Africa Liberation Day on, Saturday May 25, has been celebrated for over 5 decades. It represents a clarion call to the continent as her diaspora demands complete political and economic freedom. This year, with Mozambique facing devastating cyclones, Darfur and other regions in the Sahel zone ravaged by increasing desertification, water shortages threatening a “Day Zero,” when there will be no water in Cape Town, and rising sea levels threatening all capital cities in West Africa – there is an added urgent call for liberation from climate chaos.
According to the United Nations, Africa is responsible for a meagre four per cent of global CO2 emissions. However, scientists agree that the continent is at the center of the climate catastrophe, warming at an exponential rate compared to other regions of the world. Nigerian environmentalist Nnimmo Bassey famously said, “Africa is being taken as the backyard where resources are extracted at the least cost and at a maximum profit. Africa is in the pot, and the fire is being stoked by climate change, more than you could imagine.” Africa’s intricately woven ecosystem is facing irreparable damage. This climate crisis will negatively impact health and wellbeing of the continent and her people for generations to come.
At the root of the climate catastrophe is unaccountable, poorly regulated extractive industries, especially oil and gas. Shell and others in the sector began their operations in Africa in 1956 in Nigeria. The oil flowed steadily, enriching multinational companies and the elites who do their bidding. Communities on whose land the resources lie were saddled with constant oil spills into riverways and farms; pipelines through ancestral lands; and devastating respiratory and other health ailments. Ironically enough, decades later, many of these communities still have no electricity. Popular culture has changed the name of Nigeria’s infamous National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) to “Never Expect Power Always.”
Africa needs a new determination to create jobs, transform economies, protect communities and strengthen democracy while also saving the planet and its people. Energy production and use account for two-thirds of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Transforming energy production from dirty fossil fuels to renewable energy will unleash the full power and potential of the continent and its diaspora.
The low hanging fruit for Africa is off-grid renewable energy. This type of renewable energy will not only bring wind and solar power to frontline communities, but can also usher in jobs for young people, technological advances, and financial benefits for communities.
Communities are finding ways to bring the vision of a renewable energy future to life. In Tanzania, the Mott foundation, a member of the Shine Campaign, has supported solar electrician and entrepreneurship training. In South Africa, Earthrise Africa is working with communities to bring solar units to rooftops of schools in townships. In Harlem, NY, Nigerian innovator Jessica O. Matthews whose renewable power company specializes in harnessing the energy from motion – including motion of soccer balls and jump ropes – to create entire ecosystems of power for communities in Africa and around the world.
The African Union has stressed its ambitious Agenda 2063, the continent’s commitment to “environmentally sustainable and climate resilient economies and communities.” Yet the core building blocks of this agenda are far from implementation.
More needs to be done to support innovative strategies for environmental and economic transition. For example, in the United States, led by courageous young people in the Sunrise Movement and dynamic young Congressional women leaders like Anacostia Ocasio Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Talib, and Iyana Pressley are demanding a Green New Deal. Challenging corporate driven capitalism, they are working towards a just transition with an economy that works for the 99%, not just the elite few.
Africa too needs its Green New Deal. Communities and social movements across the continent and the diaspora understand what civil rights icon Martin Luther King called “the Fierce urgency of now”.
Clean, affordable energy will open opportunities for clean cooking, education, and improved health. Countries in Africa with still developing public health and medical systems will be able to leapfrog. Truly liberating Africa from fossil fuels would reduce heat-related morbidity, protect compromised food systems, eliminate trauma resulting from flooding or storms, and lessen the flow of environmental refugees. For the communities resisting Big Oil’s grip, a shift to clean energy would curb what Nigerian activists describe as “soil and water contamination which has significantly compromised sources of livelihood and was slowly poisoning the inhabitants.”
The United Nations warned in 2018 that we as a human family have less than 12 years to reverse the damaging effects of climate change. A Green New Deal for Africa, that is community driven with significant investments in off-grid and clean energy initiatives will bring jobs and transform economies while also mitigating climate chaos. These are critical steps to true liberation of Africa and her people.
Emira Woods works with Shine, a global campaign dedicated to ending energy poverty. She is also a member of Africans Rising for Justice Peace & Dignity, Trustee of the Wallace Global Fund and a Board member of ActionAid International. Marieme Ba is a recent Graduate in Public Health at Syracuse University. Ayele Ba is a recent Graduate in Public Health from University of Massachusetts, Amherst.