The “International system & World order - Africa” interviews Funmi Onolisakin from the King’s College in London. She is Vice President (Global Engagement) and Professor of Security, Leadership and Development at King’s. She is a founding member of the African Leadership Centre, She also worked in the Office of the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict. Funmi Onolisakin talks about the role of the African youth, the influences of the foreign countries, and the decisions that African politics should make in order to improve their future.
Interviewing Team: Michele Tallarini and Alessandra Gramolini.
Africa is one of the fastest-growing continents in the world: according to some of the latest reports its population will double by 2050, and it will represent over 50% of the global demographic growth. According to these predictions, 2,5 billion people are expected to live on the continent, and by mid-century 25% of people will be African. Moreover, the continent, whose average age is 19, is extremely young and dynamic. This data is estimated to grow to 26 within thirty years, making African youth ten times larger than that of Europe by 2050.
It is not hard to understand how such dynamism will make Africa a prominent player in global development, and one of the most active markets worldwide. In a context which is already an area of interest to international powers, the continent will increasingly become an equal partner to Western countries.
Given the difference in wealth and development between different African countries and regions, the actual growth rates are generally not accompanied by the reinforcement of services and infrastructure. About 600 million African people do not have access to electricity while around 900 million people lack access to clean cooking (IEA Africa Energy Outlook 2019). The near-future increase of the African population will exacerbate the situation, pushing millions of people to demand access to energy and facilities. How African governments will respond to these requests will be a crucial issue.
In particular, the energy supply is, and will be, a key point of African development. Governments will have to be able to provide access to electricity to their whole population, supporting local, national, and continental development. In this framework, renewable energy sources could play a pivotal role in African energy self-sufficiency and sustainable development. But how can green energy be implemented in African production chains? And what is the current situation in this field?
The role of green energy in Africa
Energy consumption in Africa is characterized by a high level of disparity: South Africa, together with North African countries, cover more than 70% of the entire energy consumption of the continent, while a Sub-Saharan urban citizen uses only 200 kWh per year on average (North Africa 1442 kWh/year, South Africa 4148 kWh/year). This fragmentation gives a snapshot of the unequal development of the continent, particularly in a strategic sector such as the energy industry. It also represents a significant issue for an equal development of the continent and for “the pan-African drive for unity, self-determination, freedom, progress and collective prosperity pursued under Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance” (African Union, Agenda 2063).
At present, renewable energy only accounts for 2% of the total production, confirming the backwardness in this field (45% of the total energy is sourced from biomass burning, typically used by people who lack access to clean cooking systems). Of these renewable energies, hydroelectric power is the most used (74% of the total), as large dams represent strategic infrastructures in several regions, and their construction is heavily promoted at an international level. Unfortunately, regardless of this, fossil fuels still make up the majority of the share, prompting several African countries to even import it from abroad.
As stated earlier this situation contributes to Africa’s slow and unequal development, notwithstanding its potential in the fields of solar and aeolian energy. Currently, South Africa, Morocco, and Egypt are the major solar energy producers whereas Kenya, and Senegal dominate in the production of wind energy. Still, green energy is under-exploited despite the continent’s possibilities. For instance, solar radiation in North Africa is 3 times higher than the European average, and the Saharan Desert alone could accommodate a great number of solar power plants. Wind energy could also be effectively produced and harnessed in many African areas.
There are many economic, logistical, and political reasons for this underdevelopment. The construction of any kind of renewable energy plant requires large investments, and a network of efficient infrastructure to guarantee widespread distribution. Green energy production also requires high knowledge and trained personnel at all levels, such as design, construction, maintenance and so on. In most cases, African countries do not have the economic resources and the know-how to pursue it alone, thus relying on foreign investments in the sector which finance and oversee construction of new energy plants.
In addition, the lack of infrastructures in large parts of the continent, especially in rural areas, represents a serious obstacle to the development of a high efficiency energy grid capable of distributing electrical power and to allow countries to reach a homogeneous and effective progress. Moreover, the lack of facilities which lead to, for instance, limited mobility in certain areas, would make the maintenance of the energy grids extremely difficult. Therefore, green energy expansion in Africa is realized mainly through small-scale implants that can ensure electricity supply to small villages or limited areas, which are low-cost and easily maintainable. Although this configuration can actually support the development of poor rural areas that have no access to electricity, it no longer appears to be a sustainable way to strengthen African growth and to reinforce its international role.
Lastly, the political instability of many African countries is a severe threat to the establishment of a modern energy network in the continent. Conflicts drain state funds, making the construction and management of energy infrastructures very difficult. Moreover, political agendas of unstable governments do not focus on the strengthening of energy independence of their countries.
Green energy in Africa: a geo-political issue
Despite all these obstacles, the International Energy Agency (IEA) claims that green energies will represent one of the main development factors for African countries. In its 2019 Africa Energy Outlook it foresees that by 2040 more than 60% of the total electricity production will come from renewable sources. Although the speed of that growth is uncertain, scenarios agree that technologies related to wind and solar energy will be those that will be developed more, pushing green energy production up to 40% of the total. This expansion has both economic and political consequences; electricity cuts, and inefficiency in distribution in general, represent a big issue especially in African cities. Indeed, many of the latest clashes in North Africa cities were generated by protests on the lack of energy. For instance, last year clashes in Libya were triggered by electricity outages. Similarly, power absence in Sinai generated discontent, subsequently providing opportunity to terrorist groups to increase their influence in the region.
There is no doubt that a higher production at national level could allow Africa to achieve a more equal development. To this end, renewable energies could give the continent a new international role as energy provider, by also supporting the increase of its population, and the resulting rise of new consumers, markets and needs. Moreover, considering African population rates, a green change could have beneficial effects on global warming too, which represents one of the main challenges of the next few years. That is why Western countries, whose role is crucial for an African Green Deal, should promote international investments, training, transfer of knowledge and, more in general, development aid and support to local Governments.
The “International system & World order - Africa” interviews Riaan Eksteen from the University of Johannesburg. Mr Eksteen has been a member of the South African Foreign Service for 27 years and he served at the South African embassy in Washington, D.C. He was also Ambassador and Head of Mission at the UN New York, Namibia, Geneva, and Turkey. Riaan Eksteen talks about the international role of South Africa in the BRICS, with the new US administration, and the African Union.
Interviewers: Michele Tallarini and Rebecca Pedemonte
In 2018 I started a University research based on a series of interviews with individuals that had migrated from West African countries. The results showed that the fear of being persecuted based on sexual orientation is one of the many reasons why migrants decide to leave their country. In particular, one of the interviewees from Gambia reported that being considered a homosexual by the community could endanger his physical safety in his country.
This evidence raises significant questions on discrimination against individuals of the LGBTQ+ community, although the International Community rarely discusses it. How much can these discriminations against individuals belonging to the LGBTQ+ community affect the choice to migrate from their country of origin? Such stigmatization derives from prevailing social and cultural norms, impregnated with intolerance and prejudices, and also, from national laws that reflect this kind of attitudes. Therefore, it is also significant to note how widespread are the provisions that criminalise the individuals from the said community within the African territory.
According to the 2020Report, published by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, nowadays there are still many laws of African States that criminalize homosexual or transgender people. According to the laws in Mauritania, Somalia and part of Nigeria, anyone identified as belonging to the LGBTQ+ community can be given the death penalty. In the Central African area, such as in Sierra Leone, Gambia, part of Nigeria, Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia, the individuals can be served with a prison sentence of a minimum of eleven years up to life imprisonment. In other eighteen states, most of which are located in the Maghreb area and in West Africa, homosexuality is sanctioned with periods of imprisonment that can vary from 1 month to eight years.
On May 23rd, in Senegal, where currently the sexual act between homosexuals is punished with five years of imprisonment, hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Dakar, demanding the legitimacy of homophobia. It has been stated that they "want to promote correct social values". This emphasizes the fact that often it is the communities themselves that perpetuate these discriminations.
However, in some countries of the continent, the State’s law does not provide regulatory provisions or sanctions against homosexuality. However, according to numerous reports from NGOs, such asAmnesty International, it has been revealed the presence of multiple realities in which homosexuality is criminalized de facto; through persecution by government authorities or, even, by members of the communities themselves. This is what happens, for example, in Egypt, where torture and illegal detention of homosexuals are widely practiced. For all other countries of the continent, no verified criminalization is foreseen, but similarly, no protection or defence is envisaged within their laws either.
At the regulatory level, the only country that recognizes protection against LGBTQ+ people is South Africa. However, there are discrepancies between what is sanctioned by law and what happens in everyday life.
Nonetheless, it has to be considered that in some areas of the continent, particularly in rural areas, the collection of data about these persecutions is highly complex. Therefore, there is no truthful information in many countries, or it is the State that does not want to collect and submit them to International Organizations. Consequently, several gray areas remain regarding the presence or absence of legislation that criminalize homosexuality within the African continent. For these reasons, it is difficult to structure a realistic mapping on the percentages of persecuted people for their sexual orientation. This detection appears even harder if we consider the percentage of people who emigrated from their country of origin out of fear of being persecuted. The data collection has been worsened by the general trend of the commissions for asylum-seekers to not publish the reasons for the recognition of international protection.
A note issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) specified that sexual orientation must be considered in the definition of “refugee,” along with gender identity. Specifically, it is a motivation that can affect the individual's well-founded fear of being persecuted. The 1951Geneva Refugee Convention did not include these factors in the original essay formulation. Due to this Note to the 1967Protocol of the Convention, people who have experienced discrimination or violence because of their sexual orientation may require international protection.
Although it is difficult to define the exact number, UNHCR states that among the ten largest nationalities for asylum requests in 2016, eight have very harsh legislation against homosexuals and transgender people.
Furthermore, it is important to underline the plurality of discriminations that a person belonging to the LGBTQ+ community suffers from and how little is this considered in the collective imaginary, especially in asylum and governmental policies.
It may appear that the governments are reluctant in setting up centers that might help and support the LGBTQ+ community. Even in countries with less stringent laws, it is difficult to do because of the prevailing community norms. Consequently, the person who migrates because of abuses and physical, sexual or verbal discrimination is forced to undergo the same degrading treatments and get low protection throughout the migratory path and, most probably, also in its aftermath.
The Covid-19 pandemic outbreak certainly did not improve the situation and contributed to increasing the vulnerability of this community. Given the status quo that provides ground for discrimination and little protection, there is an imminent need to revisit existing laws and enforce governmental and private programs to expand protection systems on field and defend victims from abuses. Raising awareness within the communities, building and establishing suitable centers on the territory, and volunteers' training are all fundamental factors that may change these human rights violations.