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Green Economy

The Green Economy in Africa

A critical overview


Radhika Perrot, Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection (MISTRA), South Africa Diran Soumonni, Wits University, South Africa


The objective of this paper is to provide a critical discussion of the green economy as it relates to Africa. We begin by providing an overview of some of the main socio-economic and environmental challenges at play on the continent and of the dominant global discourse within which they are supposed to be addressed. We briefly mention some of the new large-scale energy explorations under prospecting in Africa mainly to illustrate the economic and environment unviability of these large projects. Most of these large scale projects such as dams, gas and shale gas fracking will consume large chunks of these African countries’ financial resources while the actual impact on the environment, inflationary pressures and currency depreciation from loans is underestimated by planners and policymakers. We then offer a critique of the dominant discourse on the green economy and offer an alternative discussion of the innovation systems and technological capabilities approaches to building low carbon societies. Finally, we suggest a few considerations that we consider to be imperative in the development of a road map for sustainable development in Africa.


Section I: Background

A. Green Economy in Africa

African countries are at a critical predicament in their development trajectories. Many countries are encountering problems of poverty and unemployment; their extractive industries are causing environmental degradation including air and water pollution, and some countries are facing the worst effects of climate change such as desertification, loss of biodiversity, depletion of fish stocks, water scarcity and soil erosion. These countries also face risks of premature deaths due to pollution, poor water quality and diseases associated with a changing climate which undermine development (OECD, 2012). Despite remarkable economic growth rates made in many countries in Africa, the continent still faces challenges of poverty and low human development. Indeed, if we move beyond the superficial headlines announcing the “impressive growth” of such countries, we could consider the fact that such growth is based on what is a very low level of national income and that the increased growth is more due to the increased demand for their raw materials from industrialising countries such as China and India, than any particularly significant change in the way the economies are managed More importantly, Karuri-Sebina et al. (2012) this growth comes without any significant commitment to fundamental changes relating to the political, economic, social, technological, learning and ecological dimensions. Thus, for instance, while some countries are emerging as economies, in the context of accelerating growth and development are issues of the link between climate change and poverty, which these countries still need to address. A recent 2014 analysis of data by the World Bank from 136 countries shows that poor countries (and from Africa mostly) are losing natural resources very fast, and without gaining much by way of human resource capital or gross wealth.

Therefore, the green economy in the context of developing countries should also at the very least, imply that millennium development goals (MDGs) in critical areas such as health, water, sanitation, agriculture, energy access, among others should be reached. While the Rio Agenda on sustainable development failed in many respects, the green economy agenda will most likely head in the same direction if structural changes in the economy are not made, and development priorities are not set aside in favour of economic gains and rent-seeking.

Proponents of the green economy posit that this potential future represents opportunities to alleviate poverty and address the effects of climate change. However, as currently conceived, the combination of tackling poverty, accelerating growth and development, and addressing climate change, is likely to involve trade-offs and policy choices between mutually supportive, but equally important priorities toward the improvement of welfare and quality of life for Africa’s citizens (UNEP, 2011). Nevertheless, green growth has emerged as a new approach to reframing the conventional green model and to re-assessing many of the investment decisions in meeting energy, agriculture, water needs and the resource demands of economic growth (OCED, 2012).

But on the part of policy-makers it would be fickle to assume that economic growth will undertake African countries’ challenges by the mere “greening” of its economic activities. For such challenges require adaptive socio-economic and bottom-up measures rather than only top-down approaches, which often proponents of the green economy sanction.

Africa is vulnerable to the effects of climate change, making adaptation efforts critical for sustaining national economies and improving human well-being (UNEP, 2011). But not only are large parts of Africa unable to adapt to these effects of climate change, access to energy is one of the biggest challenges with only around 2/3 of sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to energy, and while 83% of the population that have access to energy, rely on biomass burning as the only energy source (UNEP, 2011). In addition, according to UNEP (2011), African firms lose an estimated 5% of their sales due to power outages, a figure that rises to 20% for informal firms that are unable to afford back up power. Bringing energy to Africa has long been an immense challenge, and this is despite the fact that Africa has the world’s largest potential for renewable energy such as solar, wind and biomass, but has yet to develop the necessary technological capabilities to transform these into modern forms that can help improve the lives of its people. Although comprehensive data for all the countries is challenging to find, the table below provides a sense of magnitude of the electrification rates and per capita electricity consumption in Africa.


Table 1. Electrification rates and per capita electric power consumption in African countries in 2011 (World Bank 2011)



B. New Resources and their Impact on environment

A report published by the Economic Commission for Africa in 2012, A Green Economy in the Context of Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication: What are the Implications for Africa?, states that the scaling up of investments to green the economy implies the mobilisation of new and additional resources along with the allocation of capital from activities that create pollution and increase environmental risks to areas that can stimulate growth and create employment. It further argues that the cost of putting Africa on a low-carbon growth pathway is about 9 billion1 to 12 billion US$ by 2015.

Although many of these countries are signatories of the UNFCCC, these countries are already on a low-carbon path. African countries, one of the most heavily mined areas in the world with one of the worst adverse impact of resource extraction activities, are also the most lowly-ranked countries when it comes to consumption and receiving benefits accruing from resource extractive industries. The economic benefits of extracting natural resources such as oil and iron ore often fail to flow through to the local population. Resource pessimists would argue that as revenues generated by extractive industries rise, the quality of governance inevitably declines, reducing economic competitiveness and leaving the poor behind (Kende-Robb and Kevin Watkins, 2013).

Further, Africa’s increasing integration into global natural resource markets points to a bleak scenario. The bleak scenario can be traced to the human development record of the past decade, and widening income disparities, despite record growth achieved by many resource-rich countries on the continent. Graph 1 below shows that the socio-indicators such as life expectancy and mortality rates are considerably low in resource-rich2 African nations such as Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Angola and Nigeria.


Source: Africa Progress Report 2013


There are found to be very weak linkages between the resource sector and the rest of the economy in many resource-rich African nations, which also partly explains the phenomenon of “jobless growth”. In other resource-rich economies, the growth of the mining and petroleum sector tends to boost the rest of the economy3. While oil exports have fuelled real GDP growth of over 5 per cent a year in Nigeria, the official unemployment rate climbed from 15 per cent in 2005 to 25 per cent in 2011, and youth unemployment rates are estimated to be as high as 60 percent (Kende-Robb and Kevin Watkins, 2013).


Emission Levels

As discussed above, African countries are the least pollutive countries in the world given their low economic growth trajectories and poor infrastructure development and coupled with the absence of high-energy intensive industries such as steel and power plants. Graph II below shows the level of CO2 emissions in African countries as compared to the rest of the world.


Source: www.thinkafricapress.com/cop17


Current data estimates that emissions in African countries are at less than 1 per cent. Many African countries have failed to meet the requirements of collecting and submitting updated data on emissions. It is however believed that by building inventories on emission levels, governments in Africa will be able to strengthen their negotiating capacity at international climate forums and move negotiations from adaptation to research-based mitigation (SciDev, 2013).


Oil, Gas and Shale Gas Explorations

The demand for natural gas is expected to be influenced by carbon constraints. It is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain funding for coal-fired power stations due to the high levels of associated GHG emissions, and which will more than likely lead to increased demand for natural gas (PwC, 2012). When natural gas is co-produced during conventional or unconventional oil production and cannot be marketed, this ‘associated’ gas is either vented or flared. Venting or flaring occurs in areas that are remote from market demand and from gas transport infrastructure. Both practices lead to the emissions of greenhouse gases: methane from venting and CO2 from flaring. Countries with the largest satellite observed flaring emissions are the Russian Federation and Nigeria (JRC, 2013). However, most of what is produced in Nigeria is exported – its oil and gas sector accounts for about 35 per cent of the country’s GDP, and petroleum exports revenue accounts for about 70 per cent of total exports revenue (OPEC).

Recent discovery and development of Mozambique’s natural gas reserves and of its coal reserves is expected to take Mozambique close to Angola or Qatar in terms of GDP, in a very near future. Both Mozambique and South Africa are developing “gas master plans” which will examine how to make the best use of their gas.

In the case of shale gas fracking, which is currently under prospecting by energy planners in South Africa, the true cost of the environmental impact has not been considered. Government must be realistic in addressing shale gas drilling challenges, and must no longer simply focus on the benefits, for there will be significant impacts on air quality and water (Bhuyan, 2013). These future damages must be accounted for when making energy-planning decisions.


Large Dams

The Inga Dams are two hydroelectric dams connected to the largest waterfall in the world, Inga Falls, which drops 96 metres (315 ft.), and located in western Democratic Republic of the Congo. There are expansion plans to create a third Inga damn, Inga III, which envisions the interconnection of the electric grids of the DRC, Namibia, Angola, Botswana, and South Africa. Projections indicate that once completed, Inga III would generate 4,500 megawatts of electricity and the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the European Investment Bank, JFPI Corporation, bilateral donors, and the southern African power companies have all expressed interest in pursuing the project which is estimated to cost USD $80 billion.

The Grand Inga Dam would together generate 39,000 MW and is expected to significantly boost the energy needs of the African continent, but at a cost of $80 billion. It is estimated that connecting Inga to a continent-wide electricity grid for main population centres would cost $10 billion more, and would be the world's largest hydroelectric project.

These dams will consume large chunks of these African countries’ financial resources as dam planners and strategists always underestimate the impact of inflation and currency depreciation. Many of the institutional funds (for e.g., World Bank and the European Investment Bank) that support large dams arrive as loans to the host countries, and must eventually be paid off in hard currency. But most dam revenue comes from electricity sales in local currencies and so when local currencies fall against the dollar or the euro, as it often happens, the burden of those loans grows, creating inflationary pressures in the economy.

An Oxford University study published in March 2014 draws upon cost statistics for 245 large dams built between 1934 and 2007. The study shows that, without even taking into account social and environmental impacts, which are almost invariably negative and frequently vast, “the actual construction costs of large dams are too high to yield a positive return.” The study finds that actual dam expenses on average were nearly double pre-building estimates, and several times greater than overruns of other kinds of infrastructure construction, including roads, railroads, bridges and tunnels. On average, dam construction took 8.6 years, 44 percent longer than predicted — so much time, the authors say, that large dams are “ineffective in resolving urgent energy crises.”


Section II: Critiquing the Green Economy

As expressed in media and governmental reports, it is becoming a widespread opinion that the green economy will offer considerable opportunities for mobilising resources towards a low-emission, climate-resilient development pathway in Africa. However, the entire reasoning of the green economy requires deep conceptual deliberations, for there are many glaring contradictions in the green growth paths chosen by many countries, including countries in Africa. The idea of the green economy was seen as a recovery tool to the twin problems of the economic crisis and climate change when it was introduced; while in African and other developing countries, the intent of the green economy goes further than that – it attempts to address the challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality, and now growth in many non-growing Africa countries. It is inattentive to assume that greening of economic activities will undertake these challenges, particularly in most African countries where there is no economy, and in cases where most of the socio-economic challenges require deep and adaptive socio-economic, with a mix of bottom-up and top-down measures, rather than simply top-down approaches.

Placing the economy at the centre of the green discussion to resolve the current environmental crisis will have damaging consequences for economies in Africa. The very forces that caused the economic crisis, such as markets and capital, are being identified as the beacons of hope for the green economy. Market-based instruments such as putting a price on carbon and trading, profitmaking green companies and the same principles of market-capitalism are advancing green technologies and commoditising nature. Attempts to commodify nature, such as air, water, forests etc., and pricing it, have laid bare contradictions and conflicts between ecological conservation and profits. These projects that put monetary value to nature, such as the concept of payments for environmental services (PES) and emissions trading systems (ETS), have often failed to achieve the desired impact of saving the environment in many countries, including in many African countries.The high degree of land degradation in many African countries and heavy dependence on wood resources for energy, afforestation and reforestation projects (sink projects) make intuitive sense for Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), and yet these projects failed drastically in African countries. Some of the reasons being: difficulty in identifying eligible projects that are scalable; prohibitive costs and lack of investment capital; lack of private investors for afforestation and reforestation; lack of adequate international institutional capacity and in Africa; among others (Desanker, 2009). Unfortunately, under such systems that monetise nature, economic gains and “green consumerism” rather than environmental conservation become the end objective.

The concept of the ‘green economy’, coined by the OECD, UNEP and World Bank in 2008 will most likely meet the same fate as that of sustainable development, unless fundamental changes in the economic structures of many countries are made. Twenty years later, the 1992 Rio Earth Summit agenda on Sustainable Development failed to make a plausible impact mainly due to conflictual goals and interpretational ambiguity. Development became a loosely interpreted word and many countries at that time - Brazil, India and China were just emerging out “poverty traps” and years of stagnant economic trade and growth. And so in their context development meant following the developed countries by building skyscrapers, bridges, concrete houses, and putting more cars on the road. And in the pursuit of which, acute de-forestation, uprooting of indigenous people, expansion of cityscapes into wetlands, and destruction of hills and mountains, among others, became a norm.

For the green economy to make a positive impact on the environment, fundamental changes are needed, including changes in existing economic power relations, as large and foreign energy incumbents currently dominate resource-rich African nations. Economic structures will need to be re-visited and political-will greatly leveraged if the goal of a green economy towards sustainable development has to make a true and positive impact on the environment and economy. The green economy should only be a means to sustainable development and not an end in achieving economic gains. There will be resistance to these changes for to many people this will be politically and ideologically unappealing.


Section III: Efforts in transitioning to low-carbon societies

Innovation theorists4 have observed the implications of a green economy using the innovation systems (IS) perspective. This perspective applied towards a low-carbon development pathway in Africa as one of the critical lenses, in our view would contribute more substantively to the dominant green economy discourse. The IS perspective has been increasingly used in addressing transformational challenges with respect to achieving low-carbon or the development of a green economy, namely the sustainability-oriented innovation systems (SOIS) (Stamm et al., 2010) and technological innovation systems (TIS) (Jacobsson and Bergek, 2004; Bergek et al., 2008).

Innovation systems in developed countries emerge and evolve, organically and by themselves, while in developing countries the IS has to be shaped, nurtured and built through many different kinds of policy-making (Lema et al., 2014). In “developing countries”, particularly upper middle income countries with a “catch-up” agenda, there is a strong focus on the formation of innovation capabilities, which are needed across economic sectors, and at the level of the government, the community, the firm, the individual etc. And to succeed in shifting attention towards innovation capabilities, it is necessary to view substantial parts of national development strategies towards a green economy or a low-carbon economy as a learning process5.

Economic growth and structural change are crucial aspects of green economy development and to grasp its possibilities and difficulties, focus has to be on knowledge-creation and utilisation, i.e. on learning and innovation (Lema et al., 2014). And the implications of moving towards a green economy or low-carbon economy will be different for individual countries due to their different conditions and resources, such as in the area of financial resources and technological competence, among others.

According to (Stamm et al., (2009), globalisation could open up new opportunities for catching up countries in the following ways:

  • Technology development and innovation can fall back on an already accumulated pile of information and knowledge
  • Technology corporations are increasingly relocating knowledge-intensive activities to some developing countries
  • Organisations and companies in developing countries have the opportunity to use global research networks to access international know-how and merge it with local knowledge
  • Risks of costly policy failures can be minimised by learning from other countries’ implementation of innovation policies and efforts

However, majority of technological competencies underpinning green growth or low carbon technologies, including the accumulated pile of technological information and knowledge in renewable energy technologies, are concentrated in developed countries such as Germany and Denmark. India and China have been examples of those countries that have acquired, absorbed and adapted wind energy technologies over a long period of time and went ahead to establish their own local industries. But a whole range of technology specific and competence-building policies and strategies, or LICS-building processes, went into the adoption and dissemination of low carbon technologies in these countries.

It is evident that most countries in Africa do not have the required LICS-capacity, and therefore the industrialisation of renewable energy technologies, as part of their green growth strategy, will be a long-term goal, sometimes spanning decades. So in the short-term, the goal would be to import, adapt, disseminate, and use low-carbon technologies (Lema et al., 2014).

Stamm et al. (2009) argue that in “developing countries”, technology transfer will need to be embedded in planning strategies that would involve the strengthening of technological capabilities and joint R&D efforts between industrialised and developing countries. One of their key prepositions has been on the importance of strategic partnerships in the transfer of low-carbon technologies from industrialised to developing countries. Although this is a critical component towards a green economy, African countries will however need to be aware, especially when designing their planning strategies, of the conditions under which transfer of technologies are successful, and one which will also lead to sustainable development, including human capital and skills development, improvement in income inequality, access to energy and sustainable growth, among others. Indeed as Rennkamp and Boyd (2013) point out, the term “technology transfer”, which is mostly used in the climate change discourse to refer to the responsibilities of technologically advanced countries, is for the most part outmoded in the innovation studies community, where the focus is more on how countries can build up their own technological capabilities. We favour the latter terminology because if such an approach is taken seriously by African nations, it could begin to reverse the severe condition of scientific and technological dependence on the continent today.


Designed in Europe, Manufactured in Kenya?

Kenya has one of the most active commercial photovoltaic (PV) system markets in sub-Saharan Africa, with an installed capacity of up to 4 MW, and an estimated 300,000 rural households have solar home systems that are widely used for rural household applications such as television, radio and cellular phone charging (Kerea, 2014). Interestingly, the demand for solar PV systems in Kenya is largely driven by the rural middle class that is made of small business owners, school teachers, civil servants and pastors, as well as the better off among the small holder cash cropping farmers.


Entrepreneurs and Innovation

So while the initial and early push to the PV market in Kenya was been largely driven by local grassroot entrepreneurs6, the Kenyan government was passive towards PV systems (and other renewable energy technologies) for a long time. However, as the success of these grassroot SHS installations became increasingly apparent, the government became pro-active and very supportive, to the extent that it started exempting specialized solar powered equipment and accessories (including deep cycle sealed batteries which exclusively use and/or store solar power) from import duties.

Today, there are a couple of financing schemes available in Kenya, such as M-KOPA Solar, which have helped made SHS affordable power to many low-income earners, which offer the systems for a down payment and as a pay-as-you-go agreement. M-KOPA uses the popular MPesa mobile payment system, allowing users to quickly transfer money to their M-KOPA account with their phone. Such mobilisation of finance has helped in the diffusion of these SHS systems, including the design of innovative business models, is a prerequisite for a transformation towards low-carbon learning, innovation and competence building system.


Government Support

Kenya is one of the few countries in Africa that has a competitive and attractive renewable energy market with on-grid energy prices reflecting true costs. Many countries such as South Africa subsidize electricity, and other fossil-based energy sources such as fuel or natural gas, in order to provide a cheap service to the population, which makes it hard for solar to compete. Compared to most other African markets, where solar is used only for off-grid electrification, there is currently significant grid-connected solar systems in the country of up to several megawatts.

For grid-connected solar PV and other renewable energy, the Ministry of Energy established a Feed-in Tariff policy (FiT) in 2008. Currently, a number of initiatives to regulate the renewable energy sector are underway: solar PV and solar water heating regulations were recently established, and under the new regulations, solar PV system technicians, manufacturers, importers, vendors or contractors will have to be licensed by the energy regulatory commission. Such standards-setting and quality certification measures an important part of the innovation policy mix to induce low-carbon innovations. The use of standards and regulations in low-carbon development are popular in many developing countries, namely, the quality of wind blades and turbine certification in India; and introduction of fuel standards in China.

The government of Kenya also initiated a program for electrification of institutions far from grid using solar PV systems that by 2011, there were 945 institutions including primary and secondary schools, dispensaries, health and administrative centres installed with PV systems. More recently, the government has embarked on a program to provide solar/diesel and solar/wind hybrid generation capacity to off-grid stations.


Capacity Building

With rapidly developing technology, there is also a demand for short or targeted courses to support the introduction of new technologies and skills. Currently, most solar PV building and training activities in Kenya are currently undertaken by private sector players, and most are financed by donor funded initiatives. With demand for short and targeted courses to support the introduction of new technologies or skills increasing, organisations such as the Solar Academy, a private-public-partnership between GIZ and three German Companies – Energiebau Solarstromsysteme GmbH, SCHOTT Solar AG and SMA Solar Technology AG, are engaged in building the required technical capacities demanded by the market.

Other institutions offering short courses in solar PV include the University of Nairobi and the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology. In Bangladesh and China, the presence of a skilled workforce gained through vocational training was key to the development of extensive solar PV industries (Lema et al., 2014). Such sector-specific vocational training is critical as they are able to build the linkages to relevant productive and service sectors.



Ubbink East Africa set up the first solar module manufacturing company in Kenya, and East Africa. It is a joint venture between Dutch based Ubbink B.V. and Kenyan based Largo Investments, and the first solar modules came off the production line in 2011. Through a partnership of knowledge and skills-sharing between the two companies, solar modules, mainly in the range between 3.6 - 80 watts are bring manufactured based on reworked broken high quality solar cells.

It must be noted that that although Kenya has had considerable success in the diffusion of SHS systems through various innovative business and financing models, and programmes, manufacturing has remained confined to ‘experiments’ as these have been adversely affected by the recent national instability. The case of Kenya however implies that to a large extent, the success of such LICS building efforts hinges on the existing strength and learning capacity of national innovation systems, and the industry structures of each country.


Source: Ubbink East Africa, Kenya Renewable Energy Association (KEREA) and PV Magazine


Section IV: Considerations for Developing a Road Map for Endogenously-driven innovation for low carbon societies in Africa

While we do not have a crystal ball to predict the future, we argue for a number of critical considerations and re-considerations that could underpin a holistic process that would be more likely to lead to a sustainable future for Africa. We highlight five of such considerations, some of which have already been raised in the preceding discussion.


1. Critical deconstruction and engagement of dominant developmental discourses, including the green economy, and simultaneous invention of more appropriate terms and concepts: An important part of this exercise would be to independently trace the antecedents of the advocacy for sustainable modernisation in the African context and elsewhere that are particularly inspiring or serve as potentially fruitful models to emulate. For instance, as early as 1955, in an essay entitled “Alarm in the Tropics”, the late Senegalese Professor Cheikh Anta Diop cited evidence that hundreds of billions of kilowatts of electricity could be generated annually by constructing a series of dams on the Lower Congo River and a 200 billion kilowatts more by building a large dam on the Upper Congo River (Diop 1996). In 1960, he provided a compendium of all the energy resources available on the continent, namely solar energy, wind energy, tidal energy and geothermal energy, among others (but excluding hydrocarbons) and combined with its mineral resources, identified eight industrial zones for its development (Diop 1987). Similarly, the late solar physicist from Niger, Professor Abdou Moumouni, founded a bureau of solar energy in Niger in 1969 and served as its director until 1985, and was a strong advocate for the development and diffusion of solar energy on the African continent. Outside of Africa, we can refer to the work of the American, Amory Lovins, who was influenced by E.F. Schumacher’s Appropriate Technology movement and whose 1976 essay, Energy Strategy: The Road Not Taken, and his later 1977 book, “Soft Energy Paths: Towards a Durable Peace” advocated for a soft energy path based on environmentally benign, decentralised, renewable energy options in opposition to the hard energy path based on violent, large scale, centralised technologies (Lovins 1976, 1977). We can also cite the work of Anil Agarwal and Sunita Narain of the Centre for Science and the Environment in New Delhi, India, who in their 1991 book “Global Warming in an Unequal World: A Case of Environmental Colonialism” challenged the early discourse on global warming, which sought to shift the onus of the primary responsibility for tackling climate change from industrialised nations to countries of the South which “might” want to build coal power plants in order to develop – a situation that would make it very difficult to achieve any meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, they argued for the use of per capita emissions relative to the earth’s global carrying capacity as a much more just metric for determining the emission reductions that each country needed to undertake (Agarwal and Narain 1991).


2. Order of priority in resource use: Another criterion that we consider to be important in developing a road map is that of establishing an order of priority in resource use. In other words, while acknowledging that fossil fuels are already the dominant energy source and that countries have the right to safeguard their energy security, whenever particular clean alternatives are available and can be made to be cost-effective, a special effort should be made to adopt these. Professor Kai Lee, a professor of environmental studies and a member of the board of the Northwest Power Planning Council in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S.A., advocated this approach as a way to mitigate unforeseen risks in a 1982 discussion paper for the Council entitled “The Path Along the Ridge: Regional Planning in the Face of Uncertainty”. The order of priority that he established were the following: 1.) Energy efficiency and conservation, 2.) Renewable Resources, 3.) Combined Heat and Power, 4.) All other resources. Notably, in a keynote address to a congress of African scientists in Kinsasha, Zaire (Now the Democratic Republic of Congo), in 1985, Professor Cheikh Anta Diop advocated for a doctrine of energy pluralism but also called for an order of priority in resource use. He argued that while waiting to take advantage of the vast energy resources on the continent for industrialisation, the issues of healthcare and food security were more urgent and that African engineers should there master the use of decentralised energy technologies in order to meet the smaller scale needs of the rural population in particular (Diop 2005-2006). As for hydrocarbons, he thought that they should gradually be relegated to the synthetic industry and should not be used for energy production.


3. Development of more independent people-to-people-based or citizen-led organisations and the wider dissemination of their experiences, views and insights: We argue here that the dominant approach to energy planning in Africa has been top-down, emphasising centralised generation from fossil-fuelled dams and large dams excludes most citizens and residents from the decision-making on actions that will ultimately have impacts on their lives. As we have argued elsewhere, a people centred view of energy planning, which is more bottom-up in financing, the assembly and maintenance of technologies, and the development of new ones in collaboration with professional scientists and engineers and sympathetic government officials, as well as in alignment with the dominant indigenous world view of “eco-bio-communitarianism” would be preferable (Soumonni 2010, Soumonni and Soumonni 2011).


4. Reduction of economic, scientific and technological dependence: The extraversion of scientific and technological work in Africa where the goal of publishing in internationally-prestigious publications mitigates against the development of relevant solutions has been well documented (Sagasti 1973, Hountondji 1990, Hountondji 2004). Similarly, an overreliance on funds from donor agencies undermines the sense of agency and judgment required to adjust, modify, end or extend projects based on the ongoing experiential learning of those who ultimately have the greatest stake in finding the best solutions to their challenges.


5. Development of ambitious agenda for technological and economic catch-up in the medium term for middle income countries and in the longer term for lower-income countries: We argue here that African countries should have a more ambitious developmental agenda that focuses on economic and technological catch-up. We should point out here that given that the industrialised countries have the task of reversing the pervasive “carbon lock-in” in their societies, we view all countries in the world to be “developing”, though having different agendas. However, this catching-up effort should be a medium term goal for the few middle-income African countries, which are very often trapped at this level, in terms of their choice of technological specialisation, and in the longer term for lower income countries who may still focus on their comparative advantage in trade at lower levels of technological specialisation. This process of catching-up has been brilliantly explained through a Schumpeterian analysis in a recent book on the subject by the South Korean Professor Keun Lee (Lee 2013). Finally, it should also be pointed out that this view that technological development would be key to the emancipation of African peoples had been advocated for by African and African Diasporic thinkers and leaders since the 19th century, such as Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington, and in the 20th century, Marcus Garvey, Kwame Nkrumah, Walter Rodney, Cheikh Anta Diop and Julius Nyerere among others, who argued that this was inseparable from a sense of self-determination and dignity for African peoples. If we combine this with the environmentalism of the late Dr. Wangari Mathai of Kenya, and the agro-ecological and social pragmatism of Dr. Godfrey Nzamujo, founder and director of the Songhaï Centre in Benin (Nzamujo 2002), then Africa may very well have virtually all the models and building blocks it needs for building a sustainable future for itself and forthcoming generations. What would be left is the broad-based sensitisation, mobilisation, and coordination of all those who aspire to a similar vision, in order to demonstrate convincingly that an alternative future world is indeed possible,


1 These are indicative figures only dealing with climate change, while more resources will be required to implement green economies as a whole
2 The IMF has identified 20 countries in Africa as “resource-rich”
3 In Brazil, one dollar of economic activity in mining can generate three dollars or more in economic activity elsewhere.
4 The development of innovation studies as a field rests on a rejection of the neo-classical growth model, a rejection of implicit neo-classical ideas concerning knowledge, and a rejection of the linear innovation model. The development of evolutionary theories (pioneered by Nelson and Winter (1982)) created a framework in which policy environments could consider the implications of heterodox ideas both for objectives and instruments of public policy (Mytelka and Smith, 2001).
5 The concept of IS has been further developed by the Globelics network by incorporating the concept of learning, innovation and competence (LICS) building: Learning refers to attainment and deepening of skills and know-how; innovation refers to both productive practices that are new to the context and to the capacities to develop new technologies for the world; and competence building is the upgrading of skills and capabilities through organisational learning or through investments in education and training (Lema et al., 2014)
6 See Rasmus et. al (2014)


Radhika Bhuyan is Senior Researcher at the Mapungubwe Institute of Strategic Reflection (MISTRA), South Africa

Radhika is a Senior Researcher at the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection (MISTRA) in South Africa with research experience in science, technology and innovation policies (S&T&I) and firm level and industry analysis of renewable energy technologies. She researched and worked on various issues and topics around renewable energy, namely, feed-in policies and socio-technological factors behind solar PV, wind and hydrogen-fuel cells innovation, and understanding market competition and firm strategies in industry and global markets. She is co-ordinator of a MISTRA research project that evaluates the co-evolutionary role of actors in the transition to local carbon innovation in South Africa entitled Earth, Wind and Fire: The political, economic and security implications of the discourse on the Green Economy. She is a PhD Candidate at the United Nations University (UNU-MERIT) - University of Maastricht, the Netherlands, and a Research Fellow at Institute of Economic Research on Innovation (IERI) of Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria, South Africa.


Section V: References

  • Agarwal, Anil, and Sunita Narain. 1991. Global Warming in an Unequal World: A Case of Environmental Colonialism. New Delhi: Centre for Science and Environment.
  • Atif Ansar, Bent Flyvbjerg, Alexander Budzier and Daniel Lunn, Should We Build More Large Dams? The Actual Cost of Hydropower Megaproject Development, Energy Policy, March 2014, pp.1-14
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