EN · FR · DE

“High time for things to change..." - African Perspectives on the Energy Transition

Five dialogue forums and one conference in 2012 showed that the promotion of renewable energies is linked to high resource consumption needed for the production of "green" technologies and in this way promotes the "Green Economy". In the second year of the project "Paradoxes of Sustainability" we proudly present now the recommendations for action for decision-makers in politics and the economy. These recommendations for a really fair energy transition are based on the expertise of the invited African activists, intellectuals and energy experts.

These recommendations are the first draft and further comments and feedback are welcome! Please send your comments to info(at)africavenir.org

Green economy won´t save the planet, but green democracy will.
(Patel, 2012)

In Germany the “energy transition” is on everyone's lips. With slogans such as "High time for things to change" actors in the political and economic arena are campaigning for “green” energy and more energy efficiency. (1) There is considered to be broad political and social consensus on the irreversible phasing out of nuclear energy by 2022. The federal government is aiming for a 85% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, compared to base year 1990.

In the framework of its project "Paradoxes of sustainability - how socially equitable are ‘green’ technologies really?" the Berlin-based organization AfricAvenir International e.V. sheds light on African perspectives on the energy transition in Germany and Europe, as well as the associated rapid expansion of renewable energies. In 2012 AfricAvenir invited the African intellectuals and activists Nnimmo Bassey (Friends of the Earth), Many Camara (ARACF - Association of ressortissants et des Amis de la Commune de Falea), Dr. El Mostafa Jamea, Tidiane Kassé (Pambazuka), Jean-Claude Katende (ASADHO - Association Africaine de Défense des Droits de l'Homme), Kulthoum Omari (Heinrich Böll Foundation South Africa), Silas Siakor (Sustainable Development Institute), Odile Tendeng (Gorée Institute), Prof. Judi W. Wakhungu (African Centre for Technology Studies) and Nozipho Mabebe Wright (Energia Botswana) to report on their experience with renewable energy in a series of dialogue forums, a conference and in published articles providing perspectives from various regional and scientific viewpoints of the continent. The participants discussed the consequences of the energy transition in the global north for the African continent.  The following questions form the basis of this project:

  • What are the social, environmental and economic consequences of the extraction and trade of raw materials that are necessary for the production of renewable energies?
  • Will the energy transition unleash positive development potential for Africa? Or will the continent experience a new "resource curse" and continue to be dependent on imported expensive technologies?

The African voices are clear. They too are saying, "High time for things to change!". However, only taking into account the nuclear phase-out and the development of renewable energies in Germany is still far too short sighted.
This is because the federal government gives priority to opening up new markets for German companies in the field of renewable energy (2) and sees the countries of the Global South as willing suppliers of raw materials for energy production without uranium or fossil fuels which takes place primarily in the North. The experts invited by AfricAvenir highlight the impact that the extraction of African raw materials which are required for the production of "green" technologies has on the continent. The current concept of the energy transition is merely a switch from fossil to non-fossil energy production that is still dependent on the exploitation of some partially non-renewable resources. Any form of energy transition for the resource-supplying countries is out of the question. The unequal power structures on which Europe's energy transition to resource exploitation in the Global South is based will remain in place without the local populations being given a say.

In this context the Moroccan energy expert Dr. Mostafa El Jamea presents the example of Desertec, a major project to generate solar energy in North Africa. Due to the size of the project, it devours hectares of land, as well as the important but rare resource water. A potential negative impact on the ecosystem cannot be ruled out. The local communities however were not involved in the preliminary consultations or the decision-making process and it remains questionable whether the project will benefit them.

Up until now, the energy transition in its current form has predominantly taken the form of greenwashing of the existing growth-oriented economies under the guise of "Green Economy". Instead of presenting serious alternatives to the continuous increase of fuel consumption and to the focus on resource security for Germany, public discourse remains restricted to the improvement of energy efficiency. However, the successful implementation of a socially just energy transition calls for a paradigm shift in global energy, commodities and resource policy. The basis of this policy must be the recognition of autonomous definitions and paths of development on the part of the concerned populations. All stakeholders - the northern and southern governments, civil society, companies and development cooperation - need to do their bit.
AfricAvenir International demands, together with the experts involved in the project:

1. "It's high time that the conditions of resource extraction change in the commodity producing countries and that violent conflicts are no longer tolerated and fuelled due to economic interests!"
The utilisation of renewable energies requires certain raw materials. In order to declare these technologies "green", human rights, social and environmental standards in the extraction of raw materials such as copper, bauxite, zinc, indium, selenium, gallium, tellurium, lithium and rare earths must be consistently maintained. Here African civil societies together with European initiatives are called on to hold African and European governments and investors accountable, and to, for instance, renegotiate closed mining contracts so that local populations are taken into consideration.

2. "It's high time that local peoples themselves have the freedom to make decisions about the access to their resources and how these are used and processed!"
Adapted to local contexts, communities should be able to represent their interests in terms of “Green Democracy“, instead of being forced by the “Green Economy” to submit themselves to market interests dictated by the Global North. Certification of what is sustainable cannot be left to investors and consumers in the Global North alone. The German federal government should support countries of the Global South in putting into practice the principle of Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) so that the sections of the population that are affected by energy- and raw material projects can develop mechanisms to safeguard their rights to free, timely and informed consent. The "Green Economy" is based on the valorization of nature and of habitats. (3)  Based exclusively on a financial rationale, as is currently the case with the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), this valorization can at best be one tool for the implementation of a global energy transition. The decision-making authority and the right of disposition of the valorization of resources needs to be solely in the hands of local communities and governments and must give them the right to exclude certain raw materials from exploitation, especially when they are connected to the basis for life, like water, land and food products.
3. "It's high time for permanent transparency in the renewable energy sector!"
The entire production chain, from raw material extraction to the generation of renewable energy, must be made transparent for consumers in the Global North and populations in commodity extraction regions. Civil society in Europe and Africa must claim its right to participate in the formation of (major) projects in the field of renewable energy and in the distribution of profits.

4. "It's high time that decentralized regenerative and autonomous energy supply is given priority over centrally organized solutions!”
The central message of AfricAvenir’s guests is the call for the development of decentralized energy supply with renewable energies. Herein lies the significant advantage of "green" technologies for the African context. Rural areas that have no access to the national electricity grid can thereby be supplied with energy. The democratic right of citizens in the South and the North to participate in decision making about their energy supply is centrally important. The long term goal for Africa and Europe should be energy sovereignty adapted to local needs and markets, as well as the promotion of regional development.

5. "It's high time that added value and production of green technologies takes place in Africa!"
As with other areas of production, it is imperative that Africa free itself from its dependence on imported technologies and set up its own production of green technologies. At this point Germany as an experienced producer of renewable energy can offer valuable support in capacity building, but it can also champion an alternative trade mandate (ATM) of the EU. (4) However, this should primarily benefit the development of independent African production and not primarily serve the backup markets for German companies. The right of the Global South to determine the conditions of investment and export in the energy and raw material sectors must be respected.

6. "It's high time that corporate responsibility and social entrepreneurship in Germany and worldwide is promoted and demanded by governments!"
Economic activities that take account of their responsibility for producers and consumers in the North and South must be strengthened. Only then will a decentralized, autonomous energy supply and transparent projects and investments have a chance.

7. "It's high time that the German government champions an EU-wide nuclear phase-out!"
The decision made in Germany to phase out nuclear energy is not enough. As a driving force in Europe, Germany should demand the phase-out of nuclear power in the entire EU and help put a stop to exports and business transactions that support nuclear power stations abroad. The risks that nuclear energy poses for uranium-producing countries and for producers and consumers are no longer acceptable.

These experiences gathered from exchange with African experts provide the main objectives of a transition from "Green Economy" to "Green Democracy" for politics, business and development cooperation.

Minimum standards for the exploitation of raw materials that form the basis of renewable energy production, or rather the specific technologies needed for this production should be applied in order to guarantee their social and ecological compatibility. Certification procedures can at best complement the implementation and control of existing international standards. By no means can they replace a broad change of views in society, towards a change of lifestyle, reducing our resource consumption and increasing democratic participation of civil society in raw material extraction countries. Conventional strategies for market protection should be reviewed for the benefit of a long-term, social, fair and ecologically just resource policy. The federal government of Germany has the possibility, within the EU and the G20 as well as the United Nations, the World Bank and the regional Banks for Development, to exert influence on the situation of the people in the Global South. The more coherent the German policy becomes in the field of foreign affairs, development, environment and energy, and the closer it orientates itself to the goals of human rights and environmental protection, the more positive this influence will become. (5)

The active promotion of structures based on decentralization and on self-initiative is essential. Only then can real participation by the Global South be realized, for example through targeted promotion of local mini-grid and off -grid initiatives or alternative projects for mining raw materials.
For joint preservation of the inalienable rights of all people (6) and the limited resources of our planet it is necessary to implement the vision of collaboration between North and South on equal terms, because:"It is time for citizens of the world to urgently reclaim their sovereignty and not watch helplessly while political-corporate powers ride roughshod over everyone and everything." (Nnimmo Bassey)


1) http://www.bmu.de/service/fotos-und-filme/fotogalerien/detailview/?no_cache=1&tx_cpsbmugallery_pi1[showUid]=49493&tx_cpsbmugallery_pi1[image]=1
2) Compare „Export initiative renewable energy“ of the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology : http://www.exportinitiative.de/
3) Compare Nnimmo Bassey (2013): “The green economy idea that environmental services can be monetised and paid for, makes the planet one huge market and those that can pay for these services become the ‘true’ owners of nature, even as the majority of citizens are relegated to the role of mere customers.” The whole article “Between Eti Uwem and Green Capitalism (Green Democracy)” is available from: http://www.africavenir.org/news-archive/newsdetails/datum/2013/02/04/between-eti-uwem-and-green-capitalism-green-democracy.html
4) http://www.alternativetrademandate.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/ATM-Vision-Paper-Deutsch.pdf
5) Compare: Anforderungen an eine Zukunftige Rohstoffstrategie – Vorläufige Stellungnahme zivilgesellschaftlicher Organisationen zur Rohstoffstrategie der Bundesregierung (2010), page. 2.
6) African [Banjul] Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, Article 21, (June 1981): (1) All peoples shall freely dispose of their wealth and natural resources. This right shall be exercised in the exclusive interest of the people. In no case shall a people be deprived of it.

Further References

  • Heinrich Böll Foundation in cooperation with Wuppertal Institut (2012). International Resource Politics - New challenges demanding new governance approaches for a green economy. Vol. 26, Publication Series on Ecology. Berlin.
  • Raj Patel & Martin Crook (2012). At Rio+20, the green economy won’t save the planet. But green democracy will. Commonwealth Advisory Bureau. London.
  • PowerShift e.V. (2011). Oben hui, unten pfui? Rohstoffe für die „grüne“ Wirtschaft: Bedarfe – Probleme – Handlungsoptionen für Wirtschaft, Politik & Zivilgesellschaft. Berlin.
  • Comhlámh, AITEC and WEED (2012). Alternatives on Resource Trade and Access to Information in Africa A response to EU policy on raw materials by Dr Claude Kabemba. Comhlámh.

April 2013

We thank the following persons for their comments and critical feedback on these recommendations: Clementine Burnley, Marie Müller (Bonn International Center for Conversion BICC), Heidi Feldt, Lili Fuhr (Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung) and Peter Fuchs (PowerShift e.V.).

The recommendations for action will be presented at the following events:

Roundtable „Renewable energies - new prospects or risks of conflict?" mit Silas Kpanan’Ayoung Siakor (Liberia)
Monday, 22. April 2013, 18h

Bonn International Center for Conversion (BICC), Pfarrer-Byns-Str.1, 53121 Bonn in Cooperation with German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE)

Dialogue forum Who supplies the “Green Economy”? – How sustainable is the energetic turn for Africa?” with Silas Kpanan’Ayoung Siakor (Liberia) & Peter Fuchs (Berlin)
Tuesday, 23. April 2013, 19h

Haus der Demokratie und Menschenrechte, Greifswalderstr. 4, 10405 Berlin

The project “Paradoxes of Sustainability” takes place with financial support from BMZ and Landesstelle für Entwicklungszusammenarbeit (LEZ).

back to top