The United States has announced it will now support developing countries’ calls to stop the World Bank restricting the funding of fuel power stations in the poorest countries.
The move will be welcomed by leaders across the developing world, who have long argued for a more pragmatic approach to bringing electricity to the 1.2 billion who live without it.
This year Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan called for a ten-fold increase in power production in sub-Saharan Africa, telling the West that African governments must be allowed to use every available energy source. He said: “Each country needs to decide on the most cost-effective, technologically efficient energy mix that works best for its own needs”.
Nigeria, where 98 million people are trying to scrape by a living in the dark, has been forthright on the need to use of its own resources.
“We have an existential need for power in this country and we have to do something about it, and we can get power from coal which we have in abundance” Nigeria’s Minerals Minister Dr Kayode Fayemi told reporters in April.
Like Kofi Annan, Dr Akinwunde Adesina, head of the African Development Bank, has also urged his Western counterparts to take a more balanced approach: “Africa must develop its energy sector with what it has. Endowed with many different energy sources – both renewable and conventional – Africa needs a balanced energy mix.”
Leaders of developing countries and western experts have long argued that the West got rich on fossil fuels, so it cannot in good conscience deny cheap and reliable power to the poorest nations. Latest figures show that the United States generates two thirds of its electricity from fossil fuels. And this winter it will use more of that power on Christmas lights than everyone in Tanzania – homes, businesses and hospitals – consumes all year.
Current World Bank chief Jim Kim has himself acknowledged that Africa’s vast power deficit is a kind of “energy apartheid” and that fixing it will require pragmatism.
“If some people have taken a position where we say no coal, no nuclear, no hydro, then we’re really not serious,”.
The UN has reported that levels of electricity consumption have barely improved in Africa since the year 2000. The World Bank was set up to help starving and war-shattered countries provide for their people and stand on their own two feet, but in recent years progress has gone backwards, with the number of people in sub-sahraran Africa without access to electricity increasing by millions a year. America’s new stance is a welcome shift. Other countries should follow the US lead.