Hydrocarbon-rich African countries are viewing the unfolding energy crisis as an opportunity to monetize their untapped reserves and eliminate the continent’s energy poverty.
However, a plethora of western-backed environmentalist groups are resisting the effort, claiming that Africa’s new oil and gas projects are nothing but a trap.
“The West puts so much importance on the climate change agenda in [Africa],” commented Dr Mamdouh G. Salameh, an international oil economist and a global energy expert. “I would hazard two explanations for the West’s attitude. The first explanation is that the West is under the misjudged and erroneous view that any future energy assets – like investing in oil and gas production and building pipelines – will end up after 2030 as stranded assets. The second explanation is a more sinister one, with the West wishing to keep African energy resources underground in order to satisfy its own appetite for energy in the future.”
On September 15, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) inked a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Morocco to build a 7,000-kilometre offshore gas pipeline running across 13 African countries. According to the Nigerian daily The Nation, the endeavor will be supervised by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). It is expected that the Nigeria-Morocco Gas Pipeline (NMGP) will improve the living standards of African nations, boost economic integration within the sub-region and tackle desertification through sustainable and reliable gas supply.
Earlier, a number of Central African countries, including Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Gabon, Chad, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Republic of Congo, signed an agreement on September 8 to create a regional oil and gas pipeline network by 2030 to ensure energy security, tackle energy poverty and boost the internal supply of hydrocarbons.
Likewise, Uganda and Tanzania are planning to build the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP), which could become the world’s longest heated crude pipeline stretching 1,443 kilometers (896 miles). The pipeline will transport crude from Uganda’s oil fields to the port of Tanga, Tanzania, on the Indian Ocean.
However, numerous western-backed environmentalist entities, the EU parliament and Joe Biden’s climate czar John Kerry are up in arms about Africa’s bold energy projects. The EU has advised member states not to assist in the implementation of Uganda’s oil and gas projects either diplomatically or financially with 20 western banks and 13 insurers already voicing opposition. For his part, Kerry warned against investing in long-term gas projects in Africa while speaking to Reuters on the sidelines of the 18th session of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) in Dakar, Senegal.
Energymonitor.ai, which describes itself as a “non-partisan voice,” cites “civil society groups” arguing that Africa’s hydrocarbon projects will not benefit African people and that the investment would be better spent on a new green economy. According to the website, $400 billion worth of new energy projects could be implemented in Africa.
Still, Africa-based groups claim that the continent’s natural gas pipelines pose a “threat” to “Africa’s energy sovereignty” and “accelerate the already run-away climate crisis.” They go on to employ Africa’s anti-colonial sentiment by insisting that the continent’s “corrupt governments” will sell all the fuel to the Global North anyway, leaving the people of the region in poverty. Most of the civil society groups arguing this position, however, either maintain partnerships with EU and US environmentalist funds and non-for-profits or belong to western climate networks.
Their stance is nothing new, given that in 2018, 40 European and African organizations signed a petition against the Nigeria-Morocco gas pipeline. The petition insisted that the increase in the extraction of fossil resources would exacerbate global warming; that the initial section of the pipeline was built “without consulting the populations”; and that the pipeline is simply “bad for the region, our peoples and the planet”.
West’s Climate Change Hypocrisy
“The continent of Africa accounted in 2020 for 3.8% of the world’s emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) from fossil fuels and industry,” Salameh explained. “In the last two decades, the continent’s contribution to the global greenhouse gas emissions fluctuated between 3.4% and 3.8% – the smallest share among all world regions.”
Furthermore, climate groups who call for an abrupt end to fossil fuels and a sudden adoption of renewable energy fail to recognize the obvious lack of logic in this, according to him.
“On their own, renewables aren’t capable of satisfying global demand for electricity and energy because of their intermittent nature,” he argued, adding that “total energy transition is an illusion” and “the notion of net-zero emissions is a myth.”
Meanwhile, EU countries which promote climate change and the need to accelerate energy transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, have abandoned their green credentials to resurrect coal-fired electricity plants because of rising prices of gas and oil, Salameh pointed out.
Similarly, western multinational corporations have never stopped investing in oil and gas behind the scenes, the oil economist continued, noting that they “will be more than happy to twist their green credentials and exploit loose climate regulations in African countries.”
While denying Africa’s right to push ahead with its own energy endeavors, the West would be eager to offer investments and technological know-how to the continent in exchange for receiving the lion’s share of the regional hydrocarbon wealth, according to Salameh. “The West doesn’t care whether African countries are experiencing severe energy poverty or not as long as it gets its hands on these reserves,” he said.
“Despite incessant efforts by environmental activists and divestment campaigners to keep oil and gas underground, they will continue to drive the global economy throughout the 21st century and probably far beyond,” he commented. “Therefore, it is impossible for the United States and the EU to abandon their own oil and gas projects.”
Nigeria-Morocco Gas Pipeline: Russia to the Rescue
Many argue that Africa needs its bold energy projects to ramp up the continent’s development. In this light, the Nigeria Morocco Gas Pipeline (NMGP) is of great importance, according to Akinyinka Akinyoade, a Nigeria expert and Senior Researcher at the African Studies Center Leiden.
“Nigeria has large reserves of natural gas,” Akinyoade explained. “Despite what this means for national power generation, as well as cooking and heating, it has relatively largely been unused for such purposes. In fact, large amounts have been (and still are) flared for decades now. Interestingly, Nigeria has concentrated more efforts in export of gas; not only being shipped outside the continent, but also to neighboring countries via the West African gas pipeline.”
Therefore, if meeting the energy needs of neighbors helps to reduce the environmental disaster brought by flaring in Nigeria, then exports via the NMGP gas pipeline should be supported, argued the Nigerian expert. Moreover, “gas use in the countries along the gas pipeline would contribute to increases in the use of clean energy and reduction of carbon emissions in the countries involved,” he noted.
“Lessons are being learnt on associated environmental issues on the current stretch of WA gas pipeline – Nigeria-Benin-Togo-Ghana; these lessons must be integrated to minimize the environmental impacts feared for the extension to Morocco,” continued Akinyoade.
When it comes to the pipeline’s economic impact, “stretching the supply chain further to Morocco expands not only the South-South/intra-African economic cooperation that has been clamored in the continent for so long, it also helps to smoothen the accession of Morocco in the ECOWAS sub-regional body that it has applied to join,” the Nigerian expert underscored.
“Nigeria and other African countries need to evolve energy policies that will help address the issue of energy scarcity and to utilize multiple energy sources that will help meet the needs of its teeming population while reserving the right to grow at a pace that will not be inimical to its youthful population,” said Olufola Wusu, a Lagos-based oil and gas expert and policy consultant who was part of the team that helped review Nigeria’s National Gas Policy 2016. “Nigeria needs to grow at its own pace, even if other nations are keen on abandoning their oil and gas projects for reasons best known to them. Nigeria and other African nations need to ramp up their oil and gas production to be able to meet the growing demand for energy in Africa and to be able to improve the standard of living of its people.”
Meanwhile, the implementation of the NMGP project requires investments and expertise from foreign specialists in order to see the light of day, according to Salameh. Given the West’s environmental manipulations, he suggests that if African countries want to strike fair and beneficial energy infrastructure deals, they should turn to either Russia or China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Thus, earlier this month, the Russian United Metallurgical Company announced that it might supply metal products to meet the needs of the construction of the Nigeria-Morocco Gas Pipeline. In addition, the Russian Ministry of Energy has signaled that Moscow is ready to develop joint projects with African countries in order to increase energy supplies to African markets.
“Providing African countries with high-quality energy resources, creating conditions for the development and growth of cooperation in energy, increasing trade between Russia and African countries is an important task of our interaction,” First Deputy Minister of Energy Pavel Sorokin said in an official statement following his recent meeting with Chairman of the African Energy Chamber N.J. Ayuk.