DJ Bwakali

DJ Bwakali

Welcome to Equatorial Guinea. It may be a small country wedged between Cameroon and Gabon but it has a big forest cover that spreads across 58 percent of the entire country. One of the trees that can be found in this massive forest is the Prunus Africana, commonly known as the African Cherry.

This tree is a wonder. Here’s why:

Apart from the fact that it is tall (can grow up to 25 metres), dark (its bark is painted with dark hues) and handsome, the African cherry should actually be called Dr. Prunus Africana because of its immense medicinal qualities. Now let us walk into one of Equatorial Guinea’s dense forests.

Move closer. Closer again. The sound of dry leaves crackling under your safari boots as you move closer. That distant chirp of the forest wood hoopoe, a colorful bird whose pink beak makes it appear as if its spotting pink lipstick. But that’s not what I want you to see. Ignore the chameleon that is peeping at you from that giant tree to your left. Keep walking. Now touch this. Touch this bark. Can you feel its rugged texture? Can you see the dark hues that are engraved into the bark? Now pluck a piece of the bark and squeeze it between your thumb and index finger. Lift it to you nose. Close your eyes and inhale its earthy scent.

What you are holding in your hand is the bark of the Prunus Africana tree aka African Cherry. That tiny, rugged bark is overflowing with medicinal qualities. For starters, it cures cancer. Prostrate cancer to be exact. For decades, researchers have been asserting that the bark whose earthy scent filled your nostrils is a key ingredient in treating not only prostate cancer but an enlarged prostate benign prostate hyperplasia. This particular medicinal quality has drastically raised global demand for Prunus Africana. Every year, more than 3,000 tons of the tree’s bark are exported to Europe for the production of herbal preparations for enlarged cancer treatment.

Because of its massive forest cover, Equatorial Guinea can focus more on earning revenue from non-timber products like the barks of Prunus Africana. If it does this, it will help in treating the world and focus less on the logging industry which has a way of eventually slashing the forest cover.

I only have one friend in Sierra Leone. For now. His name is James Hallowell. I still consider him as a friend even though we last talked more than fifteen years ago when he was the National Focal Point of a United Nations Environment Program youth project that I was leading. I thought of James when I sat down to write this article on Sierra Leone’s Moa River.

As is often the case with most rivers, this river doesn’t just ‘belong’ to Sierra Leone alone but also to other countries in the region. It starts its epic journey in the highlands of Guinea and thunders southwest to form the border of Sierra Leone and Guinea before racing into Sierra Leone to form the border of Guinea and Sierra Leone.

Many of the villages that dot the Moa River’s riverbanks are quite remote, rarely visited by outsiders. Inhabiting these villages are Sierra Leoneans whose wealth of knowledge about the river is immense. They have been living next to the river for centuries and to many, it even has spiritual significance. They know the seasons when the river roars mightily as it powers on to the lands beyond and when it seems to trudge along wearily. They know which fish abound in the river’s cold waters and how those fish taste.

Every morning before the sun peeps out of its Eastern horizon, they jump into dugout canoes and paddle into the river’s embrace, either for transport or fishing. As they do this, they hear and feel the river’s morning dawn swoosh as it hisses at the water birds that answer with their own lively wake-up chirps.

Although the villagers of Sierra Leone are firmly engraved into this orchestra of nature that is harmoniously conducted by River Moa, their indigenous knowledge is unfortunately largely confined to their minds, hearts and huts. We must engage them not just as sources of research but as peers who are reliable, age-old custodians of the river.

When the speed boat roars to a stop in the pristine, smooth beaches of Guinea-Bissau’s Bijagós Islands, you will have arrived at a place that will delete all the stress in you. As you step into the warm, clear water, you will hear a splash as a fish you cannot see feels from the intrusive humdrum of arriving and departing humans.

The island that you have just arrived in is one of 88 islands that make up the breathtaking Bijagós archipelago off the coast of Guinea-Bissau. So ecologically rich are these islands that they have collectively been designated as UNESCO Boloma Bijagós Biosphere Reserve.

One of these ecological riches is the green sea turtle. As you sail around the archipelago, you will not miss to see these beautiful turtles since there are over ten thousand of them laying eggs in the islands.

Unfortunately, beneath Guinea-Bissau’s utter beauty lies a literal darkness.

Only 21 percent of Guinea-Bissau’s people have access to electricity. Think about that. Only one in five people in this dazzling west African country have access to electricity. So what happens to the rest? Candles, kerosene lanterns, tin can kerosene lamps? They probably light up their homes with one of these. But what do they use to power electrical appliances like, radios, TVs and fridges? Most don’t even have such appliances and don’t lose sleep over this lack. They are more preoccupied over weightier matters like food and dwindling harvests.

Talking about food, 98 percent of people in Guinea Bissau, which is pretty much almost everyone, rely on traditional biomass for cooking. That means that if charcoal and firewood were to suddenly disappear from the country tomorrow, 98 percent of people in Guinea-Bissau wouldn’t be able to cook their food.

This is why Guinea-Bissau and all the other 53 African countries need to turn the trickle of renewable energy in their respective countries into a flood.

“What on earth am I doing here?”

This question echoed in the sea of plastic that bathed over Côte d’Ivoire’s Ébrié Lagoon. Only four kilometers wide, this lagoon lasts for one hundred kilometers before becoming one with the Atlantic Ocean.

Apart from plastic bottles, all manner of waste that includes heavy metal and pesticides is usually dumped into the lagoon.

That plastic bottle, one of hundreds that are strewn in the lagoon, wonders what it is doing there because it definitely doesn’t belong there.

What belongs to this lagoon is this:

Natasha, a twenty-five-year-old lady form Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth largest city, located in an area where Europe and Asia meet. Today, she is in a traditional canoe at Ébrié Lagoon. Before today, she had never set foot in Côte d’Ivoire or even in Africa. She couldn’t even name five African countries. But when her friend Olga told her about the World Traditional Canoe Championships that were being held at Ébrié Lagoon. Olga had been to this race the previous year in the inaugural championships and had vowed to keep coming back.

Natasha was riding in the canoe with Sena, a thirty-two-year-old artisanal fisherman from Lome, Togo. This was a defining feature of the Traditional Canoe Championships – people were always paired with someone from another country in order to enhance rich cultural exchange.

For the entire one-hundred kilometre length of the Lagoon, Natasha and Sena rowed next to, behind and in front of almost one thousand other traditional canoes whose riders were drawn from eighty-seven countries from all the five continents of the world. All along the shore for the entire one hundred kilometers of the Lagoon, there were djembe drummists and traditional dancers drawn from the entire Western Africa.

This Traditional Canoe World Championships earned Côte d’Ivoire’s millions of dollars in revenue. Didier, a forty-six year old who had previously earned less than twenty dollars every month by scavenging through the plastic waste that used to be at the Lagoon was now earning ten times as much both directly and indirectly from these Traditional Canoe championships. More than ten thousand other local residents had also received similar boosts in their revenue.

In 2015, the UN Environment Program produced a Report in which it clearly recommended to the Government of Côte d’Ivoire, ‘Establish Ébrié Lagoon as an engine for economic revival in Abidjan.’ Instead of this lagoon being an ugly dumping ground, it could be a beautiful centre of sustainable economic activity.

This Ébrié Lagoon Traditional Canoe World Championships is just a dream. But it can be a reality. It should be a reality.

The three drops of sweat on Trevor’s forehead soon became a flood that swept across his body. By the time he hauled his boat and body back to the landing beach Liberia’s capital in Monrovia, he was exhausted to the bone. But there wasn’t much to show for his sweat. Lying forlornly at the bottom of his boat were two medium-sized fish that weighed about four kilos. whatever he would earn from selling the two fish would be far below the approximately USD50 that he needed to top up his nine-year old daughter Elizabeth’s school fees.

What is happening to the Atlantic Ocean? Trevor wondered. Just a few years ago, I used to catch as much as fifty kilos daily. Now I am lucky to catch ten kilos.

Four experts from the University of British Columbia have an answer for Trevor. In a paper for the African Journal on Marine Sciences, they predicted that ‘climate change may lead to substantial reduction in marine fish production and decline in fish protein supply in this region by the 2050s.’ They further went on to state that ‘we project a 21% drop in annual landed value, 50% decline in fisheries-related jobs and a total annual loss of US$311 million in the whole economy of West Africa. These changes are expected to increase the vulnerability of the region through economics and food security of West Africa to climate change.’

Their views are echoed by the World Bank which however lays the blame of dwindling fish right on the doorstep of unsustainable fishing practices, ‘a decade ago, it was already clear that the era of bountiful fishing in West Africa’s waters was in steep decline. The fisheries sector no longer contributed as much to their national economies because of high levels of illegal fishing, often from foreign vessels, and declining fish stock, as well as a lack of management and infrastructure.’

It is therefore clear that the livelihoods of Trevor and Liberia’s 33,000 artisanal fishers are being ripped apart by both climate change and unsustainable fishing practices.

If nine-year old Elizabeth is to one day follow the footsteps of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, then her father must be helped to revive his fishing livelihood.

Friday, 13 July 2018 15:28

The Last Drops of Coffee

Not good. Not good at all. How can they treat me like I don’t matter.

We are sorry your insurance cover wasn’t approved. Why? She had demanded. Our analysis showed that because of bla bla bla..

Fools! Lala hissed aloud, startling the gentleman who was walking besides her in the same direction. She was walking past Nakumatt Lifestyle, her destination, Java Koinange. Cappuccino was her tried and tested antidote for stress. Especially the white-brown foam that formed at the top. It was heaven.

Funny how this street looks so normal and holy at this hour, she thought of Koinange street. But just after a few hours anytime from half past ten..

The white dress looked so pure on her that for a while, he forgot his evil intentions. Wow. He had slowed his Toyota Camri, the latest model. Red in colour. Actually, it was his wife’s and he had borrowed it for thet weekend because his black Range was due for servicing and he never ever drove it past the five thousand kilometre mark until it had been thoroughly serviced.

Like an alert leopard, the lady in white noticed the Toyota Camri’s slowing down and pounced at his window before he could appreciate the dazzle of her dress further. Her ears instantly picked out the gentle click that signalled unlocking of the door. She jumped in with a pure smile that somehow whitewashed their shared impure intentions. This was his drill, at least once or twice every month.

Lala didn’t witness all this because by that time, she was still in the corner table of Java Koinange. He was seated opposite her, silent like those mountain streams in her mama’s ancestral home in Sagalla. His dark face had a scowl. Or was it lust. Or maybe hunger for her pilau.

I could marry you just for your pilau he had once told her. Then repeated it again and again and again. He was generous with his complements but stingy with his cash.

Let me just sort out a project then I will sort you out before you can blink. She had blinked a million times and he still hadn’t sorted her out with the 42,000 shillings she had asked for ‘an urgent need.’

No need to go into the details of why you need the money. Her best friend Nduta had advised her.

Papa had told her that she should feel free to farm on his five acres of land that was rotting away in Mumias. He had never been much of a farmer or a country side person for that matter. From her research, 38,000 would be sufficient for all expenses needed to kickstart water melon farming on the land.

Don’t ask for exact money, Nduta had warned her.

Drop him. She had urged when his project, the one that needed sorting before she could be sorted, took a whole year. Twelve freaking months! Nduta cursed.

It’s not that Lala didn’t have her own money. Most of the nearly six-digit figure that the international auditing farm paid her every month ended up in her savings account at Family Bank.

Why Family Bank? Nkedi, the on and off boyfriend that was sitting opposite her at Java had wondered back then, shaking his head. Why not. She had retorted, suddenly losing appetite in the pilau she had just served him.

That was four years earlier when she was in the third year of her Bachelor of Commerce course at Nairobi University. His shoe business was doing poorly, that’s why he was still staying in Umoja. He had told her.

‘Let’s go babe,’ he slapped two crisp one-thousand shillings notes into the brown change and bill folder.

‘Go where?’ she felt a sharp dull pain in her lower abdomen. Oh God, please not now.

‘Do you intend to sleep here?’ He could be rude. But this arrogance is one of the things she liked about him.

‘I intend to sleep in my bed at Donholm.’

‘What’s wrong with my bed in Nairobi West?!’ There was a flash of anger in his dark brown eyes.

As she sipped the last drops of her cappuccino, Lala couldn’t have known about the study by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). According to this study, global warming and new rainfall patterns are reducing the areas that the Arabica coffee plant could be grown. Without new strategies, Brazil’s Arabica production could drop by twenty-five percent by 2050. This is because most of Brazil’s coffee is grown on plains yet a changing climate makes it necessary to plant coffee higher and higher.

‘Whatever,’ Lala said when Nkedi told her that her wasn’t sure he could drop her at Donholm. Her had an early day with a client from South Africa.

‘There are thousands of cabs in Nairobi,’ Lala stood up angrily, ‘I will take one.’

Friday, 13 July 2018 13:10

A Time to Survive and Thrive

Mukuru ghetto is only a ten-minute drive away from Nairobi city center. Residents of Mukuru know that their slum dwellings call for strong wills and tough spirits. Edu had lived in this ghetto for most of the twenty years of his life. Half of this time was spent in the same single-room structure. He lived in this mud-walled, rusty tin-roof room with his father and older brother.

His ailing father was a casual laborer in a nearby factory while Nyash, his brother had just completed high school the previous year and was now looking for casual work. This was a venture akin to looking for a needle in a haystack. The closest Nyash came to finding this needle was when a local wholesale promised him a cleaning job. When Nyash showed up the following morning to inquire about the job, two people were already sweeping and scrubbing the shop’s verandah. The needle just couldn’t be found.

One morning, Nyash woke up with a throbbing headache, so he decided to go and search for aspirin. He jumped over the drench at their doorstep and almost slid on a toddler’s faeces.

“Good morning Ninja!” he shouted through the tiny window of a room that was four feet away from their room.

“Yo!” Ninja answered drowsily.

Ninja was one of Nyash’s closest friends. He never slept before three and never woke up after seven. If he wasn’t in the ramshackle one-room gym, he was in the ‘old men’s den.’

This was the nickname given to the small room that served as a bar for chang’aa, the local brew. Nyash walked up the slight incline that led to a tiny shop owned by their landlord. He wanted to get some aspirin on credit.

Nyash saw his brother Edu conversing loudly with the shopkeeper and quickened his steps. If his noisy brother was negotiating to take some item on credit, then Nyash stood no chance with his aspirins. Indeed, as soon as he arrived at the shop, Edu stretched out his hand through the counter and received a loaf of bread. Nyash overheard him promising the shopkeeper that he would pay him in the evening. So much for the aspirins, Nyash thought. His headache would have to heal naturally.

Edu grinned at his brother and shot past him. Moments later, he sauntered into their tiny room, and proclaimed proudly to his father, “I have bought some bread for you papa!”

Papa was just leaving for work. “That is good. Make sure that you share with your brother. I am late, so I have to leave now.”

With that, the frail looking man left. He hadn’t eaten dinner the previous evening as he had returned home so drunk that all he could do was to slump into his mattress on the ground and sleep. He was feeling hungry, and would have loved to stay and munch some bread but he knew that his boys could use the munch too.

Edu had dropped out of school at age thirteen, when he was in the final year of primary school. One evening, he had returned home from school and announced to his papa that he was not going back to school the following day.

“But why my son?” papa wondered.

“I just don’t like school anymore,” Edu had told him.

Counseling and threats from his father all fell on deaf ears. His mother was even summoned from upcountry to advice him but the stubborn teenager remained adamant. So for seven years, Edu just stayed at home and did everything in general but nothing in particular. It was difficult to know what he did.

“Stay away from crime if you want to outlive me,” papa always told him, to which Edu would retort that, “survival should not be mistaken for crime.”

His propensity for brawls quickly gained him a reputation as ‘Tyson.’ Papa even advised him to become a boxer, hoping that this would help to channel his pent-up energies into a constructive activity. For once, his son listened to him.

Ninja, their neighbor, was already an amateur boxer so Edu sat at his feet and began learning the art of boxing. Every morning, Edu went to the gym together with the master. This gym comprised of two skipping ropes and a suspended sack of sand. This sack served as the punching bag. Like Ninja, Edu began spending hours in this tiny, windowless room. Fighting for a better tomorrow in which he wouldn’t have to negotiate with the shopkeeper for ten minutes, to be sold a loaf of bread on credit.

A black crown. Pink ears. A sharp black beak, a few inches longer than the palm of your hand. Alert eyes that can probably see your intentions. Meet the black crowned crane. This morning, this majestic bird is gyrating next to a flooded grassland in Mali’s Inner Niger Delta. Less than a kilometre away, the River Niger flows on in a silent roar.

Amazing. Think of a football field. Now imagine 5.7 million such fields. What you have just imagined is the massive size of Mali’s Inner Niger Delta Wetland. It’s 4,119,500 square kilometers make it the second largest inland wetland in Africa after Botswana’s Okavango delta. It is a Ramsar Site that contains these three other Ramsar Sites: Lake Horo, Seri and Walado Debo.

Contained in the entire Inner Niger Delta Wetland are diverse ecosystems that include lakes, forest floodplains, flooded grasslands and savannah. Feasting on this beautiful spectacle are the 350 species of migratory birds that drop by from time to time. Every year, more than one million birds fly in from at least 80 different countries. They just can’t resist the sumptuous delights of the Wetland’s rich ecosystem. The big question however is this – do these ecosystem riches also translate into economic riches for the Malian people who live in the Wetland? Not really.

Mali’s GDP of USD14.15 GDP is almost 30 times less than Nigeria’s GDP of USD405. Even more staggering, it is 132 times less than Italy’s a country that is four times smaller than Mali.

A time has come for Mali’s extremely rich natural resources to translate into riches for Malians. This can only happen through deliberate effort to create thousands of green jobs from rich natural resources like the Inner Niger Delta Wetland. As the millennium ecosystem assessment revealed, wetlands are worth trillions of dollars.

If Mali’s Government and people, with the support and investments from the global community tap sustainably into the immense economic wealth of the Inner Niger Delta Wetland, then only the migratory birds will migrate out of Mali, not people.   

Friday, 13 July 2018 12:38

Africa's Renewable Energy Journey

Africa is the least energized continent in the world. A satellite image of Africa at night reveals only scattered lights across the continent. This is a stark contrast to other parts of the world that are well lit in similar satellite images. Although this is mostly indicative of electrical lighting, it is symbolic of Africa’s state when it comes to overall energy production and usage.

But Africa’s potential in renewable energy is world-beating. All the way from Eastern Africa to Western Africa; Southern Africa to Northern Africa and Central Africa to Africa’s Small Island States, renewable energy is gathering pace through bold initiatives by both private and public sector players.

Africa’s renewable energy journey is however greatly hampered by severe capital and skill challenges, with the latter being the overriding challenge. Most renewable energy projects of consequence are extremely capital intensive and can therefore not be undertaken in the same way that a green venture like organic farming. This reality has been proven time and again in a number of renewable energy ventures that diverse African communities have undertaken.

Solar Energy

Solar photovoltaics are the most ubiquitous form of renewable energy in most African communities. Unfortunately, poor households have not benefited as much as high income households from solar PV systems because of the high upfront costs.[1] This has been the case in Wasini Island in Kenya’s South Coast.

The Island’s two thousand dwellers have lived without electricity for decades owing to the logistical challenges of extending the national grid to the island. This forced community members to depend on paraffin-powered lanterns even as their counterparts on the mainland were increasingly connected to the grid.

However, over the last two years, about fifty islanders have installed solar into their homes. They can now access electricity at night and power their electronics as they light up their houses. It is mostly because of such installations that Kenya has an installed solar PV capacity of 3,600kwp. Only South Africa is ahead of it with an installed solar PV capacity of about 11,000kwp.

For the last three decades, hundreds of communities across Africa have engaged in solar energy projects of varying degrees. Apart from actual installation in similar fashion to Wasini’s people, other solar projects entail actual assembly of small solar panels that are then used in low-voltage energy activities like phone charging. One of the organizations that undertook such a solar project was Kibera Community Youth Programme (KCYP), a Community Based Organization (CBO) based in Kibera, Kenya’s largest slum.  

In 2005, KCYP started assembling small solar panels. They became so experienced that they were even part of the team that installed solar panels at Mama Sarah Obama’s homestead. The then octogenarian is the US President Barack Obama’s grandmother.

The solar panels that they assembled ranged from six, nine and twelve volts and were sold at an average of $5. Such solar panels however never fully took off because the low-voltage electricity they provide is unable to power much needed entrepreneurial activities like welding.

Sasafrica Media, a social enterprise that is based in Wasini Island compared the small panels to giving small aquariums to the island’s fishermen and expecting them to make a living from the aquariums. In the same way that fishermen make a living by plugging into the ocean through their fishing nets, communities need to plug into reliable, consistent electricity through either the national grid or local mini-grids.

Whether local or national, on-grid solar is a cost and skill intensive venture that is mostly possible through intense public-private partnerships that essentially consign local communities to beneficiaries as opposed to drivers of such ventures. However, the fact that such on-grid solar is not community driven shouldn’t negate its vital importance to communities.   

Biofuels (Jatropha)

Kitui County in Eastern Kenya is predominantly inhabited by the Kamba community, Kenya’s fifth largest tribe, comprising of five million people. Located a few kilometres away from Kitui town, is the Green Africa Farm that is owned by Green Africa Foundation. The Kamba community that neighbours this farm is a major stakeholder in the farm.

In the early years on the new millennium, Green Africa Foundation planted jatropha in dozens of acres on the farm, making it a trailblazer in bio-fuels. Row after row of the Green Africa farm was full of the small jatropha curcas whose oily seeds are pressed to produce diesel. Also lining sections of the farm’s store were specially designed lanterns and cookstoves that could run on biodiesel.

At its height, as it rode on the jatropha crest, Green Africa Foundation was on the forefront of Kenya’s official biofuel inroads. Dr Isaac Kalua, its founding Chairman was appointed head of the Kenya Biodiesel Association. But in less than two years, the seemingly imminent bio-fuel boom became a bust that was exemplified by jatropha’s fall from glory. Some of the reasons of this fall are global in nature.

Between 2000 and 2006, global biodiesel production multiplied six-fold from one to six billion liters while global fuel ethanol production almost tripled to 40 billion liters. Unfortunately, part of this growth resulted in the destruction of rainforests in Southeast Asia and channeling of food crops like corn towards biofuel production. When it was introduced in Kenya, Jatropha was touted as a plant that could grow well in semi-arid places where food crops couldn’t survive and would consequently not be replacing any food crops. However, other factors related to the economies of scale eventually came into play and severely undermined the jatropha promise.

At its peak, hundreds of smallholder farmers in eastern and coastal Kenya grew jatropha as a ‘fuel crop’ that could grant them the twin benefit of fuel and money. But even they later realized that the seeds didn’t have a ready market since there was no established large scale jatropha processing plant in the entire country. In addition, even those who were able to press their seeds into bio-diesel through the help of organizations like Green Africa Foundation found out that such bio-diesel wasn’t always compatible with their stoves and lanterns.

A few thousand miles south of Kenya in Malawi, jatropha was also embraced as a formidable source of renewable energy. Through its Agriculture Sector-wide Approach, Malawi’s government recognized ‘the promotion of jatropha growing for production of biodiesel to reduce air pollution.’ But just like the Kenyan experience, it was never clear whether jatropha was in fact a rural development tool or a commercial biofuel crop.

Although there is a jatropha processing plant in Malawi’s capital Lilongwe, many smallholders are located hundreds of kilometres away, making transportation of jatropha seeds both logistically challenging and costly. Consequently, farmers from the southern and northern regions where jatropha flourished were often left with stacks of jatropha seeds that they couldn’t sell. Meanwhile, the pressing plant at the capital continued operating thanks to regular supplies from farmers who se farms were much closer to it.

Legislatively, jatropha growth in Malawi was also affected by the lingering confusion about its status – was it a tree or a crop? The answer to this question would determine which government department would be responsible for it and which corresponding policies would then be applied to it.

Indeed, the underwhelming experiences of rural communities in Kenya and Malawi have proved that bio-fuel plants like jatropha may have great promise but it is a promise that doesn’t seem to enhance community livelihoods in short and mid terms.

Small Hydro Power

Back in the year 2000, Nottingham Trent University (NTU), the then ITDG Energy Program and local villagers in Kirinyaga teamed up and developed two small hydro power establishments in the two rural areas. Consequently two hundred households ended up with electricity that was generated right at their doorsteps. This pioneering initiative proved that small hydro power is possible and sustainable but also expensive. Together, the two small hydro projects cost $14,660.

On their own, the two communities in Central Kenya wouldn’t have been able to pull these unprecedented projects. This scenario mirrors the on-grid solar predicament, further vindicating the argument that local communities need support that will place them either on the national grids or local renewable energy powered mini-grids.

It is quite telling that sub-Saharan Africa consumes less energy than the State of New York. This is not surprising, considering that 600 million Africans have no access to electricity. Although tragic, this presents the continent with a golden opportunity to leapfrog the developed world in anchoring new energy in renewable energy-powered grids.

The Africa Progress Report 2015 talks of this leap-frog effect, ‘African nations do not have to lock into developing high-carbon old technologies; we can expand our power generation and achieve universal access to energy by leapfrogging into new technologies that are transforming energy systems across the world.’

Indeed, there are African communities that are now enjoying electricity for the first time ever thanks to renewable sources. In Kenya, Takamoto Biogas is helping farmers in rural areas to install biogas through their Pay-As-You-Go scheme.[2] These farmers have reared livestock for millennia but have never used livestock waste as a source of electricity. Takamoto Biogas helps them to tap into these renewable energy resources by setting up the biogas infrastructure into their homes.

The infrastructure includes electricity poles, underground cables, meter box and the transformer. Most of the rural farmers have neither the expertise nor the resources to set up such infrastructure. Takamoto takes away this burden from them and just like electricity consumers of the national grid, they pay back every time they purchase electricity credits. To facilitate purchase of the credits, this biogas firm has set up smart metres that transmit critical consumption data back to company headquarters.

For close to three years, Takamoto has been setting up biogas for farmers mostly in Central Kenya. Farmers who have benefited from this biogas wave have at least two cows. As an icing on the cake, their biogas units are also equipped with outlets that produce manure that further enriches their crops without degrading the soil like some fertilizers.

Trees also benefit from the biogas. The company estimates that for every 155 families that switch to biogas, at least 1,860 trees are saved. This is because the most common cooking fuel in rural Kenya is either firewood or charcoal, both by-products of trees. So widespread are these two cooking fuels that they consume a minimum of 5.6 million trees daily.[3]

In popularizing and establishing biogas, Takamoto is not only providing clean cooking and lighting energy for rural families in Kenya, but also helping to protect the country’s much needed trees.

At a broader international level, the Africa Biogas Partnership Programme (ABPP) is spreading the biogas wave in five African countries – Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Burkina Faso. Although led by two Dutch organisations Hivos and SNV, this initiative supports national programmes in the five countries. Its goal is to provide half a million people with sustainable energy by 2017.

Ethiopia has been a key part of this goal. Since 2009, ABPP has been setting up biogas plants in Ethiopia.  In the first phase of the programme between 2009 and 2013, ABPP constructed 8,063 biogas plants in 163 districts across Ethiopia. In the second phase that will conclude in 2017, the programme targets construction of 20,000 plants. Several steps towards realization of this target were taken in 2014 when 1,762 plants were set up.

About 70 percent of the rural poor in Africa own cattle, making biogas a particularly relevant energy source for them. The situation is even better in Ethiopia, which has Africa’s largest cattle population, currently standing at 54 million. A single cow can produce approximately 0.5 cubic meters of gas per day, which can fuel a single burner stove for an hour. The two hours of cooking that two cows can therefore produce is sufficient for a family of less than ten in any given day.

The next biogas frontier in Africa now involves compression of the biogas into cylinders so that it can be purchased by the millions in urban centres who use natural gas for cooking. The market is already there and it is just a question of green technology catching up with this market.

The biogas wave is but a manifestation of the renewable energy undercurrents that are sweeping across the continent. The Africa Progress Report 2015 captures this reality succinctly, ‘No region has more abundant or less exploited low-carbon energy resources. Harnessed to the right strategies, these resources could resolve two of the most critical development challenges facing Africa: power generation and connectivity. Renewable energy could do for electricity what the mobile phone did for telecommunications: provide millions of households with access to a technology that creates new opportunities.’

These new opportunities are already being created as ripples of renewable energy across Africa become steady waves.

Kenya, whose electricity is produced entirely from renewable sources, mostly hydro-electricity and geothermal, is now hosting a wind farm project that once complete, will be the biggest in Africa. Bubisa wind corridor in northern Kenya has one of the strongest wind flows in the world and is fuelling the massive wind farm under construction.

Indeed, investors are finally catching up with Kenya’s immense wind energy. The Lake Turkana Wind Power consortium is behind the wind farm being constructed in northern Kenya. Once complete, the farm will provide 300MW of low cost power that will be sold to the national grid. That a remote part of Kenya, barely accessible by road will provide this much electricity is a testament to the potency of wind.

Further south, wind is also playing a critical role in South Africa’s energy needs. Cookhouse wind farm which was built over a period of eleven months is already pumping 138MW of clean energy into the national grid. Its 66 turbines are incessantly blowing renewable energy into Africa’s largest economy. Fifteen percent of this farm is owned by the local community in Eastern Cape through a community trust. This approach is a welcome contrast to the fossil fuel players in most African countries that don’t have similar community ownership.

From an economic standpoint, wind energy in South Africa is as profitable as it is clean. At 5 US cents per kWh, new wind energy costs half the price of new coal energy. This cost dynamic will potentially shift the tide of new investments towards wind energy and other forms of equally profitable renewable energy. This economic linchpin has been a critical driver in the addition of 4,322MW in less than four years. Seventy-nine licensed wind farm projects are part of this renewable energy revolution in South Africa.

According to South Africa’s Integrated Resource Plan, the country seeks to supply a total of 17,800 MW of renewable energy by 2030. This path will leave US$457 million in local communities by 2020.

Despite its continued emphasis on fossil fuels like coal, the South African government continues to take concrete steps on the renewable energy path. The Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Program (REIPPPP) is South Africa’s answer to the Feed-in-tariff that has catapulted renewable energy forward in countries like Germany. REIPPPP, which is led by the Department of Energy, encourages competitive bidding for renewable energy generation.

In less than three years, through the mobilisation of REIPPPP, a staggering amount of over R100 billion (€ 7.3 billion) has flowed into renewable energy investment, mostly from the private sector. This investment resulted from only three bidding processes that ended up procuring 3,275 MW of renewable energy.

On the other side of the continent in Ghana, the renewable energy wave is similarly gathering pace too, not through wind like South Africa or Biogas like Ethiopia, but through solar. Ghana is in the process of constructing a solar PV plant at Nzema. It will generate 155MW, making it Africa’s largest solar plant. Currently, the West African country’s grid connected solar is only 3MW while off-grid solar is 0.8MW. Like Kenya and several other African countries, large hydro power plants lead in electricity generation in Ghana, thrusting 1,580MW into the national grid as of 2013. 

Large scale hydro-electricity generation is however one of the main casualties of climate change. Erratic rainfall results in erratic river flows, which negatively affects electricity generation. Consequently, Ghana is feeling the pinch as water levels decrease in the reservoirs of Bui, Kpong and Akosombo hydro power plants.

In order to diversify its electricity generation and make it more reliable, Ghana plans to increase renewable energy generation by 10 percent by 2020. To accelerate progress towards this direction, the government has put in place a feed-in-tariff scheme that guarantees prices and purchase of renewable energy generated electricity.

The scenario in Ghana exemplifies what is happening across Africa. On the one hand, government efforts to entrench renewable energy are laudable but they can only work if coupled with vibrant private sector participation. Cases where the private sector has played a vibrant role as happened in Kenya and South Africa prove that public-private partnerships have set a renewable energy template for Africa.

Another issue to grapple with lies in hydroelectricity, a common source of electricity generation in many African countries. There are 980 operational hydropower plants in Africa with about 392 plants having a capacity of at least 10 MW (large hydro) and 588 having a capacity of less than 10 MW (small hydro).

But is hydro a renewable energy or not? This question is critical as it influences whether hydro should be stepped up as part of renewable energy expansion or gradually sidelined. Opponents argue that because many big dams interfere negatively with fisheries and water flow, hydropower is therefore not pure renewable energy.

Even as the hydro debate rightfully rages on, wind, solar and geothermal continue to be injected into national grids across the continent. Africa has 46 wind farms with an average capacity of 16 MW and at least 14 geothermal plants with an average capacity of 15 MW.

These are low carbon energy sources and as they become increasingly affordable, they should provide low hanging industrial fruits that will enhance the livelihoods of low income Africans. This has happened in South Africa’s Cookhouse wind farm through the fifteen percent equity ownership by the Eastern Cape local community. Indeed, the primary beneficiaries of renewable energy expansion in Africa should be the 600 million Africans who still don’t have electricity in their homes. This new found energy will potentially provide 600 million concrete opportunities for enhancing their wellbeing.


[1] ..\..\..\Desktop\Remewable Energy in Africa\Scaling up Renewable Energy in Africa UNIDO.pdf

[2] This is a prepaid card loaded with credits of a given value that allows one to use electricity credits of the purchased value.

[3] Green Africa Foundation Research.

Friday, 13 July 2018 12:05

Africa's Wind of Change

There is a wind of change blowing across the world. In Kenya, this wind blows a paltry 0.1 percent into the national grid. But this isn’t because the wind is not blowing. Indeed, Bubisa wind corridor in Marsabit County, which is in northern Kenya, has one of the strongest wind flows in the world.

Investors are finally catching up with Kenya’s blowing wind. The Lake Turkana Wind Power consortium has already started building what will be Africa’s largest wind farm. Once complete, the farm will provide 300MW of low cost power. That a remote part of Kenya, barely accessible by road will provide this much electricity is a testament to the potency of wind.

Away from Kenya, this wind has been blowing huge amounts of electricity into Germany’s national grid. Germany’s onshore wind capacity in 2013 was a staggering 33,730 MW. In the same year, four German states had enough wind capacity to meet over 50 percent of their electricity needs. For these states, wind was not just an energy foot soldier but a fundamental player.

The wind of change blew into Germany’s legislative arena through the Energiewende, a commitment to transition into renewable energy and cut greenhouse gas by 80 – 95 percent by 2050. This legislation’s other key components include:  60 percent share of renewables by 2050; increased energy efficiency and revamped research and development.

Energiewende literally means ‘energy turn.’ Just like it is for a huge locomotive, this turn is not instantaneous. It is gradual and takes time. Wind is greatly aiding the turn and enhancing Germany’s transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. The first half of 2014 saw the installation of 1,723 megawatts, which was a 66 percent growth compared to 2013. By the end of 2014, Germany expects to have installed up to 3,700 megawatts which will cause its total installed onshore capacity to romp closer to the 40,000 megawatts mark.

Indeed, the wind of change is blowing more and more electricity into Germany’s national grid and in the process powering on Germany’s famed manufacturing industry.

The wind of change is also blowing into the vast sub-continent of India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is determined to tap fully into wind and generate an average of 10,000 MW every year. This might seem too ambitious but India is not a novice in wind power. According to the Renewables 2014 Global Status Report, India ranks fifth in the world in wind power production. It installed over 1.7GW in 2013 leaving it with a total approaching 20.2 GW. The four countries ahead of India are Spain, Germany, United States and China.

This sterling 2013 performance in the wind sector left a smile on the faces of both environmentalists and economists.  India’s Suzlon Group was 2013’s seventh wind turbine manufacturer in the world. Its market share of 5.3 percent was not too far behind Denmark’s Vestas, whose market share of 13.1 ranked it first.

India projects that its total installed capacity will be 38.5 GW by 2022, thus creating a US$ 31.25 billion opportunity in the wind energy market. If this happens, the wind of change will have entrenched India into the green economy’s top echelons.

China is similarly riding on the wind of change. Having added an estimated 16.1 GW in 2013 alone, it is actually at the very helm of wind energy production.  Its total installed capacity is a staggering 91.4 GW, reinforcing wind as China’s third source of electricity, behind coal and hydro. It is therefore clear that China will continue riding on wind to reach its target of 200 GW of installed capacity by 2020. This windy ride augurs well for China’s economy because the vast nation remains the world’s largest manufacturer and trading nation.

The wind of change has been blowing hot and cold in the US but it is there nonetheless. In 2008, the US Department of Energy realized the immense potency of wind energy and released a report entitled, ‘20% wind energy by 2030.’ The report states that, ‘the 20 percent Wind Scenario would require an installation rate of 16 GW per year after 2018.’ It then spells out how this can be done.

America’s wind sector has already provided employment for 50,000 Americans. Many of them work in the more than 500 manufacturing facilities that are located all over the US. This underlines the wind of change’s potential to create jobs that will have direct impacts on people’s lives and the society as a whole.

In the last seven years, wind has been responsible for 33 percent of America’s newly installed electricity generation capacity. By the end of 2013, wind power capacity had reached 61 GW, leaving the US as runner-up to China in that year’s wind race. The 61GW was enough to power 16 million American homes.

The wind of change has also been busy generating energy in Oceania. By the end of 2013, Australia had 1,639 wind turbines spread across 68 wind farms and generating 3,240 MW. This active wind sector has immense economic benefits for Australia. For every 50 MW generated, a wind farm employs at least 48 construction workers who end up spending a total of US$1.2 million. Other benefits are numerous, ranging from indirect jobs provided to local communities to land rental revenue for local farmers.

Australia has a renewable energy target scheme whose overriding goal is to ensure that by 2020, the country will be drawing 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources. Although there is still a lot of work to do for this future goal to be realized, there are some current realities that vindicate this wind power-laden future. One such current reality can be found in South Australia. In July this year (2014), South Australia’s wind farms produced enough electricity to meet a record 43 percent of the state’s power needs. During some days of that month, wind energy actually met 100 percent of the State’s power needs!

Africa too, has not been spared by the wind of change. According to South Africa’s Integrated Resource Plan, South Africa seeks to supply a total of 3,725 MW of renewable energy by 2016 and 17,800 MW by 2030. This path will leave US$457 million in local communities by 2020. Indeed, whenever wind blows energy into existence, money follows. But before this wind can thus blow, money is also needed. Investors are increasingly understanding this and investing accordingly. South Africa, together with Kenya and Ethiopia will be recipients of US$5.9 billion renewable energy investments this year (2014).

The wind of change blows powerfully into Ethiopia’s Ashigoda Wind Farm which was opened in 2013. It generates up to 400 million kilowatt hours every year and is playing a fundamental part in Ethiopia’s quest to have a climate resilient economy by 2025.

The wind of change however runs into headwinds frequently. Countries like Nigeria, which is Africa’s largest economy, are yet to fully embrace wind energy and renewable energy as a whole. Could it because Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer? Fossil fuels and their many stakeholders present powerful headwinds for wind energy. Accompanying economies of scale sometimes tilt towards fossil fuels, leaving public and private sector players scratching their heads – some in glee but others in helpless resignation.

Ironically, sustainability issues especially in relation to wind turbines and their environmental impacts, are also headwinds that need to be honestly addressed. The quest for clean energy should not sacrifice other vital components of sustainability.

The fact that wind energy faces such challenges should nonetheless not impact it negatively. In the ancient words of Kenya’s Lamu Island fishermen, ‘don’t fight the wind but align your sails and let it lead you home.’

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