As a Senegalese entrepreneur, I can tell you what’s holding Africa back: the lack of affordable energy. We live on a continent where the average annual income is less than $2,000, and the majority of people rely on fossil fuels for survival. The climate goals wealthy nations demanded at the recent COP26 summit aren’t only absurd, they are a death sentence for Africans.
In recent decades, China’s citizens have moved from poor to middle class. India has improved the situation of the poor with a booming high-tech industry. Africa remains stuck at the bottom of almost every developmental index. More than 7 percent of children in sub-Saharan Africa die before they turn 5. Immediate implementation of the environmental concerns of developed nations isn’t Africa’s most urgent priority.
China has committed to carbon neutrality by 2060, a target that is ambitious but possible thanks to its newfound prosperity. But Beijing has the autonomy to set a timeline consistent with its economic-development goals. This isn’t true in many African nations. They receive a significant portion of their national budgets from foreign aid—more than half in some cases—leaving them largely dependent on the whims of donors.
Africans know they are vulnerable to the effects of climate change and will be among the first to suffer. But none of the bold ambitions of climate activists will be achieved without lifting Africans out of poverty first.
That’s why it was chilling when a coalition of 250 Western organizations, including Oxfam, began lobbying to halt the use and production for fossil fuels in Africa. They oppose the construction of an oil pipeline in Uganda and Tanzania. More than 700 million African homes rely on biomass (mostly charcoal) for indoor cooking. It is too great a step for Africa to give up fossil fuels now.
Solar panels in the Sahara may seem a lovely vision, but they won’t provide energy for 700 million women to cook across the continent. The priority should be to give Africans cleaner fossil fuels such as propane, or electricity generated by natural gas, for at least the next few decades so they can avoid the effects of burning charcoal, coal and diesel in their small homes.
If the U.S. and the European Union refuse to support an increase in Africa’s power supply, China will. Already, 30 percent of new power plants in Africa are built by Chinese contractors controlled by the Communist government. Some of these are heavily polluting coal plants.
Africans deserve prosperity as much as everyone else, but we can’t get there without significant increases in power generation. A forced and hasty shift away from fossil fuels would cripple the continent’s economies. Not long ago, it was popular to discuss whether trade or foreign aid would help Africa most. The world’s activists now focus on climate instead of inequity, and serious concern about the condition of African people has vanished.
Africans know they are vulnerable to the effects of climate change and will be among the first to suffer. But none of the bold ambitions of climate activists will be achieved without lifting Africans out of poverty first. We Africans are willing to do our share to help fight climate change. We don’t want to pay with our lives.
Magatte Wade is the founder of SkinIsSkin.com, director of the Africa Center for Prosperity at the Atlas Network, and a board member of Conscious Capitalism, Inc.
First appeared in the Wall Street Journal.
Photo by Aimee via Iwaria.