Defend Truth


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


Bhekumuzi Dean Bhebhe is a PhD Candidate at the University of Witwatersrand and a 2018 Mandela Rhodes Scholar with several years’ experience building and implementing campaign strategies across Africa. He is the Campaigner for Don’t Gas Africa. Stephen Horn is country director of the Clean Creatives campaign in South Africa, and creative director of the Safta-winning satirical news show, Politically Aweh.

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. DM



Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Ben Harper says:

    Rhubarb Rhubarb rah rah Fishpaste

    • Michele Rivarola says:

      You might be the spokesperson for Shell and Total. State recapture on a grand scale

      • Ben Harper says:

        Ah, the troll who believes the O&G industry is funded by the CIA

        • Michele Rivarola says:

          Nope you might the fossil fuel troll. Whilst you like to criticise the government and the ruling party you would do best to check where their interests are and who pays for their salaries. Oh but wait I see foot in mouth disease. The least you could do is check your facts otherwise you sound like a spokesperson for the DMRE and its minister

  • Charles Bolam says:

    Blah, blah, blah! Until such time when honest African leaders step forward and corruption is called out, Africa will continue to be the playground of big oil companies and communist states!

  • Mark Wade says:

    There are ‘mavericks’ in South Africa who have developed renewable energy from plants – biogas, biodiesel, biocoal etc. – yet, no one will invest in their agricultural industries because there’s no overnight ‘big bucks’ to be made. They’re able to convert grasses and cactus – that can grow in marginal areas, and create thousands of jobs – but the oil, gas and coal lobbyists take centre stage (even though government has offered 125% tax rebates on those investments).

  • Craig King says:

    Coal, gas and oil will make a nation rich by providing ubiquitous, cheap and facile energy. Renewables can’t do that. If they could there would be no need to subsidise them at 10 to 30 times more per MWhr and to coerce commerce to invest in it. Socialists always try to ignore the market and always fail as a consequence.

    • Ben Harper says:

      Exactly. Until a new cheap, clean energy source is found (in my mind the advancement in mini and micro nuclear reactors may just be the solution) we NEED fossil fuels to keep the world going, without it the world and all of it’s economies will collapse in a matter of days

    • Caroline de Braganza says:

      Uruguay began its transition to renewable energy in 2005. As at September 2022, it generates 98% of all electricity from renewables, and 99.9% of homes are connected to the grid. They export their surplus power to neighbouring countries. In 2021 they exported $529-million’s worth of surplus, making it the sixth most exported product that year.

      Coal, oil and gas do not make a nation rich – it makes the fossil fuel companies who export it rich.

    • Michele Rivarola says:

      Have you even checked the REIPP prices and compared them to what it costs ESKOM to generate a single kWhr or are you saying things for the sake of it.

  • Middle aged Mike says:

    I’d encourage DM to produce an article that explains how renewables can provide sufficient reliable and continuous power to supply a modern industrial economy that includes things like mining, smelting, cement manufacturing and agriculture. Facts and figures based on real world examples would be helpful in getting doubters like me over the line.

    • District Six says:

      We can do it the same way every other country does it. We are not reinventing the wheel. SA is not the only country with baseload needs. Our problem is we are waiting to invent nuclear energy cheap enough for SA to afford. That’s why we have daytime loadshedding, when the Sun is shining every day, because we have pegged our future on nuclear energy. Meanwhile, “big” business has already privatised energy generation, as witnessed by the reams of panels on company roofs.

      That is already an inversion of a good developmental model. What we need is for Eskom to supply big business whilst citizens get affordable, ie. subsidised, renewable energies to run our homes. THAT is a game-changer.

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