What clean energy shift means for DR Congo and Africa

The world is abuzz with the transition from fossil fuels to the much-hyped clean energy, in an effort to mitigate the effects of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions.

The shift cannot happen without putting Africa’s ecosystems upside down. Again, the West’s abuse of the African continent continues.

With that in mind, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) faces a continuous existential threat since it is a critical factor that provides the much-needed mineral resources to power much of the world’s mobile phones. For the world to run as it is now, the convenience to shift to clean energy has come at a great cost to the DR Congo which is mired in incessant conflicts driven by a fight for its abundant resources.

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In November, Egypt hosted COP27 in the exclusive Sharm-el-Sheik tourist resort town to address issues ailing the world on matters climate change.

While Africa is powering the rest of the world, it is ironically facing high levels of energy inequality and poverty. This significantly affects economic development driven by industrialization and employment. Africa’s enormous energy potential remains a mirage with an estimated 600 million people in Africa without access to electricity today. In addition, 900 million Africans do not have clean cooking facilities, especially in the rural areas.

This is the irony of Africa powering the world yet being the world region with the largest energy deficit. And things do not look any better since the number of people without access to modern energy is projected to continue rising by 2030.

The situation in the DRC

By land mass, the DR Congo is Africa’s second-largest country. It is also arguably the richest country in the world in terms of resources but ironically, it is ranked among the poorest countries in the world with nearly 64 per cent of the Congolese living on less than US$2.15 a day. This represents slightly under 60 million people. The World Bank ranks the DR Congo among the five poorest countries in the world. As of 2021, one in every six people living in extreme poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa lived in the DRC. The DR Congo is a classic case of what capitalism does to those who are not calling the shots. Africa is at a disadvantage from neo-colonialists who have been pushing the agenda of their Western masters instead of making the resources in Africa work for Africans.

For perspective, the DR Congo has 70 per cent of the world’s cobalt and vast deposits of lithium. These two minerals are key components for batteries targeted to move the world away from fossil fuels, as well as enabling mobile phones to operate. Driving the Western-backed fossil fuel agenda sounds great until the reality of the matter hits home and the world cannot extract its much-needed resources.

With global interests at hand, thousands of acres of pristine land will be desolate to enable the extraction of these minerals while millions of people will either be displaced or killed by the mining operations. Furthermore, the DRC holds the world’s second-largest rainforest, and with mining operations continuing a large portion of this biodiversity is being threatened by various mining giants. A world where the DR Congo, and Africa, are not a part of the decision-making seat on the extraction of its resources is not possible. It must have an equal voice where decisions towards the clean energy shift are taking place.

The shift to clean energy is a joke on Africa since it will suffer the most disturbances to the environment and economically while those pushing for the shift will get all the resources for a song. This means that the continent will remain locked in a poverty cycle that unless Africans resolve to improve their lot themselves. The structures and systems in place have proven time and again that they are for the benefit of the West and not for the betterment of Africa.

Can the EAC protect DRC’s mining?

With the DR Congo joining the East African Community (EAC), the bloc became a coast-to-coast economic federation from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic. While this could be a genius political organization move, it can only make sense if there are laws and regulations that govern how trade and other economic activities are carried out. Being in the EAC means that it is easier for member countries to do business, ease travel restrictions and thus improve cross-border trade activities.

The same approach can be taken to ensure that even mining abides by set regulations. Mining in Africa should go beyond extraction and value addition to ensuring that the immediate mining areas are not left without rehabilitation. In the European Union for instance, there are plans to put in place an EU mining code which would ensure that any extractive activities do not harm the environment. A similar approach could be taken to ensure that EAC member countries benefit from the coalescing.

After mining and value addition, being in a body like the EAC should enable the DR Congo and any other member state to have mining companies restore lands they expose while extracting resources. By doing so, they will be enabling the ecosystems to regenerate after the mining activities are over.

Read: COP27: Africa’s Struggle to win against the carbon tide

To grow and add value to Africa, the continent needs modern energy systems that can address multiple challenges including affordability, supply security and sustainability. The talk of a ‘just’ energy transition remains as hot air unless Africa is allowed on the table where decisions are made and not just to be seen but also to be heard.

A lithium battery pack.  While Africa is powering the rest of the world, it is ironically facing high levels of energy inequality and poverty.  https://theexchange.africa/
A lithium battery pack. While Africa is powering the rest of the world, it is ironically facing high levels of energy inequality and poverty. [Photo/Electrek]

Any push for just transition should allow Africa to first provide energy to its people using the resources it already has. Energy apartheidhas been witnessed with the EU parliament’s attack on the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) shows that the West, especially Europe still thinks that their needs supersede those of Africa.

In the EAC, the regional bloc is improving relations between its member nations through the adoption of a single market and unified custom tariffs for their economic growth. If this strategy is adopted across the board including manufacturing, industrialisation, security and peace, then it makes it easier for the bloc to have unified policies including for mining.

Assuming that the DR Congo did not have to negotiate mining deals on its own but had the backing of the EAC, it would make more economic sense than is happening now. With the continent always lagging behind in development, the clean energy shift should be a platform where the continent finally achieves its economic emancipation.

For what it is worth, the world is now courting Kinshasa for its resources. A harmonized approach would see the country get justice for its resources unlike what has been happening for decades.

A 2021 report by BloombergNEF (BNEF) notes that manufacturing sustainable high-nickel battery materials in the DR Congo makes it a favorable destination due to the country’s significant cobalt deposits and hydroelectric electricity which could make the venture low-cost with low emissions in the production of cathode precursor materials for lithium-ion batteries.

Developing a 10,000 metric tonne cathode precursor factory in the DRC would cost US$39 million in comparison to a similar plant in the United States which could be three times more expensive. A similar factory in Poland and China would cost an estimated US$65 million and US$112, respectively.

Energy security in Africa

For Africa, energy security should come first due to the fact that the continent is the least polluter but it bears a disproportionate burden wrought on by climate change impacts. From 1850-2020, according to analysts, Africa’s global emissions contribution have remained below 3 per cent. However, the continent lost about 5–15 per cent of GDP per capita growth annually from 1986 – 2015.

With the aggressive shift to clean energy, Africa risks even worse human and economic crises due to the multipronged dangers of climate change and the possible displacements caused by mining activities.

Already, climate change-related catastrophes have triggered the internal displacement of 2.6 million people going by 2021 estimates. Violence and displacement are some outcomes of climate-related disasters which leave millions facing acute food shortages and increasing vulnerability. If mining in the DR Congo, and Africa at large, continues as it has for decades, then the displacements, hunger and violence will only exacerbate.

What globalists call clean energy is oblivious to what the cost is to Africa which is the source of all the materials needed for this clean energy shift.

Citing the EU’s case on EACOPthe parliament’s resolution was based on allegations that the project would endanger nature reserves and habitats while displacing an estimated 118,000 people by destroying their homes to make way for the pipeline construction.

This is no different from what a shift to clean energy would do to the DR Congo and other African countries providing the raw material for this shift. It is an oxymoron.

To make the most out of the ‘globalists’ push for clean energy shift, African states should adopt new aspects for industrial, technical, and economic advancement. This means the African nations have to readjust individual and regional economic strategies and adopt unilateral policies that make them stronger together. There is more bargaining power in a United Africa than when the interests are driven by individual countries.

African nations should come together to make some of these things a reality.

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