The Organization of African Unity
Energy Issues in Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa consumes 2.7% of world commercial energy. It has 2% of world proven oil reserves, 6% of world proven gas reserves and 6% of world proven coal reserves. There is a large hydropower potential, in excess of 1,100 TWh. Other energy resources include Uranium deposits and a consistently high level of solar insolation.
The area is plagued with energy problems. Two issues dominate the sub-continent as a whole: its over-dependence on low quality, traditional fuel, i.e. fuel-wood, and its over-reliance on imported commercial fuel, i.e. oil. These two issues of dependence crystallize around two issues of accessibility: the accessibility of the region to its own resources (oil, hydroelectric potential), and the accessibility of the populations within each country to quality fuels of any kind. The energy problem is particularly serious in Africa, because although the continent is rich in resources, the majority of the population does not have access to them: electricity consumption in industrialized countries is 150 times higher than in Africa - in Sahelian Africa the rural electrification level is less than 5%. Average per capita final commercial energy consumption is less than 300 kg of oil equivalent per inhabitant, compared with 7,905 kg in North America and the world average of 1,434 kg (1996).
Ensuring proper development of African energy systems, especially with a view to their potential effects on the environment, depends on the culturally and economically appropriate application of scientific and technical innovation. For example, perhaps the single most powerful and accessible energy source in Sahelian Africa is solar insulation, but its exploitation has been retarded by the slow technological progress in the field. Currently, most solar devices are beyond the economic reach of the continent, and not remotely energy-efficient enough, while, for various reasons, technology transfer between the North and the South remains limited at best. Exploitation of the enormous hydroelectric potential is constrained by the enormous capital requirements and environmental and social concerns generated by inappropriate dam building throughout the developing world. In the meantime, oil imports in the majority of African countries are eating into foreign reserves, a problem exacerbated by the well-documented debt situation, while enormous quantities of oil, largely in the hands of foreign companies, are exported from a few countries. 76% of the continent's population still relies on wood for its basic fuel needs - a figure which increases to 80% in many of those Sahelian countries which are least able to support it. This in turn contributes to the problem of desertification in Sahelian Africa, and has threatened to become a basic energy crisis. Fuel-wood is, in any case, a highly inefficient energy source. Energy development and management is clearly an interdisciplinary project, requiring extensive co-operation and information exchange between researchers, decision-makers, policy-implementers, and, most importantly, the people concerned.
The energy programme is fuelled by the constant interaction of these three elements. Originally the programme mainly focused on energy use by grassroots communities but as it has grown it has become involved in maintaining databases, undertaking direct field work and training and lobbying African policy-makers.