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사진Johng-Ihl Lee
Professor and Dean of SUNY Korea

Is energy a lapsed faith in Africa?

Energy is characterized by its complexity. The development or implementation of any energy policy consequently entails all the various aspects of a community. Energy policy even considers all the views and opinions, domestic and international. This is why any government’s energy policy takes a long period of time even only to initiate any planning and making consensus. As shown in many African countries, when the energy initiative takes the specific forms such as roadmap or program, the degree of uncertainty immensely increases. The activities of various stakeholders are newly introduced for political, environmental and economic reasons.

Despite the risk mentioned above, most African countries are taking advantage of energy as a steppingstone to their ambitious growth initiatives. These trends can be regarded as a result of too much stereotyped consultations of economists or engineers from advanced countries or by a willful negligence by the African political leaders. The economists and engineers with no experience have been doing nothing but the cut-and-paste transplantation of their policies and experience on the soil of African countries. As this contagion widely spreads, it has been taken for granted as a universal understanding that energy related strategy is a faith for solving economic inequity where there is no promising alternatives. African countries seem to be trapped in a myth of what has happened to Asian economies since 1960s can be repeated in Africa. To make it worse, the politicians of some nations are forced to stick to what they are doing without any hesitation or any feedbacks, not to mention any withdrawal.

For the last 50 years, this myth of becoming a developed country has been specified and even reinforced by the blessings named as DA(developing assistance) and consequently formed a customary or regular course of procedure as a routine. This routine consists of ‘bilateral and multilateral political negotiations → early stage financial assistance → policy consultations → feasibility study → major financial assistance’. The final goal of this routine presumably is the major ODA(official development assistance) funding as long as the recipient country has no duty to pay back.

The routine always undergoes the consultation process such as agenda collection, feasibility study and implementation. There are two shortcomings in this process. One is that all the DA programs or projects as a result of political negotiations are controlled by the governments and, therefore, there is no room or no reason to argue for efficiency or efficacy. The other is that evaluation or feedback on the programs or projects are rarely carried out so far. It is widely recognized and accepted that DA, binding or non-binding, is a just giveaway and that humanitarianism principle even hinders any whistle blowing activities, even in case of fund being misused.

Suppose an African country adopts energy as a strategic tool, renewable or atomic. Then, any decent economist will easily point out the terms and conditions as the prerequisite for sustainable growth to be fulfilled: manufacturing basin, transparent banking system, a solid NIS(National Innovation System), legal system, IPR protection, political stability, startup ecosystem, SOC and others. This sort of discussion naturally should be led to the following question: are there any countries in Africa which can be geared with the aforementioned terms and conditions within the next 10 years or 50 years? Even if yes, can they keep up with developed countries while maintaining the competitiveness in any ICT or manufacturing or service industry?

Based on the established and unavoidable routine mentioned above, numerous projects have been done, leaving the lessons and experience as many. The terms and conditions of sustainable development for African countries therefore can be summarized into three factors: (1) governance, (2) human resources and (3) hardware. Firstly, governance deals with the social and economic systems, under which the ownership of the public and private sectors, and market mechanism are well shared and organized by the rightful consensus. The existence of a rightful governance promotes the positive impact of DA on the African country, which is divided into many tribes and language groups. Secondly, human resources have been recognized as the primary factor of production as in other area of the globe. This is, undoubtedly, important not only by the existence of skilled people, but also the existence of social ladder to the upper class. Human resources are the only factor of the production most African countries afford to provide. Lastly, hardware means both revealed and potential investments. Hardware can be increased by new investment domestically or by employing any new resources from foreign sectors. It is indispensable to increase the size and scope of hardware by taking advantage of foreign sector in the first place.

Energy is always located at the bottom of the social or economic value pyramid of governance, human resources and hardware: neither on the top nor in the center. This is the reason why energy related initiative is not reckoned as the ultimate, but as the common infrastructure for all. Energy is a tool as infrastructure not like automobile industry or other manufacturing industry. Any energy related plans cannot be adopted or implemented as a breakthrough industry. For now, the successful implementation of energy initiatives only strengthens the first and most infrastructure of a country with no more or no less importance.

From the point of policy making process and impact evaluation, African countries are different from those of Asia such as Korea. Any policy is usually developed by the consensus among the politicians, the people and the press and policy outcome is shared and monitored in Korea. This is not the case for most African countries, suffering from the unstable politics and the slackness of consensus building process. That is, governance is not secured, human resources and its systems are not workable, and hardware is not enough. These three factors, as the prerequisite for sustainable growth, are taken as granted for African countries by developed countries without any plausible reasoning.

A close look at the energy programs and projects in Africa will favor the collective energy leadership rather than the current individual one. The good example is the west Africa’s energy initiative: ECOWAS, Economic Community of West African States, is a 15-member regional group established in 1975. The group collectively stands to promote economic integration in all fields of the member countries. The West African Power Pool (WAPP), created by the ECOWAS, is a cooperation of the national electricity companies in western Africa with the ultimate goal of integrating the national power systems into a unified regional electricity market. WAPP as a energy network will be more binding than ECOWAS since its goals are specific and economical. Though WAPP is not so much efficient or strongly binding as EU, its existence proves itself enough to collectively recover the lapsed faith on the energy initiative. From the point of donor countries’ view, dealing with one governance is much easier that with 15 different governments in many ways. This will too make it more efficient to review the outcome and impact of several decades’ development assistance.

Korea’s development assistance on Africa, which is increasing in a inconsistent and uncontrolled manner, is no exception. Korea has been a wonderful follower and now it is high time to quit. As the biggest one among four Asian tigers with the valuable experience of becoming a developed country from a pile of ashes, Korea has to change the way and the context of development assistance and the victory over famine and poverty will smile with the innocent people of African countries. In this sense, an African proverb says it all: an army of sheep led by a lion can defeat an army of lions led by a sheep.
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