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When Circumstances On The Ground Permit, We Hope To Return Home To Afghanistan

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On August 20th, I shared that our SOLA community is safe. Today, I want to share a few details as to the form that safety is taking.

Last week, we completed the departure from Kabul of nearly 250 students, faculty, staff, and family members.

Everyone is en route, by way of Qatar, to the nation of Rwanda where we intend to begin a semester abroad for our entire student body.

So many individuals played key roles in our departure, and while I can’t thank you all here, I want to publicly offer my gratitude to the governments of Qatar, Rwanda, and the United States for their critical assistance.

SOLA is resettling, but our resettlement is not permanent. A semester abroad is exactly what we’re planning.
When circumstances on the ground permit, we hope to return home to Afghanistan. For now, I request privacy for our community. My heart breaks for my country.
I’ve stood in Kabul, and I’ve seen the fear, and the anger, and the ferocious bravery of the Afghan people.
I look at my students, and I see the faces of the millions of Afghan girls, just like them, who remain behind.
Those girls cannot leave, and you cannot look away. If there’s one thing I ask of the world, it is this: do not avert your eyes from Afghanistan. Don’t let your attention wander as the weeks pass.
See those girls, and in doing so you will hold those holding power over them to account. My commitment to the women and girls of my country, just like my commitment to my students, is unwavering.
They are the fires that will never go out. Finally, I want to thank you all for the outpouring of love and support.

About the author:

Shabana Basij-Rasikh is the President of SOLA: the school she co-founded while still a teenager. Born and raised in Kabul, Shabana finished high school in the U.S. through the State Department’s Youth Exchange Studies program.

The School of Leadership, Afghanistan (SOLA) is an Afghan-led private boarding school for girls, the first of its kind in Afghanistan. SOLA’s mission is to provide Afghan girls a rigorous education that promotes critical thinking, a sense of purpose, and respect for self and others.

 

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Africans Call On Global Community To Honor Commitment To A “just and inclusive” Energy Transition

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When nearly 200 government and business leaders from around the globe signed the Paris Agreement in December 2015, they did more than commit to cutting greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change.

They also called upon developed countries to help with the considerable funding, technology transfers, and capacity-building undeveloped countries need to successfully transition away from carbon-emitting fossil fuels toward renewable energy sources.

Equally important, the treaty they signed calls for a “just and inclusive” energy transition, meaning that the road to renewable energy sources is not to be littered with the economic well-being, energy security, and stability of the world’s developing nations. It means decisions to curb CO2 emissions are not to be made in broad, sweeping strokes, but with an eye to potential impacts on individuals and communities. And it means that those who stand to be impacted by efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions will have a voice in how those measures are carried out.

Recognizing the need for this a just energy transition represents global cooperation at its best.

Unfortunately, what we’ve observed in practice hasn’t exactly lived up to those ideals. What we’re seeing instead is more of an “ends justify the means when it comes to preventing climate change”  mindset. Climate change anxiety seems to be overshadowing reason, respect, and compassion.

The global community’s approach to Africa’s energy industry, in particular, sometimes resembles a panicked crowd stampeding out of a movie theater after a fire alarm is pulled, oblivious to those who are trampled in the process.

During the last couple of years, the global community has increased pressure on African countries to speed up their energy transition. They have pushed financial institutions to divest from oil and gas and coal.  Investments in African oil and gas projects have dramatically decreased, and even worse, countries, organizations, and financial institutions have started pressuring those still considering African investments to reconsider.

Meanwhile, the funding commitments developed countries made to developing countries, billions of dollars in climate finance, have not been met.

That’s not what a just energy transition looks like.

If the world truly wants to honor the goals of the Paris Agreement, then we can’t pick and choose the parts we comply with.

That’s why we are calling for a commitment to the Paris Agreement’s call for a “just and inclusive” energy transition. One that considers each country’s needs, priorities, and unique challenges. One that allows African nations to set the timing of their energy transitions so they can fully capitalize on their energy transition’s potential benefits while minimizing negative percussions.

We address this topic in depth in the 2022 Africa Energy Outlook, (“The State of African Energy 2022”) which we’re releasing this month. The report, explores the opportunities that renewable energies represent for African nations — as well as significant challenges associated with prematurely abandoning fossil fuels, from impacts on government revenue to missed opportunities to address the continents’ widespread energy poverty.

The Promise—And Limitations—Of Renewables in Africa

Too often, during conversations about Africa’s energy landscape, people assume that I — and the African Energy Chamber (AEC) —are so caught up in protecting the continent’s oil and gas industries that we’ve lost sight of the importance and value of adding renewables, including solar, wind, and hydrogen, to Africa’s energy mix. That’s simply not true. In fact, the AEC 2022 outlook explores the benefits that renewable energy represents for Africa in great detail.

Our report calls for a broader African energy mix to accommodate rising energy demand in Africa, and it notes that increasing the usage and production of renewables stands to result in job creation, economic growth, social and health benefits, along with climate change mitigation. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) says that renewables will create 45 million jobs around the world by 2050 and lead to a 2.4% rise in the global GDP.

That is truly exciting news. However, those global benefits won’t necessarily be equally distributed, at least not yet. When we talk about growing Africa’s renewables industry, we must consider the capacity deficits that exist here. In 2018, for example, World Bank reported that while solar power was a promising means of addressing energy poverty in Africa and Asia, both continents lacked “job-ready talent to finance, develop, install, operate and manage solar power systems and other off-grid energy solutions.”

Until we address the need to build local capacity, African individuals and entrepreneurs are not going to be able to fully capitalize on the job and business opportunities new and expanded renewable energy operations represent. Foreign companies will take the lead. Workers will be brought in from Western countries. Africans may get entry-level positions — which I don’t oppose at all — but many will be passed over when it comes to better-paying positions with more responsibility.

That’s why the AEC advocates for technology and skills-sharing among Western investors and Africans. It’s why we’re pushing for the creation of local content regulations geared for renewable energy sectors and financing initiatives that will help local entrepreneurs compete effectively with their western counterparts. Most of the renewable energy players in Africa are not African. Africans are given little or no access to financing. The level of African participation in this green economy is very low and it creates more doubts about the industry opening up to many young people who seriously want to be players. It’s reasonable to demand a level playing field for Africans — and the time necessary to create it.

Of course, time is only part of the equation. To be frank, African nations also will need money. They need to put skin in the game. Its wrong to just wait for Europe and America to give you aid to build your economy or even finance energy growth. That foreign aid model has not worked in the past and will not work in the future.

An Honest Conversation About Money

Establishing widespread renewables usage and production is expensive. This is not unique to Africa: Countries around the globe are investing serious money into their own energy transitions. In 2020 alone, global spending on the energy transition totaled $501.3 billion, according to BloombergNEF’s (BNEF’s) Energy Transition Investment Trends report.

“A geographical split of BNEF’s energy transition investment data shows that Europe accounted for the biggest slice of global investment, at $166.2 billion (up 67%), with China at $134.8 billion (down 12%) and the U.S. at $85.3 billion (down 11%),” sustainability writer Felicia Jackson reported for Forbes earlier this year.

As the AEC Outlook says, renewables can foster economic growth (under the right circumstances) but that growth comes at a cost.

“Equal growth needs to be observed in annual investments, as the African energy system must see double the investment by 2030 to $40 – $65 billion,” the report states.

The falling cost of green energy technologies will help, the report continues, and we have seen commitments to invest in African renewables. For example, the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Korean Ministry of Economy and Finance, and the Export-Import Bank of Korea are providing $600 million for renewable energy solutions.

The report goes on to cite efforts by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and The Rockefeller Foundation (RF), which have partnered to mobilize $2 billion of private sector investment in distributed renewable energy solutions, including scaling a mini-grid program and battery energy storage. There are other examples as well.

But, honestly, when you look at the level of investments being made elsewhere, the activities in Africa can only be described as a good starting point. We will need more.

Unique Countries, Unique Needs

The energy transition that works for Great Britain, or Norway, or Japan is not going to work for African countries. Our continent, and each of our countries, have unique needs and challenges. Our report has not hesitated to address them, even situations that reflect poorly on African countries and their governments, from a lack of regulatory and legal frameworks, which can make investments in renewables more expensive, to problems with existing electricity grids.

“It’s important to note that each country has different socio-economic starting points and political ambitions, which will take them down different paths in the energy transition. The transitional pace is dictated by each country’s current dependence on fossil fuels, existing industrial productivity, future technology choices and depth/diversity of domestic supply chains,” the report states.

And while it may sound counterintuitive to the Western world, the strategic use of oil and gas can help African nations address these challenges. Gas can be monetized and used to create infrastructure that supports economic diversification. It also can be used to minimize energy poverty, which has made economic growth next to impossible for many African countries.

What’s more, the very presence of international oil companies (IOCs) in Africa allows for much-needed technology transfers, which will help pave the way for a successful energy transition.

Different Worlds, Different Opportunities

We find it frustrating to see the global community dismiss business activities with great potential to benefit African people, communities, and businesses simply because they involve fossil fuels. It’s difficult to be moved by platitudes written by people in a completely different reality, in a world where energy security is a given and acts of terrorism triggered by lack of jobs or economic uncertainty are unthinkable.

Don’t be so quick to snub — or get in the way of — opportunities that could mean the world to Africans. A small handful of examples included in the AEC outlook report are:

  • The Bonga Southwest – Aparo floating production storage and offloading (FPSO) development offshore Nigeria and the Pecan FPSO offshore Ghana have been picking up steam in recent months.
  • The TotalEnergies operated Cameia – Golfinho offshore Angola is undergoing pre-FEED (Front-End Engineering Design) work.
  • The Tilenga and Kingfisher South projects, both located in Uganda, are now approved and will bring online close to 1.2 billion barrels of oil within the next five years.

Operators in the region have also focused on fast-tracking recent discoveries like Cuica and Eban in the deep waters of Angola and Ghana respectively, because of their proximity to existing infrastructure.

Each of these projects represents opportunities for significant job creation, new work for local entrepreneurs, economic growth and development, monetization, infrastructure development, technology transfers, capacity building, and monetization for African countries and communities. They matter.

Include Africa in the Conversation

The African Energy Chamber advocates for a just energy transition for African countries, one that supports international goals for emissions reduction and climate production without putting African needs and priorities on the chopping block.

We look forward to working alongside the international community to achieve that objective. We simply are asking for conversations instead of lectures, partnerships and investments instead of interference and obstacles.

We realize the international community has valuable guidance, knowledge, and technological advances African nations can benefit from. We simply would like the rest of the world to acknowledge that African voices have much to contribute, as well.

Maybe then, we can build a future that’s good for all of us — and pave the way for a truly just and inclusive energy transition.

NJ Ayuk is the Executive Chairman of the African Energy Chamber (www.EnergyChamber.org)

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Exploration, Investment Opportunities In Mauritania’s Petroleum Industry

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Following the discovery (https://bit.ly/3luKJbk) of a large deposit of natural gas offshore Mauritania in the Tortue natural gas field in 2014 by U.S. deepwater exploration and production company Kosmos Energy, interest in the region’s oil and gas prospects has exploded, placing the Saharan country in the early stages of a hydrocarbon boom. Kosmos’ discovery led to the development of the Grand Tortue Ahmeyim project, which is now majority owned by oil and gas giant, BP (60%).

Comprising the maritime border between Mauritania and Senegal and at a depth of 2,850m, BP is currently (https://bit.ly/3FCS1C8) building a floating liquefied natural gas facility to tap into the field’s estimated 15 trillion cubic feet of gas, with a 30-year production potential expected to begin in 2022.

Since the discovery, four supermajor industry firms have initiated exploration activities off the coast of Mauritania, with 19 offshore blocks currently open for tenders.

The Government of Mauritania is now engaged in the early stages (https://bit.ly/3v0u42A) of transforming the port city of Nouadhibou into a hub for the region, with plans to rehabilitate the city’s oil storage capacity of 300,000 tons and to expand the capital, Nouakchott’s, capacity by 150,000 tons.

In recent years (https://bit.ly/3mZtXB1), the Government of Mauritania has been active in encouraging development in its onshore oil and gas sector – with 15,000km of 2D seismic data for the Taoudenni Basin indicating reserve potential – and its petrochemical industry – with plans to construct an oil refinery in the country.

The largest oil and gas player in Mauritania is BP, following a 2016 agreement (https://on.bp.com/3DwrDYA) to acquire working interest and operatorship of Kosmos’ exploration blocks, which contain significant deepwater gas discoveries and exploration prospects.

With a 62% working interest in offshore Blocks C-6, C-8, C-12, and C-13 alongside Kosmos (28%) and the Société Mauritanienne Des Hydrocarbures et de Patrimoine Minier (SMHPM) (10%), BP is committed to its partnership with Mauritania to assist in the sustainable development of its resources.

2018 marked new developments in the multi-national Greater Tortue Ahmeyim project following the announcement of the Final Investment Decision for Phase One of the project between BP, Kosmos Energy, the SMHPM, and the Senegalese national oil company, Petrosen.

Considering these developments – and with reserves (https://bit.ly/3mF9lhb) of 120 million barrels of oil and 1.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas – hydrocarbons are expected to surpass iron ore as the largest contributor to the Mauritanian economy, with market opportunities open for investors in oil and gas exploration, hydrocarbon refinery and storage facilities, and power generation and transmission, as well as opportunities for developers to provide supplies and logistical support to companies where oil has already been discovered.

Currently (https://bit.ly/3asIPli), Mauritania has 250 active oil and gas permits and 90 operators active in the country. The share of oil and natural resource revenue is received by the country’s national oil company, SMHPM, with these revenues managed by Fonds National de Revenus des Hydrocarbures.

Mauritania’s current legal and regulatory framework for its upstream petroleum sector is its Petroleum Code (https://bit.ly/3DAMEBH), which provides tax rules and exemptions regarding activities in the sector and promotes and regulates the production, import and export, transport, storage, and commercialization of hydrocarbons.

The Petroleum Code is designed to enable the Mauritanian Government to contribute to and benefit from upstream petroleum agreements under a production sharing contract (https://bit.ly/2YAtpJ5) (PSC), while divulging the Government’s share in revenue as well as the SMHPM’s participating interest in net cash flows.

Contractors operating in petroleum activities are granted authorization (https://bit.ly/3lsRkTR) by the state to explore, develop, and produce oil and gas in the country and are required to enter a PSC, offering the Government the option to acquire 10% interest during exploration activities and an additional 10% participation during production.

Foreign contractors operating in Mauritania are required to incorporate a local company or branch for exploration, production, and service activities. Contract holders, under the code, may also apply to extend the exploration phase of field discoveries deemed potentially commercial, encouraging the development of new oil and gas resources.

In light of the country’s bright future in its oil and gas industry, a relatively new development strategy, the Strategy for Accelerated Growth and Shared Prosperity (https://bit.ly/3v2Uy3B) (SCAPP), prepared by the Mauritanian Government and covering the period of 2016 to 2030, was validated by the Council of Ministers on 17 September 2015.

Following a detailed analysis of Mauritania’s socio-economic position, the SCAPP serves to promote inclusive, sustainable development in the country while improving governance, strengthening social development, and facilitating job creation.

The strategy (https://bit.ly/3jaBUlN) aims to foster increasingly green and inclusive high value-added activities that require large workforces in order to achieve a continuous GDP growth of at least 7% per year until 2030.

Corresponding to Mauritania’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, one of the key principles for the SCAPP is to foster and encourage specialized areas of production to promote local business activities and generate a workforce with foreign equivalent qualifications.

The role that renewable energy can play in the development of the country’s energy efficiency has been noted in the strategy to contribute to building Mauritania’s economic resilience and improve the population’s living conditions.

As one of the countries that constitute the MSGBC – Mauritania, Senegal, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, and Guinea-Conakry – Basin, Mauritania has become one of the most promising prospects for investors in the region.

With a privileged location on the Atlantic Ocean, connecting North Africa to sub-Saharan Africa, the country is poised to capitalize on its new hydrocarbon wealth and bolster the industry to become an important regional and international market.

In response to growing demand for renewable power, and increasing interest by international stakeholders to invest, develop, and succeed in Africa, Energy Capital & Power will hold the  MSGBC Oil, Gas, & Power (https://bit.ly/3BAnZfY) 2021 conference and exhibition on the 2-3 December 2021. Focused on enhancing regional partnerships, spurring investment and development in the oil, gas and power sectors, the conference will unite regional international stakeholders with African opportunities, serving as a growth-oriented platform for Africa’s energy sector. Find out more about the conference here: https://bit.ly/3AteygN

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Ecowas Must Demand Condé’s Reinstatement

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Zambia’s peaceful and orderly election in August offered a glimmer of hope that Africa’s story might be changing.

For the third time in three decades, an opposition leader defeated the sitting president, sending a message to the world that the continent may not be the incumbent’s lair after all.

Opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema didn’t just win; the incumbent, Edgar Lungu, accepted defeat and congratulated the winner.

But hopes that Zambia’s election could be a turning point have since dissipated, as soldiers in the west African country of Guinea overthrew the civilian government while the continent was still savouring its Zambia moment.

Guinea President Alpha Condé (83), who wangled himself in place for a third presidential term in 2020, was kicked out of office, sparking images of déjà vu in what would be the fourth military strike – three of them successful – on the continent in six months.

Was the violent and catastrophic fall of Condé inevitable?

I’ve heard the argument that Condé didn’t have to go, that his country needed him more than he needed the country, and that the crooked referendum by which he gave himself an extra 10 years was for the good of Guinea.

In an article published last October and titled, “Why Guinea still needs Condé”, Nigerian journalist Aniebo Nwamu said, with a hint of satire, “having elections every four years is a Western tradition. It’s expensive – and it achieves little for us in Africa. Only when an incumbent underperforms should we have cause to seek their replacement.”

Well, Condé is what you get for the mistaken belief that politics can produce messiahs.

The veteran leader of the opposition, who proclaimed himself Guinea’s Mandela, couldn’t overcome the temptation to match Paul Biya’s disgraceful record in self-perpetuation.

It is precisely because politics is inherently incapable of producing messiahs that term limits are needed to save the system from abuse, encourage competition and accountability and potentially inspire a new generation of leaders with new ideas.

Sure, if Condé had served out his additional two terms of 10 years, bringing his total to 20, and later stepped down at 93 years of age with his juices still flowing, he would still not have outdone his predecessors, Ahmed Sékou Touré, who ruled for 26 years, or Lansana Conté, who ruled for 24.

And that is part of the reason Guinea is where it is today. That country, like its cousins across much of Africa, has had the misfortune of leaders who take their countries for a ride.

They tell themselves that they are performing well, and that they are also indispensable. Why waste time and public resources to test performance by periodic ballot when even the blind ought to see the benefits of the indispensable leader?

The result, unfortunately, is what happened in Guinea last Sunday. Not that any of what the apparent coup leader, Mamadi Doumbouya, said to justify the coup makes sense.

It doesn’t. It was an insult for him to speak as if soldiers have a monopoly of patriotism, that they are the Salvation Army unspoiled by endemic elite corruption and just waiting to save the country and hand it over to long-suffering citizens. Nonsense.

Africa has been here before, ruled by military strongmen with the God complex. And the continent still carries the scars of the abuse of power and millions of lives lost to instability and conflicts often rooted in violent and disorderly transfer of power caused by military dictatorships.

At the nadir of its infamy, a Nigerian military chief, General Salihu Ibrahim, regretted that the army that was supposed to be on a rescue mission had lost its way after 19 years in power and become a part of the problem.

In his words, it had also become “an army of anything goes”. At the time, civilians had been in charge for 14 out of 33 years of Nigeria’s independence. Soldiers, who were in charge for the rest of the time, had become the piston of the engine, elaborately documented in Tom Burgis’ book, The Looting Machine.

Guinea wasn’t different. And the claim of its new military leaders to sainthood is an insult that suggests that the coup leaders are in denial of their country’s history.

From Lansana Conté to Moussa Dadis Camara, who were both soldiers, The Looting Machine documents monumental fraud in Guinean iron ore contracts up and down the corridors of power, reaching to the innermost circles of the military elite’s family members and merrily perpetrated with their active support and connivance.

Events in Niger, Chad, Mali and now, Guinea, are particularly troubling not only because of their contiguity, but also because all four are Francophone.

There are nine Francophone countries in west Africa and the four troubled ones make up 17% of the region’s population of around 441 million.

Paris has, of course, maintained a curiously prudent silence since the Sunday coup, letting the UN do the difficult job of calling out the new military regime in Conakry. But French silence speaks louder than words.

The stifling grip of France over the economies of these countries, which virtually sucks the life out of them, has compounded the misery and vulnerability of a number of the Francophone countries.

There are other complications, of course. The collapse of Libya, for example, has aggravated the spread of arms in the Sahel and re-energised extremist tendencies among the Tuaregs and other jihadist groups in the region.

Climate change has complicated matters for the agrarian and herder populations in these areas, and on top of that, the Covid-19 pandemic sparked predictions of Armageddon. It’s difficult to say what could be the most potent single factor in the adverse wind blowing across the Sahel.

Yet, some swear that of all the possible reasons, the potential complicity of Paris, and the pushback by a few leaders in the area fed up with being France’s puppets, could be the most significant factor.

Did Condé fall because of his country’s resistance to the incredibly lopsided CFA arrangement, a legacy of French colonial rule, which ties 50% of the deposits of 14 Francophone countries to the French treasury at a fixed rate?

What did the French military, which has a significant presence in the region, know about the coup in Mali? Did they look the other way during the palace coup in Chad?

It’s hard to nail the last straw. However complicit outside influence may be in the recent turn of events, African leaders must take responsibility.

It’s true that adverse conditions such as Ebola, destabilisation in the Sahel, reports of ex-servicemen joining non-state actors, and the Covid-19 pandemic affected the fortunes of Guinea and the subregion as a whole.

But the political elite, at the state and subregional levels, needs to show that it understands the nature of the threat, and stop feeding the fire by its indifference or irresponsible conduct – or both.

From Guinea to Mali and from Nigeria to Cameroon, the political elite has mismanaged, and even inflamed, ethnic tensions with their insensitivity.

Tolerance for press freedom is declining and opposition parties, where they are tolerated, are treated like the enemy.

Even within the governing parties, dissenting voices are sidelined and governance is often by a privileged few talking to themselves.

Bad examples have become so widespread – and inspirational leadership so scarce – that until recently former US President Donald Trump seemed to be the new standard.

The slide must stop. And a good place to start would be for leaders in the subregion to take a long, hard look at themselves and begin to live up to the standards they promised their citizens.

After watching Chad and Mali fall without consequence, soldiers in Guinea are obviously tempted to ask themselves, why not?

Before this hubris takes root, the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) and the African Union must go beyond tepid statements.

They must demand the immediate and unconditional restoration of President Condé, and lay down the consequences of non-compliance.

That is the only language bullies understand – consequences. When Ecowas took a stand in Gambia, Yahya Jammeh didn’t need an interpreter to know there would be consequences if he refused to step down after losing the ballot.

The soldiers in Guinea need a similar lesson, now before the string of coups becomes a cascade.

 

Dailymaverick

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