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Nigeria Bets on Solar Energy to Power Its COVID-19 Recovery

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Suleiman Babamanu is helping the Rural Electrification Agency of Nigeria implement the country’s largest investment in solar energy.

Babamanu, technical project lead for Solar Power Naija at the Rural Electrification Agency of Nigeria

Suleiman Babamanu’s path to the heart of Nigeria’s biggest solar power program started in disappointment. After university he worked as a trainee geoscientist for a unit of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. A job in the industry—Nigeria is Africa’s biggest oil producer—would have been a traditional route, and a lucrative one. But he couldn’t find employment.

This was about 2010, when the growth of clean energy around the world made it start to seem like a potential career path. The industry hadn’t gained much traction in Nigeria, and he set aside the idea, until a conversation with a relative persuaded him to reconsider.

“A cousin told me not to go where the money is but where the money is going,” he says. “I immediately changed my mind and applied for a master’s degree in renewable energy, and I got a scholarship.” That sent him to Newcastle University in the U.K. and then on to a range of public and private jobs in his home country’s renewables industry, including projects that had received World Bank funding.

Now, as technical project lead at the Rural Electrification Agency, he’s one of the officers helping implement Nigeria’s largest investment in solar power, part of the country’s Covid economic recovery plan. The project, Solar Power Naija, is also a step toward solving one of Nigeria’s biggest problems: a lack of reliable electricity.

Under the Paris Climate Agreement, Nigeria has pledged to cut carbon emissions 20% by 2030. To get there, it aims to generate 30% of its energy from renewables. To make progress, 10% of the government’s 2.3 trillion naira ($5.6 billion) of spending to spur recovery from the pandemic will be used to install 5 million solar home systems. The aim is to provide electricity to 25 million people in rural communities that now have no access to the grid.

With Solar Power Naija, the government is aiming to fix the development problems that a lack of access to electricity has created, as well as the pollution that fuel-powered generators, one of the most popular power sources, cause.

“Rural communities, the companies, and people that are using generators or even candles would have access to a cleaner and more efficient power supply,” Babamanu says. “Emissions will be greatly reduced.”

The rollout will focus on building standalone connections, which use solar panels to charge batteries that can then be used at any time, and minigrids, which operate in a similar way but can service larger needs. Both will function separately from the national grid.

The project will also give bidders from across the industry low-interest government loans instead of contracts or grants to finance the equipment and construction—a departure from Nigeria’s normal approach to electrification. Companies will repay what they’ve borrowed with income from customers.

“It’s good that the government is trying to use renewables not just as a tool for solving the energy problem but also for poverty alleviation,” says Adedeji Adeniran, a senior fellow at the Centre for the Study of the Economies of Africa in Abuja. “This shows it’s taking the sustainable agenda seriously.”

Culled from Bloomberg

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Ethiopia Conflict Dynamics Shift as New U.S. Envoy Takes Over

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Recent signs out of Ethiopia are encouraging, but major issues standing in the way of a sustainable peace remain unresolved.


By Michelle Gavin, Guest columnist and blogger

News coming out of Addis Ababa suggests that the conflict in Ethiopia is entering a new phase. For over a year, momentum seemed to be forever driving toward worsening violence between the federal government, its allies, and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), as well as a deepening rift between the Ethiopian government and international partners including the United States. But now the TPLF has retreated back to Tigray, and federal ground forces have declined to advance on the region. Ethiopian authorities have freed prominent opposition leaders from prison—including members of the TPLF and Oromo groups that have been at odds with the government—framing the pardons and amnesty as a step toward unity and reconciliation. Late last month, lawmakers approved the establishment of a national dialogue commission that will seek political solutions to the multiple fractures in Ethiopian society. While the dialogue as envisioned will not include armed opponents of the government, it could perhaps create a pathway toward more inclusive and consequential talks.

But not all the news is good. Humanitarian conditions in Tigray are as dire as ever, in large part because the Ethiopian government continues to impede access to the region. Ongoing aerial attacks on civilian targets are exacerbating the loss and suffering, killing Ethiopians and refugees and prompting aid organizations to suspend operations because they cannot safely do their work. This weekend the TPLF claimed that Eritrean forces were continuing to fight in Tigray—a claim that, if true, would render the restraint of federal forces far less meaningful. Meanwhile, many Ethiopians who were swept up in a wave of dubious arrests targeting human rights activists, journalists, and ethnic Tigrayan Ethiopians—whose only crime seemed to be their ethnicity—are still detained.

The Biden administration is assessing these developments and trying to capitalize on the positive trends as it transitions from Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman, whose resignation was announced last week, to his successor, David Satterfield. It will be important to resist the temptation of wishful thinking in this moment and to ensure that a desire for a reset of the bilateral relationship does not lead to a selective reading of the latest developments. There are positive signs, but doubts over the sincerity of the government’s desire for peace persist, as do real questions about the sustainability of steps toward peace. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s political base may have been unified in its animus toward the TPLF, but without an urgent threat from a common enemy, competing and sometimes contradictory interests will be hard to satisfy. Some of the militant Amhara nationalists that Abiy relied on over the past year already view the latest amnesties as a betrayal. Eritrea will continue to pursue its own agenda, which does not entail standing down while Ethiopians resolve their political differences peacefully and emerge a stronger and more just society. Accountability for atrocities committed by all parties to the conflict remains elusive.

Over the past year Abiy and his supporters have used the history of U.S.-Ethiopia relations as a cudgel, pointing to Washington’s tendency to overlook internal repression and abuse during the years of TPLF dominance to question U.S. motives. It would be ironic if American desires to end this difficult period led to repeating the same mistakes. Of course, the United States wants a productive relationship with Ethiopia—especially a just, peaceful Ethiopia that models a successful heterogeneous society, champions democratic norms, and supports African institutions. But good relations with the government in Addis Ababa are not worth much if the country is tearing itself apart, simmering with grievances that explode into violence, or practicing and exporting the kind of brutal authoritarian governance that characterizes Eritrea. The United States should take care to consider the totality of the picture in Ethiopia today, remembering that it is the ultimate course of that influential country, not rapport with any one leader, that matters most.

*Michelle Gavin tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa. This article first appeared in CFR.

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Gold Mine Collapses, Kills Over 30 In Sudan

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At least 31 miners were killed and eight missing in Sudan on Tuesday when a rudimentary gold mine collapsed, a government official said.

The disaster occurred near Nuhud, a town about 500 kilometres (310 miles) west of Khartoum, said Khaled Dahwa, the head of the state-run Mineral Resources Company in West Kordofan.

“Thirty-one traditional miners were killed because of a mine collapsing,” he told AFP, adding one person survived and eight others were still missing.

Another official at the company said four miners were killed at the same mine in January.

“Authorities at the time shut down the mine and installed security but a couple of months ago they left,” he said.

Artisanal gold mining is a dangerous profession in Sudan largely due to ramshackle infrastructure.

It flourished around a decade ago in various parts of country, with people digging the ground using excavators in hopes of unearthing the precious metal.

About two million artisanal miners produce about 80 percent of the country’s annual gold production of around 80 tonnes, according to official figures.

Sudan, one of the world’s poorest countries, has recently suffered runaway inflation and embarked on tough economic reforms, including slashing subsidies on petrol and diesel and launching a managed currency float.

It is also reeling from political turbulence in the wake of a coup-led military chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan on October 25.

 

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Deadly bombing at restaurant packed for Christmas in Congo

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Officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo say at least six people have died in a suicide bomb attack on a crowded restaurant in the eastern city of Beni.

Police prevented the bomber from entering the building, but he blew himself up at the entrance killing himself and five other people.

Another 13 people were injured.

The officials blamed Saturday’s attack on the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a militant group said to be linked to the so-called Islamic State (IS).

So far no group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

More than 30 people were celebrating Christmas at the In Box restaurant when the bomb went off, two witnesses told AFP news agency.

Children and local officials were reportedly in the restaurant at the time.

“I was sitting there,” local radio presenter Nicolas Ekila told AFP. “There was a motorbike parked there. Suddenly the motorbike took off, then there was a deafening noise.”

After the explosion the military officer responsible for the state of emergency in the country’s east told residents to return home for their own safety.

There have been frequent clashes in Beni between the army and Islamists in recent weeks.

In November, Congolese and Ugandan forces began a joint operation against the ADF in an attempt to end a series of brutal attacks.

Authorities in Uganda say the group is behind a series of recent attacks in the country, including in the capital Kampala.

Map
Map

The militant group was formed in the 1990s by Ugandans disgruntled with the government’s treatment of Muslims, but it was routed from western Uganda and its remnants fled across the border to DR Congo.

It established itself in the eastern DR Congo and has been blamed for thousands of civilian killings there over the past decade, including in attacks on Christians.

In March the US put the ADF on its list of terror groups linked to IS. For its part, IS says the ADF is an affiliate.

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