The irony of Africa Energy Week’s capture by the oil and gas industry

As Africans, we must ask ourselves one question: how can we transition to renewable energy when we keep allowing entities with a clear and conflicting agenda to dominate our table? When has the hare had justice in a jury of foxes?

As African energy leaders, global investors, and private and public sector executives converge in Cape Town for Africa Energy Week from 16 to 20 October 2023 to discuss the continent’s energy future, a camaraderie with oil and gas merchants comes to the fore again.

Just recently during the Africa Climate Summit in Kenya, African leaders acknowledged that the continent is home to massive untapped renewable energy potential and abundant natural assets. The potential for Africa to produce renewable energy using existing technologies is estimated to be 1,000 times greater than its anticipated electricity demand in 2040.

In the Nairobi Declaration, the leaders concurred that these reserves could help Africa pioneer a climate-positive pathway, in addition to supporting other regions to achieve their net-zero ambitions.

Why then does Africa go against the Nairobi Declaration by inviting oil and gas magnates and multinationals to take over our continent’s energy future? It is absurd and hypocritical that African leaders condemn wealthy nations for developing oil and gas projects while pocketing billions of dollars to expand oil and gas projects on our land.

The African Energy Week’s slogan is “Making Energy Poverty History by 2030.” We need to see this slogan for what it is: greenwashing and spin. This messaging captures a legitimate and urgent need to bring Africans out of energy poverty for nefarious purposes which will only bring more extreme weather, poverty and hardship to African communities.

Energy poverty and climate change

It’s true that more than half a billion Africans still live in energy poverty and one billion do not have access to clean cooking. This is because regular people do not benefit from the oil industry and the billions of dollars it generates annually, and is a serious indictment of the oil and gas industry and the elites who do benefit from it.

Today, Africans are not only agonising in darkness and the cold. They are also on the receiving end of the climate catastrophes triggered by burning fossil fuels. The fossil fuel industry has blood on its hands from perpetuating the climate emergency in Africa, which has trapped the continent in a cycle of desperation and fear.

In a recent report, the International Energy Agency reiterated that no new fossil fuel development is possible if we are to limit warming to 1.5°C.

This is further reinforced by the Just Transition Report which demonstrates that Africa can power its development through renewable energy while overcoming the energy poverty in which 600 million Africans live.

As Africans, we must ask ourselves one question: how can we transition to renewable energy when we keep allowing entities with a clear and conflicting agenda to dominate our table? When has the hare had justice in a jury of foxes?

Fossil fuel fixation

The African Energy Chamber claims to be “the voice of the African energy sector”. Yet at last year’s African Energy Week conference, at a panel discussion titled ‘‘The Just Transition: Africa’s Economic Ambitions and its Role in a Global Energy Dialogue,’’ the panellists were exclusively representatives of fossil fuel companies or ministries. There were also no women.

Africa does not need more fossil fuel extraction to fix energy poverty, it needs investment in renewable energy. It is bizarre that while Africa possesses 40% of the world’s renewable energy potential, the continent has received a paltry $60-billion for investments in this sector in the last decade. This is equivalent to 2% of the $3-trillion investment in non-renewable energy. This is unfortunate, disgraceful and unacceptable.

Tragically, there are fossil fuel expansion projects in 48 out of the 55 African countries. Much of the infrastructure being built is for export, with the oil and gas being sold on international markets.

‘Economic development’ misleading

The continent is being courted to produce natural gas on the pretext of economic development, specifically ending energy poverty. Its proponents claim gas is a transition fuel capable of catalysing long-term economic prosperity. This is a misguided and dangerous assumption — gas does not help countries to build resilience to climate change.

Our leaders must not force us on a path where investments are being made to meet the energy needs of consumers in wealthy nations while more than half of Africa lacks access to electricity. This is an insult to the continent and its people.

Africa is calling on the international community to support an increase in renewable generation, yet on the other hand, enabling foreign polluters access to destroy the continent. It is absurd.

How will Africa hold world leaders to account when they are welcoming these oil multinationals to exploit oil and gas in Africa? Should they not be demanding more financial commitments for renewable energy?

Campaigns like Clean Creatives, which ask ad and PR agencies to cut ties with fossil fuels, and Fossil Free South Africa’s fossil fuel advertising ban campaign which aims to have a full ban on such advertising in the City of Cape Town, are shedding light on these shadowy forces manipulating our understanding of climate change and energy to favour powerful vested interests.

Clean Creatives recently released their annual F-list report listing nearly 300 advertising and PR agencies working for the fossil fuel industry globally. Among them were the APO Group, which distributes press releases for the African Energy Chamber, and Ogilvy South Africa, which did the PR for last year’s Africa Oil Week.

These civil society efforts are essential to exposing the slick greenwashing “smokescreen” events like Africa Energy Week continue to provide which lock out civil society voices while prioritising unsustainable fossil fuel development.

To accomplish our collective vision of sustainable and climate-conscious development and to end energy poverty, Africa needs to make the right choices. We cannot continue to sit on the fence of the just energy transition. We must make our position on fossil fuels known to the world.

Are we for renewables or are we for fossil fuels? We must choose a side and have fidelity to it. That side cannot be fossil fuels.


First publish in the Daily Maverick.