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DRC, Morocco, Kenya… Africa’s energy independence, myth or reality?

By Bilal Mousjid, Bilal Mousjid

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Posted on June 5, 2023 10:39

jad20230515-eco-rdc-maroc-kenya-souverainete-energetique-1256×628-1685599790 Wind turbines in Morocco in the region of the port of Tangier. © Jean-Michel Ruiz
Wind turbines in Morocco in the region of the port of Tangier. © Jean-Michel Ruiz

Despite abundant resources, Africa still lacks electricity. An increased focus on renewable energy could remedy this paradoxical situation.

According to a World Bank estimate, DRC’s resources are ranked third worldwide in the hydroelectric sector, trailing only China and Russia. “With approximately 890 sites spread across its territory, the country possesses an immense hydroelectric potential, representing 8% of the world’s potential,” says Idesbald Chinamula, CEO of the National Agency for Electrification and Energy Services in Rural and Peri-Urban Areas (ANSER RDC).

It highlights one of the most striking anomalies of a country that is home to nearly 100 million people, where the electrification rate is only 1% in rural areas (and 35% in cities).

“With this rate, we are pulling the continent down in spite of our immense potential,” says Chinamula, formerly the Inclusive Growth and Sustainable Development coordinator for the UN Development Programme (UNDP).


The disparity between energy potential and unmet needs is far from unique to DRC, as illustrated by an African continent relatively still in the dark: 600 million people, according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, who represent 60% of the world’s population, do not have access to electricity.

This situation also hinders Africa’s economic development potential, where weak electricity networks cost some countries up to 4% of their GDP, according to the World Bank.

This waste is all the more striking because “the continent, depending on the region, has all the resources to become autonomous: natural gas, oil, photovoltaic, wind, hydroelectricity…”, says Jean-Pierre Favennec, professor at the IFP School and co-author of the World Energy Atlas published in 2014.

‘The solution is renewable energies’

How can the continent ensure its energy sovereignty? By first focusing on its renewable energies, thanks to its “unmatched potential”, which “gives it an undeniable advantage for transforming the sector”, according to a study conducted on behalf of the Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung (BMZ) with the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW), and the Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).

“The estimated production potential…of Africa using existing technologies is 1,000 times greater than its projected electricity demand in 2040,” says the study, which affirms that while achieving universal access to electricity, Africa can become “the green continent of tomorrow”.

Heba Samir, Malawi regional director for Egyptian-based Elsewedy Electric, agrees.

“It is clear that the continent can only ensure its energy sovereignty by relying on renewables,” Samir tells The Africa Report. Her outfit, Elsewedy Electric, is a giant in electrical equipment, present in 10 African countries.

Recent events, such as Cyclone Freddy, which devastated Malawi, underline the need for renewable energy, particularly in a country where electrification rates do not exceed 15%.

“For a week, the whole country was without electricity. Schools, hospitals, government institutions…everything was disconnected. This complete shutdown was a catastrophe because generators were not working. If the country produced its electricity from renewable energies, the disaster would not have reached this magnitude,” she says.

With all its resources, Africa is capable of ensuring its autonomy through renewable energies. Now we need coherent strategies and clear plans

While the Covid-19 crisis and the effects of the war in Ukraine have exposed the continent’s fragilities, the debate on energy sovereignty has resurfaced. “With all its resources, Africa is capable of ensuring its autonomy through renewable energies. Now we need coherent strategies and clear plans,” says Chinamula.

Reasons for delay

For now, progress remains modest. “Despite its immense solar potential, Africa only holds 1% of the installed photovoltaic capacity in the world, which is half the solar capacity of a country like the United Kingdom,” says the Institut français des relations internationales (Ifri) in a report conducted in partnership with the Policy Center for the New South.

According to IRENA, if 20% of installed production capacity concerns renewable energies in 2019, it is thanks to hydropower, which made up 67%.

Samir attributes the delay to several continental-specific constraints, beginning with bureaucratic heavy-handedness.

“Developing a solar project can sometimes take three years. We’ve been unable to make progress for a year now to obtain authorisations and negotiate rates,” she says.

Attracting the private sector

There are many obstacles that discourage local private actors from entering the market, thus making it difficult for African energy champions to emerge and develop into forces capable of playing a role comparable to that of foreign multinationals.

“The investments necessary to meet Africa’s growing demand for renewable energy far exceed the funds made available by public sources,” says the BMZ report.

To remedy this, the study suggested that by establishing “stable and predictable empowering frameworks, identifying a reserve of viable projects, and offering perfectly targeted risk mitigation instruments, African governments and their development partners can facilitate the private sector investments necessary to bridge this gap”.

In the meantime, some initiatives are already emerging to bring African states together around ambitious energy projects.

It is a sector where Africa can guarantee access to clean and sustainable energy on the continent and become a global energy player

The latest of these, the Africa Green Hydrogen Alliance, was launched in 2022 by Kenya, Egypt, Morocco, South Africa, Namibia, and Mauritania to explore the opportunities offered by the green hydrogen industry.

It is a sector where “Africa can guarantee access to clean and sustainable energy on the continent and become a global energy player”, according to a study commissioned by the European Investment Bank (EIB), the International Solar Alliance, and the African Union.

Once again, the development of the renewable energy sector seems to play a central role.

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