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Africa’s Energy access, conservation and development Conundrum

The green lush canopy and the friendliness of the people belies the absence of regular electric power, at least for a visitor who lives in a major urban centre. In rural areas, power is not as essential as access to water.  However, the urban folks notice any slight change in electric power, as our need to engage in social media, posting photos, viewing photos heavily filtered with the hashtags rural, grandma’s looking close to being white, outweighs the need to engage with the rural folks on one on one conversation.  It is still a beauty to be in the county sides, away from traffic and people jams, and the fear of you being relieved of your handbag. Here I was, in a breathtaking countryside, a two-day journey from Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. The downside was that I had to contend with not having to electric power, and with it went the internet. For a whole week, we had electricity for only 30 minutes, and we were lucky to have had it!  

Decha, as we call the place where our project is, is about an hour drive from Bonga, the major town in the area. It is a beautiful place, green and ever-rainy. With a tinge of cold in the evenings. That’s where drinking coffee, comes in handy. However, combining the cold and the frequency of access to electric power, and taking a shower becomes something you really must think about and plan. When I had to shower on y first day, I poured water from the tank outside the place I had slept. The tank was full, as it had rained the previous night. Armed with the tiny bucket carrying my shower water I headed to the bathroom. It is while here showering that the shower dance began. Head, shoulder, knees and toes X3 like dance. Curiously, the head which holds the brain that sends all the signals about the cold is easy to wash, with the arms and the legs coming second and the tummy area third. The back is the hardest place to reach with the cold water, you must duck your own water throw, close to three times, before you can settle to shower fully. 

We need energy to develop Africa, but this is typically example of how we cannot even meet the low-level energy demand. Our demand for energy far outstrips the supply. The crucial role energy plays in developing a nation is thus forcing the Governments in Africa to address the energy gap. However, they way they’re going about it leaves a lot to be desired. Back in my country Kenya, the government is facing a herculean task, as the ever-alert conservationist are not lying down flat to be slaughtered like antelopes, by the vagaries of climate change as government go hammer and tongs to acquire any available source of energy regardless of the after effects, to bridge the energy gap.  And rightly so! When a government is intent on acquiring an old age technology, an old derelict coal plant from China, they need to be stopped!  With the advances in technology, and the fact that China is willing to let us have their antique, just means there is something better! So, what stops us from choosing the best out of all that exist in the world, and move right a head of the queue in terms of energy access? When clean energy is just within our grasp, we cannot afford to flounder.  

Sadly, Africa has become a dumping ground, an expensive dumping ground for that matter, of old Chinese ware. From a 17th century diesel train to a 16th century coal plant. We are ready to receive it all, at whatever cost! Maybe we are building a museum, who knows! The Lamu Power Plant project is befitting example, of failure to learn. We in Africa are intent on proving right the Rostow’s model in economic theory of modernization, where we are currently looking like we are just in the second stage, preconditions for take-off. Let’s learn, adopt the best environmentally friendly and economically viable technologies and move right ahead! Nothing stops us, except of course ourselves. 

Erick Onduru's picture

Thank Erick for the Post!

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Dr. Amal Khashab's picture
Dr. Amal Khashab on Sep 16, 2019 7:26 pm GMT

Money, Moneyand Money which africans do not have for power projects.It is an egg or hen comes first question.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 16, 2019 9:51 pm GMT

Sadly, Africa has become a dumping ground, an expensive dumping ground for that matter, of old Chinese ware. From a 17th century diesel train to a 16th century coal plant. We are ready to receive it all, at whatever cost! Maybe we are building a museum, who knows! 

This is a great attitude. While some might be treating it as a dumping ground, the continent arguably  has the opportunity to most rapidly become an advanced and modern and clean and efficient grid because the region is not as deeply beholden to existing and outdated infrastructure. Excited to see what comes from this positive action!

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