By Special Correspondent in Ikoyi, Nigeria
But the continent will likely ultimately have something to smile about, given the formal operationalisation of the partnership between the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and leading energy conglomerate Sahara Group.
The collaboration, which was sealed during one of the side events at the recently concluded 74th United Nations General Assembly, portends a brighter future for access to reliable, safe and affordable energy in Africa.
The partnership’s overarching goal is to create access to clean and affordable energy in Africa, with a commitment to providing access to clean and affordable energy for 10 million households on the continent.
This is hinged on the fact that sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest energy access rates and, paradoxically, the highest percentage of untapped hydropower potential in the world – at a meagre 11 per cent utilisation capacity.
The global electrification rate reached 89 per cent last year, with 153 million people having gained access to electricity, according to World Bank statistics for May 2019.
However, the biggest challenge remains in the most remote areas globally and in sub-Saharan Africa in particular, where an estimated 573 million people are not connected to grid power.
With only about ten years left for the world to achieve the 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), vastly enhanced investment in clean and affordable energy sources is important if sub-Saharan Africa is to meet the deadline.
This is because access to clean energy sources has the potential to accelerate growth by creating new jobs, bolstering healthcare, ensuring that more children and youth have additional hours to study especially at night, and access to new skills and information that will allow the young people to create technology-driven innovations to power the economy.
It is against this backdrop that Sahara Group and UNDP have formed this partnership. The overall objective is to build a roadmap and provide catalytic support so that public-private alliances can provide large-scale solutions towards achieving the SDGs, with a focus on SDG 7 – that is, Access to Energy.
With its focus on the productive use of energy, the project is meant to highlight the correlation between access to energy on the one hand and economic growth on the other.
In doing so, emphasis will be on how economic development can be triggered by enhancing the income-generating capabilities of local populations.
This economic development plays a critical role in improving societal well-being by creating opportunities for the entrepreneurial development for youth and women to develop skills, thereby generating employment and improving livelihoods.
The partnership will kick off with a regional energy forum that will serve as a platform for policy discussions, multi-stakeholder collaboration and funding towards the implementation of tailored renewable energy solutions across the continent.
Ultimately, it is hoped, the platform will galvanise the political momentum needed to record significant progress through strong partnerships, effective regulation and mutual accountability. This will, in turn, lead to the implementation of country-specific energy projects in selected countries.
Over 600 million people in Africa have no access to electricity. This is one indicator the UNDP-Sahara Group partnership hopes to address. Ahunna Eziakonwa, Regional Director and Assistant Secretary General for the UNDP Regional Bureau for Africa, has aptly said that the continent urgently needs to embrace renewable energy sources to sustainably connect the poorest and hardest to reach as many households as possible.
“Access to energy will enhance the cause of poverty alleviation and also yield huge benefits for education, healthcare, production, and socio-economic development,” Eziakonwa has noted.
Indeed, the UNDP-Sahara partnership is of fundamental importance as it will provide a model for engaging a wide range of stakeholders in addressing the continent’s energy-related challenges in line with the SDG framework. This couldn’t be truer.
It is noteworthy that the partnership involves Sahara Group whose affiliate, Sahara Power Group, operates the largest privately owned power business in sub-Saharan Africa.
To quote Sahara Power Group’s own Group Managing Director Kola Adesina, “the company is delighted and privileged to be playing such a strategic role in lighting up Africa”.
Adesina says the partnership with UNDP has the potential to create over one million jobs in Africa as the continent continues its march towards achieving the 2030 SDGs Agenda, adding: “Renewable energy is still in its infancy as far as Africa is concerned.”
“We need unrelenting awareness initiatives to inspire a mindset shift to renewable energy in Africa with the various governments, private sector and development agencies leading the charge,” says the SPG executive, adding: “At Sahara Group, we believe that interventions like the UNDP-Sahara partnership will enhance productivity and shared prosperity in Africa.”
Following the findings of a scientific study confirming that an average of ten facial muscles are required for a small smile, six muscles for a small frown, 12 muscles for a big smile and 11 for a frown, it is clear that even the smallest of smiles requires energy. Hopefully, the UNDP-Sahara Group partnership will provide the energy required to put smiles on people’s faces in Africa.