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NEPAD and energy: turning out the lights
by Akong Charles Ndika

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NEPAD and energy: turning out the lights

Couched in a new framework of interaction between Africa, industrialised countries, and multilateral organisations like the World Bank, the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) has been promoted at all major world economic gatherings since its launch in October 2001. At corporate globalisation forums like the G8 meetings, its advocates have likened Nepad to the Marshall Plan that resurrected Europe after World War II. They claim that Africa's present development status is a result of insufficient globalisation. The therapy is to integrate Africa further into the global economy. With this strategy, can Africa truly claim this millennium? Nowhere is an answer more obvious than in the energy sector, the cornerstone of Nepad.

Energy is of prime importance for economic development in Africa. With global business opportunities totalling trillions of dollars, energy is one of the biggest businesses in the world. In particular, energy consumption in developed countries is expected to swell significantly in the years ahead. With these rosy business prospects, Nepad intends to use energy as a launching pad for Africa into the global economy. Against this, and despite the rich and diverse sources of energy on the continent, per capita consumption of energy in Africa is the lowest in the world, making energy poverty the root cause of underdevelopment. With about 40 to 45 percent of the 730 million people in Africa living on less than a U.S. dollar a day, access, affordability, and efficiency are the characteristics by which any strategy that will put Africa's energy economy to a path of sustainable development must be judged.

Although Nepad makes a token reference to the need to guarantee a sustainable supply of affordable energy as the cornerstone for poverty alleviation, projects envisaged to realize the goal run opposite to the energy needs of the majority of Africans. The short-term action plan to achieve sustainable energy development which will serve as building blocks towards the realisation of medium to long-term goals involves power systems, and oil and gas transmission projects.

The power projects include the Mepanda Uncua hydro power plant, Ethiopia-Sudan interconnection, West Africa Power Pool (WAPP) program, Algeria-Morocco-Spain interconnection, Algeria-Spain interconnection, Algeria Gas-fired Power Station, and the Mozambique-Malawi interconnection. The gas and oil transmission projects include: the Kenya-Uganda Oil Pipeline, West Africa Gas Pipeline (WAGP), and the Libya-Tunisia Gas Pipeline.

Based on the profiteering motives of multinational corporations, are these projects really relevant to Africa's development aspirations? Alternatively, will they actually meet the energy needs of present and future generations? This article attempts an answer by measuring the projects on the following sustainability scales:


The power projects mentioned above highlight an avowed agenda to centralise the supply of electricity in the continent. The seed capital for these projects is the sweeping wave of privatisation of State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) across Africa. Through policy-based lending, most African countries are subscribing to the dictates of international institutions like the World Bank to open the energy sector to foreign investment through privatisation and deregulation. In these circumstances, electricity is treated simply as a commodity. Hence, the hallmarks of SOEs such as universal service, non-discriminatory pricing between industrial and residential users, and cross-subsidies to urban poor and rural populations are substituted for full cost recovery, the credo of privatised utilities.

At the same time, and in order to maximise profits, multinational corporations are exploring opportunities to transcend geographical barriers. Anchored in neo-liberalism, the Nepad action plan facilitates the lifting of geographical restrictions on electricity trade across Africa. It is worth noting that this is inimical to the livelihoods of the majority of Africans living below US$2-a-day. Besides paying the real cost for electricity, ordinary consumers will be priced out of the grid. In summary, markets and customers in the Nepad action plan take precedence over citizenship.


Access to electricity services is a clear marker of the difference between the rich and the poor, most of whom are women. In fact, 80 percent of the 500 million Africans without access to electricity live in rural areas. In particular, the rural electrification rate of 16.9 percent in Africa is the lowest in the world. This lack of electricity correlates with many indicators of poverty such as poor education, inadequate health care, and hardships imposed on women and children. Electricity services can indeed enhance the quality of life of rural populations in countless ways. For instance: -electric light extends the day, providing extra hours for reading and improving exam results in rural areas; -refrigeration allows rural clinics to keep needed medicines such as vaccines; and -driers can lead to lower post-harvest losses and enable rural farmers to market their produce when prices are higher.

Because of the rates of poverty and low population density in rural areas, relying on grid solutions for lights on is a sure course for lights off. In fact, the energy needs of rural Africa are decentralised. Meeting the energy needs of rural populations requires the exploration of renewable energy sources. In contrast, the Nepad action plan prioritises the centralisation of power supply, the opposite of the decentralised energy needs of rural masses. Driven by profits, privatised utilities have no incentive to extend networks to rural areas, unless government subsidies make up for the financial losses and provide an attractive margin of profit. It is worth noting that the neo-liberal fountain from which Nepad draws its viability is at odds with subsidies. In fact, governments are compelled to shirk their social responsibilities thereby leaving rural populations permanently unconnected to the grid.


The Nepad action plan is based on a resource-led development approach which prioritises the extractive industry sector, paving the way for criss-crossing oil and gas transmission pipelines. The capital- intensive nature of these projects is beyond the purse of African states; and the action plan intends to facilitate the establishment of policies and institutional frameworks favourable for multinational corporations to invest. This could include favourable contractual risk guarantees that profits are placed ahead of public concerns and generous tax exoneration provisions. But the fact is that oil production does not equate with the prosperity the international financial institutions give it credit for. Even though Nigeria ranks seventh in terms of world oil production, it was near the bottom of the human development report in 2002. Another point that cannot escape attention, particularly in the context of the present U.S.-led war against terrorism, is the potential millitarisation of pipeline routes and the inevitable impact on the human rights of nearby communities. Envisaged power projects will significantly impact on the livelihood and development of communities. For example, the Mepanda Uncua Hydropower Project will lead to the construction of a 100-sq km reservoir that is going to displace 1,400 people, while floods are expected to impact further thousands.

In conclusion we return to the central question of this article: Is Nepad worth its value in sustainable development? Measured against the three previous points, it is hard to answer in the affirmative. This pessimism is rooted in Nepad's lack of serious engagement with civil society organisations in Africa, and international social, labour, and environmental movements. In opposing the contributions of these actors, who in their struggle for socio-environmental and economic justice have been able to bring about a modicum of progressive global change, Nepad fails to distinguish itself from other multinational corporations' designs to mine Africa's resources and maim its people. Is this the price to be paid in order for Africa to claim this millennium?

Akong Charles Ndika is an Energy Policy Analyst with Global Village Cameroon. http://www.globalvillagecam.org

 Global Village Cameroon, GVC, is a Non Governmental Organisation, NGO, created in 1996 with objectives devoted to the protection of the environment and ensuring sustainable development. In working towards these objectives, GVC is partnered to the Transnational Institute (TNI) Energy Project, a network consisting of Southern and European NGOs.
The prime aim of the network is to even knowledge and information flow on energy and sustainable
development issues between the north and the south.
The mainstream of GVC activities centres on energy. In this light, GVC has carried out scores of
activities both nationally and internationally. The most recent, is the organisation of a skillshare from the 8 to 10 of January 2003 in Maputo Mozambique. The skillshare which had amongst its aims building the capacity of African NGOs to fully engage in the World Bank Extractive Industry Review Consultation -that took place from the 13 to 17 of January 2003 in Maputo, pooled more than a dozen NGOs from Africa, Europe, Asia and the Untied states of America under the theme Public Finance, Energy Restructuring, and Climate Change. On the national scene, GVC is engaged in Multilateral Development Banks advocacy. Activities in this light have involved: engaging the Chad-Cameroon pipeline project on sustainable livelihood issues. This has culminated in several publications and the production of a documentary highlighting the negative environmental, social and economic impacts of the fossil fuel extraction project. Presently, GVC is working on the impacts of power sector privatisation on sustainable livelihoods development in Africa in general and Cameroon in particular. In this vein, GVC is open to collaborate with other NGOs on issues underpinning the power sector such as impacts of dam commissioning, clean and renewable energy development etc.
Global Village Cameroon
BP 3158, Yaounde
Tel  (237)223 31 52  
Email global@cenadi.cm or globalvillage@camnet.cm
Website www. globalvillagecam.org 

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