High-level officials in African governments are urging the continent to look inwards to meet challenging development agendas as they bridle at what they perceive as Western interests pressuring them to renounce fossil fuels as rapidly as possible.

In the same week COP26 was taking place in the UK last month, an array of African energy ministers assembled in Cape Town at the Africa Energy Week (AEW) event to discuss how to prepare the continent for the energy transition.

The clear message from government representatives and oil and gas organisations was that Africa — whose share of global greenhouse gas emissions is 3% — must develop its own financial and technical capabilities to navigate the transition on its own terms, while continuing to exploit hydrocarbons.

Omar Farouk Ibrahim, secretary-general of the African Petroleum Producers Organisation (APPO), focused on the self-help theme at AEW — an event organised by the Johannesburg-based African Energy Chamber and its chairman, NJ Ayuk, to replace Africa Oil Week which, to the chagrin of many on the continent, was held this year in Dubai due to Covid-19.

While pointedly acknowledging the reality of man-made climate change, Ibrahim said Africa is more than capable of ploughing its own energy-transition furrow, but argued the continent’s mindset has to change.

“Our mentality has been wired to believe we can’t make progress without help. But we cannot continue to depend on help from outside. We have to look within,” Ibrahim said.

He disagreed with a widely held view that Africa does not have the capital to go it alone, highlighting the huge windfalls in revenues the continent’s oil and gas producers have made — and are currently making — when commodity prices are high.

“So, what are we doing when we say we don’t have money?” he asked, before saying that Africa’s elites are responsible for spending these revenues with little trickling down to the masses.

Elite lifestyle

“It’s our lifestyle that holding us back,” remarked Ibrahim, pointing out that a first step to address this situation is for Africa’s elites to “moderate” their consumption so this money can be funnelled into development.

While APPO’s mandate is to promote co-operation in hydrocarbon development among its 15 member countries, Ibrahim acknowledged that African nations without hydrocarbons will develop greener energy sources, and these will likely be needed by the continent’s fast-growing population, some 600 million of which do not have access to power.

Even so, he reiterated his message that self-sufficiency is vital.

“With the energy transition being forced on the world, it is becoming more and more important that Africans are able to control this industry.”

One reason for Ibrahim’s reticence about accepting overseas assistance in the transition is that it may come with strings attached that increase a nation’s debt.

Overseas finance danger

“The danger is that this financial support may constitute huge burdens to some countries, especially oil and gas producers,” he said.

“The financial support for mitigation and adaptation, which cannot even be guaranteed, cannot compensate for the near absence of liability of Africa to [causing] climate change.”

He called on developed countries to help Africa advance technologies, such as carbon capture and storage and direct air capture, to decarbonise its oil and gas production.

“The way forward for Africa in the transition is to make the most of its existing energy resources while creating the required infrastructure for renewable energy,” he said.

“The speed which the rest of the world wants Africa to move from oil and gas to renewables is just unacceptable to us,” he told SABC news.

Redefine priorities

Arguing for the West to understand Africa’s issues, Adedapo Odulaja, special advisor to Nigeria’s Minister of State for Petroleum, said: “The time has come for Africa to redefine its E&P priorities. It is now or never.

“The issues surrounding energy poverty, climate change and development are not mutually exclusive. The approaches to dealing with them should not be separated, but facilitated in a co-operative manner.”

Odulaja said: “Climate change is of great concern to everyone, but of equal importance is the issue of energy poverty. The battle is not between climate change and energy poverty, or between fossil fuels and renewables, or between energy rich and energy poor.

“It is about creating a win-win environment and putting a human face into the actions and proposals that are being put forward. An unfair world cannot be a peaceful world.”

Congo-Brazzaville’s Hydrocarbons Minister Bruno Jean-Richard Itoua said abandoning Africa’s fossil fuels will be like removing its engine for growth, although he stressed the continent could be a renewable-energy powerhouse.

“To me, there is no opposition between renewables and oil and gas which can be produced in a clean, green way,” he said.

“It’s not one form of energy is green and good, and the other is black and bad,” he said.

“We must show to the world how it should have done things before.

“The technology is there, the young people are there, and the continent has a huge need for energy.”

Equatorial Guinea Mines & Hydrocarbons Minister Gabriel Obiang Lima added that “we care about our planet and climate change”, while highlighting that the continent has been a relatively small contributor of greenhouse gases.

“Until we have built all our infrastructure, roads... and my people can develop, only then can I have my electric cars,” he said.

“It’s an issue about priorities, not philosophies.”

'Transition curse'

Ghana’s Deputy Minister of Energy Mohammed Amin Adam said “there is no doubt” the energy transition will disrupt the economies of Africa and its oil producers, with the effects ranging from revenue losses to underinvestment in hydrocarbons.

He described the shift to renewables as “the transition curse that will ensure Africa is left behind the rest of the world”.

Adam called on Africa’s natural gas to be declared a transition fuel for a longer time than elsewhere to allow these reserves to be used to replace coal, for example, and provide power to hundreds of millions.

“The transition should not be divorced from the necessity of addressing energy poverty,” he said.

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