The need for Africa to be powered is a discussion that has been going on for a while now with governments and non-governmental agencies drafting sustainable solutions like renewable energy, yet, the problem still exists.
Powering Africa means creating more jobs, growing the region towards industrialization, and expanding businesses, all of which have a ripple effect to the growth of the continent.
When the African leaders at Davos forum took to the podium to discuss on “Africa’s Next Challenge”, they reiterated the need to power Africa now.
“Electricity is like the blood in your body. If you have blood, you live. If [you] don’t have blood, you don’t live,” African Development Bank President, Akinwumi Adesina, said during the live televised debate on the topic.
The Bank President was joined in the live broadcast by Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda; Hailemariam Desalegn, Prime Minister of Ethiopia; Hans Vestberg, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Ericsson Group; and Yemi Osinbajo, Vice-President of Nigeria.
“One hundred and thirty-seven years after Thomas Edison developed the lightbulb, the simple lightbulb, Africa is in the dark. It doesn’t make sense,” Adesina said. “With electricity, you can have industrialization, you can create jobs, create SMEs. Then Africa will not be known for the darkness of its cities. Everywhere will be bright.”
According to President Kagame, Africa is set to rally behind the new deal adding that private sector investment will play a big role in lighting and powering Africa.
“Leaders in government and leaders in business are speaking the same language with a sense of urgency, that something must be done,” said the Rwandan President. “Energy can lead us to many other things, whether it is in manufacturing, or growing of industries in different sectors. Energy is essential. In Africa, we have huge potential in various sources of energy. All the ingredients are there. We need to move very fast.”
Two things are crucial for economic growth and sustainable development on the continent: electricity and technology, Hans Vestberg, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Ericsson Group, the Swedish telecommunications giant, which has been doing business in Africa for 120 years, said.
Talking about electricity, Vestberg said that universal access to electricity is extremely important. He said that 80% of Africans have a mobile phone, which is amazing considering how quickly technology has gone. “But that is slow compared to what we are going to see in the next five years. We’ll go from 70 million people in Africa having access to the internet to 700 million in 2021.”
Technology growth in Africa has enhanced Africans and African governments to transform the society and industries through provision of digital healthcare, digital banking, digital education among others. “It is a unique opportunity that Africa has at this moment,” said Vestberg. “That’s why I’m excited.”
For his part, Hailemariam Desalegn, Prime Minister of Ethiopia, noted that the delayed universal access to energy in Africa has derailed the continent’s development potential. He said that the main challenge is having quality, reliable energy source that makes industrialization possible.
“In my country, we have witnessed double-digit growth for the past 12 years. The need for energy is growing by 25-30%, which is beyond the growth rate in the country. It means that we need to move very fast in energy development if we want to move even faster in development.”
“I appreciate what the African Development Bank has launched, the vision of the President,” Desalegn continued. “Africa has huge green renewable resources. We have to harness this potential at this time. We need the private sector to come in and engage in developing this potential.”
The panelist agreed that first and foremost, the need for universal access to electricity on the continent must be addressed urgently.
According to Adesina there are roughly 645 million people in the continent who do not have access to electricity. “An additional 700 million people do not have access to clean cooking fuel. These are numbers we know. And we think that this is not acceptable.”