Kofi Bentil speaks for millions of Africans when he observes that most of them have "neither television nor electricity" and hence will be unable to "...see Al Gore and his troupe of rock-star ecologists strutting their stuff during the series of Live Earth concerts..." taking place this weekend. Kofi might not yet be aware that a power system featuring a combination of renewable electricity and energy efficient appliances is at least 10 times cheaper than one dominated by oil. This is the main reason--rather than just climate change--why it makes sense for African countries to consider integrating more renewable energy and energy efficiency into their energy portfolios.
Nevertheless, Kofi scores some very good points with the following hard-hitting message to the promoters of the Live Earth concerts, and some African leaders--especially the so-called hippos:
Even if we accept that global warming may have a significant effect on our climate, limiting the use of fossil fuels in Africa would be counterproductive. Respiratory infections are the leading cause of childhood deaths on my continent, mainly from inhaling the smoke produced by burning wood and dung in our quaint mud huts...
The second leading cause of childhood deaths is not malaria or AIDS, it is diarrhoea, caused by drinking dirty water. Why is our water dirty? Mainly because we lack cheap, efficient means of pumping and cleaning it. That requires fossil fuels--either directly or to produce electricity...
An underlying cause of many health problems in Africa is malnutrition. This is a consequence both of inefficient farming and poor food distribution. To rectify this situation will mean using cheap and relatively clean fuels, such as gasoline and diesel.
(Of course we also need better roads--which can only be built using machines that burn… fossil fuels.)
Unfortunately, our beggarly governments are very susceptible to diktats from on high, especially when they are offered aid (which they use to line the coffers of their bank accounts): don’t encourage them!
So, Kofi Bentil has some very good points, but they should be taken with a grain of salt. For one thing, it would be short-sighted for African countries to embark on an all-out pursuit of fossil energy systems in the name of 'development.' Many dangers lurk in ambush along that route, not the least of which are the economic and political instabilities associated with oil supply chains. Oil imports gobble up sizable chunks of African countries' GDPs, accounting in some countries for up to 50 percent of their total import bill. We all know the situation in many oil producing regions at this time. These issues seem to be getting worse, not better. Faced with high, unstable and generally rising costs of reliance on oil-based energy economies, African countries are better advised to pursue a more balanced energy strategy: invest in cleaner fossil technologies as intermediate solutions, while seriously pursuing a long-term agenda of renewable energy and energy efficiency for sustainable development.