its success would come at a price for a continent whose rich natural environments remain largely unscathed compared to other parts of the world. In these circumstances, both governments and international institutions are, at least from a declarative point of view, decisively opting for what has been called “a green path to industrialisation”, what we will call greendustrialisation.

“The big opportunity for Africa in 2016, as a latecomer to industrialisation, is in adopting alternative economic pathways to industrialisation,” a report by the UN Economic Commission for Africa (2016) noted. Titled Greening Africa’ s Industrialization, the document argues that African countries have the potential to “benefit from their current low-carbon position and leapfrog” a future, without a “high dependence on volatile fossil fuels” and avoiding the complex and costly transition processes required in more industrialised economies.

An example of greendustrialisation given by the report is the Hawassa Eco-Industrial Park in Ethiopia, some 275 km south of the capital. This textile manufacturing plant started operating in 2016 and is the flagship project of the government’s industrial parks programme aimed at creating jobs and boosting exports. The Hawassa park runs on renewable hydroelectric power and employs a Zero Liquid Discharge system (ZLD) that enables it to recycle 90% of the sewerage disposal waters. Its success supports the notion that building green infrastructure from scratch might be easier than greening an existing one.

The Hawassa Park has been built with abundant and diversified foreign investment, especially from Asia. Some 25,000, mostly female, Ethiopians currently work at the plant, which is expected to employ 60,000 people when running at its full capacity. Cheap labour and the good conditions offered to investors by the Addis Ababa government have drawn clothing giants such as Guess, H&M and Levi’s to commission some of the garments they sell to manufacturers working from this park. According to 2016 World Bank data, agriculture employs between 65 and 70% of Africa’s workforce and supports the livelihoods of 90% of the continent’s population.

Thus, the success of industrialising African economies lies to a great extent in the transformation of the sector. Ivory Coast is the world’s top cocoa producer, but most of the volume extracted is processed (in the form of liquor, butter, cake or powder) abroad. The government has repeatedly vowed to spur its cocoa processing capacities in the coming years. At the same time, Ivory Coast aspires to boost the manufacturing in the country of cashews, cotton, rubber and coffee, whose production is mostly exported in raw form. Singapore-based agribusiness giant Olam International is one of the companies already processing cocoa and other commodities in Ivory Coast.

Its factories employ 5,000 people and are mentioned as an example of good environmental practices by the UN Economic Commission for Africa. A major challenge for both cocoa supply and manufacturing in Africa and overseas is the deforestation provoked by logging aimed at making space for planting more cocoa trees to farm. In 2017, the governments of Ivory Coast and Ghana launched, together with 35 global cocoa and chocolate companies, the Cocoa & Forests Initiative. Its main provision is “a commitment to no further conversion of any forest land for cocoa production”. One of the intended measures is investing “in sustainable agricultural intensification in order to grow more cocoa on less land”.

Between 1988 and 2007, the website of the initiative says, 2.3 million hectares of rainforest was cleared for cocoa farms in Ivory Coast and Ghana. In a 2015 speech before the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the then Ethiopian prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, mentioned the development of manufacturing and the transformation of the agricultural sectors as two pivotal points to drive Africa’s industrialisation. Desalegn, who has been commended for championing the greendustrialisation agenda pioneered by his predecessor, Meles Zenawi, also alluded to the procurement of energy as “one of the binding constraints for industrialisation”.

He unequivocally propounded the development of “renewable energy”, which he considered to be “our comparative advantage in Africa”, as the only desirable way forward. In an example of integrated greendustrialisation, Ivory Coast is planning to build a 60 to 70 MW capacity biomass power- generation plant running on waste from cocoa pods. The project is supported by the US and will be up and running in 2023 if the process goes as planned. Ivory Coast aims to develop 424 MW of biomass power generation capacity by 2030, in an effort to increase and diversify its electricity generation sources as power demand has grown due to economic growth.

In December 2019, the Ivorian government and a French consortium led by Electricite de France (EDF) signed a concession contract for the construction of a biomass power plant of an installed capacity of 46 MW. It should be ready by 2023, when it will start generating electricity from oil palm waste. While countries like Malawi, South Africa and Rwanda have made remarkable progress in developing biofuels, wind and solar energy, Kenya is the leading actor in Africa when it comes to energy transition. Between 2010 and 2018 Kenya’s economy expanded at an annual average rate of 5.8%, according to World Bank data.

Between 2010 and 2019, Kenya’s peak demand for electricity almost doubled (from just over 1,000 MW in 2010 to exceed 1,900 last year), official data from the Nairobi government shows. Back in 2008, the Kenyan government launched its Kenya Vision 2030, a plan aimed at industrialising the economy to bring prosperity to citizens within a “clean and secure environment”. To sustain the projected economic expansion, the plan provided for an increase in the country’s power capacity based on the development of renewable energies, particularly hydroelectricity and geothermal energy. In December 2019, Kenya put a new 50 MW solar plant online.

It increased the share of renewable energy in its power mix to a remarkable 93% and took the country closer to the government’s target of being entirely green energy powered by 2020. In a 2019 policy research working paper for the World Bank, Catrina Godinho and Anton Eberhard cite the following facts to explain Kenya’s success. Since 1996, “policy and regulatory functions were separated from commercial activities; generation was unbundled from transmission and distribution; cost-reflective tariffs were introduced; and generation was liberalised.”

In a second phase of the reform that started in 2002 “independent regulation” was strengthened and the national generation company partially privatised to attract foreign investment. As a result of these policies, which continue, Kenya “has … become an investment destination for IPPs” (Independent Power Producers). This has allowed it to triple its generation power capacity since 1990, “with generation capacity expanding more rapidly than peak demand” and having achieved a power surplus (Godinho and Eberhard) – while almost entirely greening the company’s power sourcing.

Kenya ranked fifth in the BloombergNEF’s 2019 Climatescope report, which evaluates the investment conditions in clean energy in 104 emerging countries. “The country is gradually increasing its share of non-large hydro renewables by adding solar, wind and geothermal,” the report read. “In 2018, Kenya recorded its highest ever clean energy investment with $1.4 billion,” it added. However, the eastern   African nation’s vigour in exploiting Africa’s privileged natural resources to propel industrialisation remains unparalleled in a region with huge discrepancies from country to country,  where  economic   growth is still propelled by extraction commodities.

Despite its desperate need to intensify generation and the commitment of its politicians to take the green way to industrialisation, Africa lags far behind all the other continents in renewable energy actual generation and capacity growth (IEA 2019). Half of Africa’s booming population still has no access to electricity, and power cuts affect 80% of the companies operating on the continent. “Despite progress in several countries (e.g. Kenya, Ethiopia, Ghana, Senegal, Rwanda), current and planned efforts to provide access to modern energy services barely outpace population growth,” the IEA notes in its 2019 World Energy Outlook. Data for 2019 of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) show that Africa’s renewable generation capacity of 46 GW accounted for 2% of global share.

Some 60% of the total share of electricity generated in sub- Saharan Africa comes from hydropower. Oil comes second with a share of 18%, followed by gas (16%). According to the IEA, Africa’s hopes to face the growing demand, brought about by demographic growth and projected economic development, rely on the development of solar energy, which has the potential to overtake hydropower as the main renewable generation source – coupled with the use of the abundant reserves of natural gas discovered in recent years in the continent.

“The big open question for Africa remains the speed at which solar PV will grow. To date, the continent with the richest solar resources in the world has installed only five gigawatts (GW) of solar PV, less than 1% of the global total,” the IEA concludes.

Marcel Gascón Barberá is a freelance journalist and writes for several Spanish and international publications. He has previously worked as a correspondent for EFE Spanish news agency in Romania, South Africa and Venezuela.