Aid Expert: If we don’t solve energy poverty, Africa will become a “continent on fire”

“Africa is literally the dark continent because so few people have the lights on. Better we sort that before it becomes a continent on fire.”

That’s the dire warning issued by Dr Sylvanus Ayeni, a Nigerian-born aid expert, who, as a former neurosurgeon, has direct experience of Africa’s energy-starved healthcare system.

The numbers are stark. Over 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa – two thirds of the continent – currently lack access to electricity. Meanwhile populations are exploding, with the number of people living in the region expected to more than double to 2.4 billion by mid-century.

In a recent interview, Dr Ayeni said that Africa’s chronic power shortage is driving ever more young people into the arms of people smugglers or armed militias.

“When you have no power, you can’t set up factories, run hotels, do homework, keep vaccines chilled at a clinic or even pump water efficiently. In short, you have no hope of a better life,” Ayeni says.

“And with the resultant poverty and unemployment, young people have few options,” he continues.

“Why do you think millions are striking out to cross the Mediterranean while others join gangs or militia? Ask yourself what you would do if you lived in such misery.”

But time is running short Dr Ayeni warns:

“Africa is urbanising perhaps faster than anywhere on the planet, and in our cities unemployment can reach 70%, especially among the youth. If we don’t find something for these people to do, we face a bloody revolution worse than anything in history.”

For Dr Ayeni, a solution has to be delivered fast, and in a way that works for Africa. That means making use of Africa’s abundant natural resources, rather than importing renewables from abroad.

“What’s the point of spending scarce foreign exchange to import solar panels or wind turbines for oil-rich countries like Angola or Nigeria?,” he asks.

“Or to Tanzania, Botswana and South Africa with billions of tons of coal in the ground.”