It’s been 60 years since the first African country freed itself from European colonisers. While that isn’t a long time in the grand scheme of things, development and growth on the continent are still moving at a painstakingly gradual pace — with the continent remaining trapped in an economy designed by colonisation, while at the same time experiencing the worst that the climate crisis has to give.
Despite Africa having contributed the least to carbon emissions (less than 4% of the global total), the continent has been feeling the worst impacts of the climate emergency — and it is now expected to find solutions to problems it didn’t cause, while also receiving far less climate funding from the world’s richest nations than is needed, and has been promised.
At its core however, the climate crisis isn’t a finger pointing issue (even though we all know who’s responsible) — and ultimately, solutions are what counts. That’s why Power Shift Africa and its collaborators, who form part of a coalition called Don’t Gas Africa that’s working against investment in fossil fuel production on the African continent, have taken the initiative to map out a way forward for the continent’s development and energy transitions, keeping in mind the colonial legacies that have trapped it in a cycle of conflict, energy poverty, and climate shocks.
“Africa has demonstrated that climate change, energy access, poverty, development, and conflict are all tightly connected and are different dimensions of the same phenomenon,” explains Kenyan President William Ruto in his foreword to the report.
“I believe by becoming more assertive and pursuing a climate and development agenda through unified approaches of the kind outlined in this report, Africa will be able to mitigate the climate emergency and propel itself to prosperity,” he continues.
So how do we reach a fully developed and empowered African continent? By starting with the obstacles it's faced with, and being creative in a strategy to overcome them, of course.
The report — published in May and titled “Just Transition: A Climate, Energy, and Development Vision for Africa” — details the continent’s setbacks, and offers tangible solutions. It describes how Africa’s deepest issues are intertwined, and highlights that a collaborative Pan-African approach to solving them is what will move the continent forward and away from colonial dependencies.
"The joy and the happiness exuded by all of us here, I wish it could be shared around the world. The people of Kenya, Africa and many other parts of the world live in the reality of the new normal. "@WilliamsRuto#PowerOurPlanetpic.twitter.com/DpbtCw3i8N— Global Citizen Impact (@GlblCtznImpact) June 24, 2023
Let’s take a look at what the report highlights are the main developmental issues facing the continent right now, and how the continent can solve these issues and achieve a more equitable and just future for all its people.
What Are Africa’s Biggest Developmental Setbacks?
1. Food Insecurity
This isn’t new news. Food insecurity is an issue that has been increasingly plaguing Africa as conflict remains rife in parts of the continent, and the climate crisis has been draining Africa of its water supply while serving up ever-increasing extreme weather disasters.
Despite the continent being rich in natural resources, a combination of conflict — including the war against Ukraine — and climate change have meant high levels of hunger across Africa. According to Oxfam, 278 million Africans are undernourished, and if conflicts continue (this year has already seen conflict in Sudan, Somalia, Cameroon, and the DRC just to name a few), the numbers could worsen.
What’s more is that Africa imports a lot of its essential foods — with an emphasis on high-cost, high-pollutant cash crops. There is less and less investment into the sustainable agricultural practices that could lift Africa out of its food security crisis.
2. Energy Poverty
Over 600 million Africans are energy poor, meaning they have little or no access to electricity. The power systems that Africa currently relies on are fragile at best — for instance, Botswana recently faced a country-wide blackout because of its unsustainable power supply. There have been fears that South Africa, with its ongoing load-shedding crisis that has persisted for almost two decades, could face the same fate, and dozens of countries from Nigeria to eSwatini are dealing with electricity woes, or an entire lack of electricity altogether.
Energy poverty makes it difficult to work, live, and learn, and thus delays progress in a country.
3. Ineffective Industrial Strategies
The way Africa is currently designed to develop is for the benefit of Western economies and not Africa itself — with its emphasis on extractive industries, simple assembly-line manufacturing, and low-value-added exports to foreign countries, as the report states. Even the policies designed to boost Africa’s industrial economies are of very little benefit to the continent itself, according to the report.
“Colonialism moulded Africa’s economies and societies to meet the labour and material needs of Western industrialisation and development,” the report explains. “Post-colonial efforts to correct these imbalances, increase independence, and nurture infant industries were curbed by energy crises, indebtedness, and structural adjustment policies.”
How Can Africa Overcome These Setbacks?
1. A transition to food sovereignty
The report talks at length about Africa’s need to achieve food sovereignty — which basically means that food made by the community is food for the community.
The global movement that coined the term almost 30 years ago explained it as “the right of Peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.”
Africa can achieve this, according to the report, through switching to agroecological practices (agriculture that puts biodiversity and ecology first) that keep the people in mind, protect the environment, and promote local consumption.
“This approach will provide more sustainable food production and secure livelihoods while protecting smallholder farming communities and strengthening local and territorial markets. It will also reduce the external debt burden,” the report's authors said.
2. A just transition to people-centred renewable energy systems
It’s evident that it’s time to move away from fossil fuel-powered energy systems. They’re unsustainable, and as Africa is gifted with incredibly rich resources that could spearhead a clean transition away from fossil fuels, it should absolutely do so.
The report argues that clean energy is also a lot more affordable and that bypassing the dirty energy infrastructure of fossil fuels to adopt people-centred renewable energy systems, could have extensive benefits for the continent’s people.
"For many African countries, with the bulk of energy infrastructure yet to be built, the task is rather to leapfrog directly to the energy system of the future, similar to how African countries have bypassed outmoded wired telephone lines to build mobile systems,” the report explains.
3. A shift towards a new understanding of African industrialisation
Africa needs to break away from old industrial norms that rely only on the exploitation of Africa’s natural resources.
Rather, the report says, the solution is for Africa to look within itself to partner and trade with its neighbours, for Africa to grow together as a powerhouse and “generate opportunities for Africans to ensure that the continent’s wealth of resources benefits its people.”
By working and trading together, African leaders can set the terms for Africa’s needs, and create socially and environmentally sustainable industries for its people and its development.
Ultimately, the report is a wakeup call to African leaders, highlighting that “without renewal of its strategic vision, the continent will remain a site of contestation by other global powers seeking to control its resources, markets, and institutions.”
And, as the report asserts: “Change provides opportunities for Africa to control its own future. Achieving a better future will require unprecedented strategic vision — one that is rooted in Africa’s shared history, responsive to its tremendous potential, and articulated with confidence.”
Where you live should not determine if you live, and that's why Global Citizen is calling for investment in a low-carbon future and immediate action against the climate crisis NOW through our Power Our Planet campaign. You can join the movement of Global Citizens taking action towards the end of the climate crisis for everyone everywhere, by adding your voice to the call here.