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Monday, October 17, 2011

The Colonization of Africa, Part II: Energy

Jared Crooks, MPA

It’s been almost 60 years since the British government gave up its audacious plan to build an African transcontinental railroad from Cape Town to Cairo. The first question that should come to mind is, “How is that even possible?” Well, it was. Just take a look at the map showing the division of the African continent at the height of colonialism. All of the light blue territory belonged to the UK.

I won’t start a lengthy diatribe on territorial rights, because that debate has been over for a long time. The last African country to gain independence did so in the 1990s.

But what was the point of African colonization? Well, certain parts of Africa are rich in natural resources (gold, diamonds, coffee, rubber etc.), which makes them highly desirable and attainable by the militarily-able countries. But now in the technology and information era, countries are in need of a certain kind of natural resource far more valuable than rubber: energy!

Yes, yes, we have all seen the graphs that show the trending line for the world’s energy needs for the next 50 years. But just in case: in a word, the world’s supply of oil is drying up and our demand is ever-increasing. Hence, our concentration on alternative energy solutions. (Well, that and climate change.)

Africa is chock full of potential alternative energy waiting to be tapped. If used correctly, 1/3 of the continent of Africa could be powered by solar energy trapped in the Sahara desert, 1/3 of the continent could also be powered by hydro-energy trapped by its rivers (e.g. the Nile) and amazingly 1/3 of the continent could be powered by geothermal energy (i.e. natural hot springs). Pause for math: 1/3 + 1/3 + 1/3 = 1!

Yes, the whole continent of Africa could be powered by alternative energy alone. Unfortunately, emphasis on “could.” Sadly what we are beginning to see now is the next era of African colonization. The European Union plans to build a huge solar energy plant in the Sahara…and export it back to Europe. Tunisia is setting up to transfer 200 Megawatts of “green energy” to Europe.

If this isn’t enough to make you pause and check the year on your calendar then I don’t know what is. But it isn’t all doom and gloom. Ethiopia is launching a project to take hydro-energy generated from the Nile to help power the country, but sadly this is just one of few examples of African ownership of resources.

The policy practically writes itself:
  • To African countries – Wake up and get your act together! Green energy is a great way to create jobs and compete globally.
  • To potential energy colonizers – Merely gaining approval from local governments to extract energy doesn’t rid you of obligation. Take precaution so that extraction efforts actually benefit locals and ensure that the domestic population isn’t being denied its rightful access to local energy due to corrupt elites. Either that or harvest Helium from moon dust.

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