Line Between Power and Light – An Opinion on Africa’s Energy Crisis

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By now, I’m sure you’ve heard about the Akon Lighting Africa (ALA) initiative. The venture was first introduced to me on social media, as one man on a mission to “light up Africa”. At first glance, the only thing I could think to do was Google AKon’s net worth (it’s 80 million btw). My initial thought was how practical of a project is it and what the cost would amount to. Forgive me but it seemed pretty ambitious to think that a music artist could afford to supply nearly half of a continent with electricity.
For those who haven’t heard, the Akon Lighting Africa project aims to bring solar power to 600 million Africans who currently live without power. Akon joined five prime ministers from Benin, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, and Togo to address the region’s energy crisis. According to his website, the development was launched in February 2014. The design is set to provide electricity to 14 African countries: Mali, Niger, Senegal, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, Benin, Guinea Equatorial, Gabon, Republic of Congo, Namibia, Madagascar, Kenya, and Nigeria. ALA has aspirations to employ over 5,000 people to install and maintain solar equipment.
What’s even more interesting is that President Obama launched a very similar initiative called Power Africa in the same year. This plan is primarily funded by the USAID Foundation and the objectives are fairly similar to ALA, just less ambitious. Power Africa aims to provide electricity to Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Tanzania, Liberia, Ghana, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Malawi, Zambia, Rwanda, and Uganda. Akon plans to distribute solar energy while Obama plans to improve the current model. In my opinion, it already sounds like too many hands in the basket with undertones of a brewing conflict of interest. Nonetheless, the U.S. has reported much success with this project in the last year and according to the Annual Report posted on their website that they plan to triple their goal to reach 60 million homes.
While all of this seems worthy of celebration, I do have an opinion. For most people their thoughts will only stretch as far as, “This is great!” and “It’s about damn time someone stepped in to help!” There are only pros right? The possibility of accessible electricity will catapult the Sub-Saharan region of Africa onto a progressive path, right? I don’t know that I can answer this just yet but I do know that there is a very elaborate history of “saviors” arriving under misleading initiatives to rape and pillage our natural resources. My main concern with Akon Lighting Africa is the fact that the project is heavily financed by China Jiangsu International. Even though many Sub-Saharan countries have declared independence it almost seems like assistance in the form of aid is the sophisticated way to say imperialism.
The problem with Africa’s power sector is that there is an insufficient production capacity and limited electricity supply. This makes streamlining electricity nearly impossible. All of these issues are exasperated by the high cost of electricity generation. The fact that the system runs off of fossil fuels is what creates this imaginable costs forcing most countries to subsidize a.k.a. power outages. Fossil fuel based energy is the most expensive means for generating electricity. What pisses me off is that Africa is the richest continent in natural resources. More specifically, 16 of the 54 countries in the continent are the world’s largest oil exporters, meaning we have the resources to develop independently but we’d rather export these resources for profit.
Long story short, I feel like the Akon Lighting Africa project is bittersweet. While I support the efforts to improve a continent casted in darkness, I am concerned about where the light is coming from and the power associated with it. Developed countries often lose their moral compass when assisting African people. The more I think of Africa’s potential to control our own destiny and the wasted opportunity, the angrier I get.

Ugh.
Sincerely,
Angry Black Woman

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