Too often, the discussion about
climate change — and the call to leave fossil fuels in the ground— is largely
a western narrative
As African oil and gas countries struggle with Covid-19’s devastating impact
on demand, two international groups seem to be celebrating it.
Earlier this month, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and
Development (OECD) and the International Energy Agency (IEA) described
the low oil prices caused by the pandemic as a “golden opportunity” for
governments to phase-out fossil fuel support and usher in an era of renewable
“Subsidising fossil fuels is an inefficient use of public money and serves to
worsen greenhouse emissions and air pollution,” OECD Secretary-General Angel
Gurría said in a joint OECD-IEA statement. “While our foremost concern today
must be to support economies and societies through the Covid-19 crisis, we
should seize this opportunity to reform subsidies and use public funds in a
way that best benefits people and the planet.”
I would argue that the OECD and IEA don’t necessarily know what’s best for
the people who live on this planet. Pressuring governments to stop supporting
fossil fuels certainly would not be good for the African oil and gas
companies or entrepreneurs striving to build a better future. And it could be
downright harmful to communities looking at gas-to-power initiatives to bring
them reliable electricity.
Too often, the discussion about climate change — and the call to leave fossil
fuels in the ground— is largely a western narrative. It does not factor in
the needs of low-income Africans who could reap the many benefits of a
strategic approach to oil and gas operations in Africa: reduced energy
poverty, job creation, and entrepreneurship opportunities, to name a few.
Ironically, a policy that would jeopardize Africans’ ability to realize those
benefits is being recommended at the same time protesters across America are
calling for equity in some of the same areas. Although police violence
against people of color is at the center of the protests — a response to the
horrific death of a black man, George Floyd, after a white police officer
knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes — the protests also point to social
and economic disparities between the races in America.
While I don’t want to exploit the death of George Floyd, I do see parallels
between the racial disparities in America and the struggles of Africans whose
lives could be improved through oil and gas. I always see a common pattern of
ignoring black and African voices.
Too often in America, the value of black lives was not given proper
consideration until George Floyd’s death forced the topic to the forefront
and rightly so. And on the global stage, OECD and IEA are dismissing the
voices of many Africans who want and need the continent’s oil and gas
industry to thrive. I would advise these organizations not to ignore the
needs of poor people in African countries.
As it stands, African energy entrepreneurs, the African energy sector, and
Africans who care about energy poverty are basically saying, “I can’t
It’s time to get the knees off their necks.
The Dangers of Energy Poverty
Consider the impact of energy poverty. Approximately 840 million Africans,
mostly in sub-Saharan countries, have no access to electricity. Hundreds of
millions have unreliable or limited power at best.
Even during “normal times,” energy poverty is dangerous. The household air
pollution created by burning biomass, including wood and animal waste, to
cook and heat homes has been blamed for as many as 4 million deaths per year.
How will this play out during the pandemic? For women forced to leave their
homes to obtain and prepare food, sheltering in place is nearly impossible.
What about those who need to be hospitalized? Only 28 percent of sub-Saharan
Africa’s health care facilities have reliable power. Physicians and nurses
can’t even count on the lights being on, let alone the ability to treat
patients with equipment that requires electricity — or store blood,
medications, or vaccines. All of this puts African lives at risk.
That’s what makes gas-to-power initiatives so critically important: It only
makes sense for African countries to use their vast natural gas reserves for
power generation. And we’re already making progress on that front. Today,
about 13 African countries use natural gas produced domestically or brought
in from other African countries, and there’s every reason to believe this
trend will grow.
In Cameroon, for example, Victoria Oil and Gas PLC already provides domestic
gas for power generation, and its subsidiary, Gaz du Cameroun (GDC), has
agreed to provide the government gas for a new power station with the
potential to accommodate growing demand.
And in Mozambique, the Temane power plant, also known as Mozambique
Gas-to-Power, is being developed now, and plans are underway to develop a
second plant. Both will rely on Mozambique’s Rovuma basis for feedstock.
I have heard calls, including some from the OECD, for the development of
sustainable energy solutions to meet Africa’s power needs. Great — let’s go
for it. I’m all for renewable energy solutions, but Africans should not be
forced to make either-or-decisions in this area. Energy poverty is a serious
concern, and it’s wrong to make it more difficult for African countries to
use a readily available natural resource to address it.
Investment — Not Aid
One of the benefits of oil and gas operations in Africa is they provide
opportunities for both indigenous companies and for foreign ones. And as
foreign companies comply with local content laws, they invest in the
communities where they work. Africa needs those investments, particularly
training and education programs that empower people to make better lives for
I want to be clear: Africa does not need social programs, even educational
programs, that come in the form of aid packages. What’s more, offering Africa
aid packages to compensate for a halt or slow-down of oil and gas operations
will not do Africans any good. I tried to make that point recently during a
friendly debate with Prof. Patrick Bond, a very bright man and a
distinguished professor at the University of the Western Cape School of
Government. He argued that Africa should keep all of its petroleum resources
in the ground to minimize greenhouse gas emissions and prevent further
climate change. Developed nations, the professor continued, should compensate
Africa for that sacrifice, and Africa could use that money to develop other
opportunities. No. This is not the time for Africa to be calling for more
aid. Africa has been receiving aid for nearly six decades, and what good has
it done? We still don’t have enough jobs.
Investment creates opportunities, meaning Africans aren’t receiving, they’re
doing. They’re learning, working, building, growing, deciding. We, as
Africans, must be responsible. Our young people should be empowered to build
an Africa we all can be proud of. Relying on the same old policies of the
past, relying on aid, simply isn’t going to get us there.
The truth is, no matter how you feel about the American Shale Revolution,
Africans can learn from it. One of the reasons it succeeded is because you
had small businesses willing to take a chance on new technology. They worked
hard, and in the end, they boosted production. America became the largest
crude oil producer in the world. Those companies made something extraordinary
happen, and so can African businesses. We need more entrepreneurs willing to
seize opportunities and, in some cases, make mistakes. That’s how we grow and
learn. We need government leaders to do their part by creating a welcoming
environment for foreign investors and establishing local content policies
that result in opportunities for business partnerships, quality jobs, and
learning opportunities for Africans.
Africa is capable of building a better future, of ending energy poverty,
strengthening our economy, and improving the lives of everyday Africans. If
we’re smart about it, and we work together with purpose, our oil and gas
resources can help us get there.
And that’s why this is a horrible time for OECD, IEA, or any other outside
organizations, to interfere with our natural resources.
Don’t Stand in Our Way
I understand and respect the OECD and IEA’s commitment to preventing climate
change. But when you describe the chance to harm a major African economic
sector as a great opportunity, there’s something wrong.
When you put independent African oil and gas companies at risk, you’re saying
your objectives are more important than African livelihoods and aspirations.
American institutions are coming under fire for failing to recognize that
Black Lives Matter and to work alongside African-American communities to
create positive change.
I encourage the OECD and IEA to take a different approach.
This is an opportunity for all of us to join forces, to take a team approach
to growing Africa’s energy sector, and to do it without dismissing Africa’s
right to capitalize on its own natural resources.
NJ Ayuk is Executive Chairman of the African Energy Chamber, CEO of
pan-African corporate law conglomerate Centurion Law Group, and the author of
several books about the oil and gas industry in Africa, including Billions
at Play: The Future of African Energy and Doing Deals.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf
of African Energy Chamber.