Late Monday, Chad’s communication minister Chérif Mahamat Zene said that a government measure to slow down internet speed in the country, introduced on July 22, was intended to halt “the dissemination of messages inciting hate and division.” He said the slowdown would be lifted soon, but did not specify a date.
Speaking anonymously, Chadian telecommunications officials allege this most recent blackout was in response to a video circulating on WhatsApp and social media showing a Chadian military officer in a dispute with two mechanics firing point-blank at one of them. The man died of his wounds. Some social media users have pointed out that the soldier was from the same community as President Idriss Déby.
The social media shutdown lasted sixteen months
This is not the first time Chad has limited Internet access. In March 2018, the government blocked access to social media platforms after protests had broken out over proposed constitutional amendments allowing Déby to remain in power until 2033. The shutdown lasted sixteen months. The official justification was a similar argument of protecting internal security, but civil society organizations claimed the real motive was to suppress public dissent against Déby, who has ruled Chad since he seized power in 1990.
Kenya has set its sights on joining the club of commercial nuclear power users. The country’s Nuclear Power and Energy Agency has submitted an environmental and social assessment report for a proposed US$5 billion nuclear power plant, which it says is on track to be completed in about seven years. A preferred site has been chosen near the coast in Tana River County, halfway between Mombasa and the Somalian border.
The document is available for public comment before the National Environment Management Authority can issue a license for construction to start.
Studies based on the Kenya Vision 2030development blueprint, introduced in 2008, show that the country will have to generate about eight times as much electricity by 2031 as it currently does to meet the expected energy demand.
With this proposal, Kenya joins nine other sub-Saharan African countries—Ethiopia, Ghana, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia—that are considering or planning nuclear power programs.
It has been a troublesome past few days for Algeria, with power outages and drinking water shutoffs impacting the capital Algiers and several other cities during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, celebrated on Friday. Moreover, the banks had a liquidity problem, and country has seen a sharp economic downturn due to lower revenue from its energy industry. Capping this all off were forest fires that have destroyed hundreds of hectares of vegetation.
The combination of these misfortunes prompted President Abdelmadjid Tebboune to launch an investigation into what his administration believes were targeted actions meant to destabilize the country. Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad, speaking to reporters, blamed the water shortages on the deliberate sabotage of a desalination plant. Djerad also said people were caught setting the fires, but he did not provide any further details.
The greatest contributors to the forest fires were desertification and rising temperatures
The geography journal Méditerranée published a study in 2013 that found the greatest contributors to the forest fires were desertification and rising temperatures accelerated by climate change. The underlying problem was poor urban planning processes that led to population-dense regions burning forests to clear space for agriculture and housing.
Depicting these setbacks as deliberate actions could be a way for the Algerian government to lend itself legitimacy in cracking down on public protests, especially as the Hirak movement continues to gather in the streets demanding the complete overhaul of the Algerian political system.
Once a global leader and the continent’s leading energy producer, in a little over a decade South Africa’s electricity public utility has fallen into a pattern of disrepair that was once unimaginable.
The country saw its first blackouts in 2007, at a cost to the economy of just under US$1 billion. By 2019, the electricity lost to load shedding* had escalated to 1,352 gigawatt hours (GWh) and a total of 530 hours, up from the 176 GWh shed in 2007.
Load shedding is structured incrementally, increasing from Stage 1, where 1,000 megawatts (MW) are removed from the grid, up to Stage 8, where up to 8,000 MW would be shed. South Africa hit Stage 6 in 2019, its highest stage yet, with 6,000 MW taken off the grid at a time.
These losses come at a cost. Energy analyst Chris Yelland has calculated that each stage of load shedding cost the South African economy R1 billion (US$60 million) per day, per stage. For example, a day spent at Stage 3 load shedding would lead to a loss of R3 billion (US$180 million) over the 24-hour period. In 2019 alone, South Africa’s electricity instability cost the country somewhere between US$3.6 billion and US$7.2 billion.
South Africa still accounts for nearly a third of the continent’s installed capacity
The paradox of the South African case is that the country has increased its shortages tenfold over the past decade and increased its energy insecurity, yet it still accounts for nearly a third of the continent’s installed capacity, with about 52 gigawatts (GW). Relative to its local neighbors, South Africa is still doing fairly well with regard to government-provided energy supply. However, that’s not the neighborhood it’s trying to compete in, and that’s also not the system its economy was designed for.
The South African economy was built on an alliance between cheap energy and mining. Eskom’s initial model of operation prioritized the security of energy supply at all costs. This changed in the 1980s when the National Party government removed the organization’s internal capital development fund and increased Treasury’s oversight of new investments. Reforms introduced in the 1990s created further confusion in the decision-making process around new capacity, and the problem remains unresolved more than twenty years later. So, while there has been awareness since 1998 of the impact of Eskom’s ageing infrastructure, to date, no credible plan has been provided to address it.
The public utility is now characterized by ageing, poorly maintained infrastructure and severe delays in the construction of its new power plants.
COVID-19 has provided some relief in terms of demand
Eskom started 2020 in poor form: by the end of January, it had already shed 143 GWh, nearly as much as the 2007 total. The COVID-19-induced lockdown, introduced in late March, reduced electricity demand significantly and led to a decline in outages. This trend began to change as the economy started opening up in June, leading to a series of blackouts.
Although COVID-19 has provided some relief in terms of demand, it has also thwarted some of the long-term maintenance plans set out my Eskom. The public utility had previously scheduled to take 2,000 MW off the grid for nine months to do a full rebuild from July 1. However, travel restrictions caused by the pandemic have limited access to scarce technical skills and resources to pursue the detailed maintenance.
In mid-July, the German Embassy, working together with the Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation and the South African–German Chamber of Commerce and Industry, chartered a Lufthansa flight to bring a team of German technical experts to South Africa. The experts, invited by German businesses operating in South Africa, are expected to provide technical expertise that cannot be found locally, such as upgrading high-tech production facilities in the Eastern Cape, and supporting Eskom in the maintenance and upgrade of its power plants.
According to the first issue of the 2020 OECD Economic Outlook—a biannual analysis of major economic trends and prospects—South Africa’s economic trajectory in a post-COVID-19 landscape will be heavily impacted by its ability to address the structural issues of its economy, notably the rising costs and instability of electricity supply.
Over the past few years, Eskom has flirted with a number of technologies in an attempt to stabilize the grid, including nuclear, but it is uncertain where the country’s next major energy investment will be. Thus far, the only independent producers to provide power to the grid are those under the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement (REIPPP) program: 6,329 MW of renewable energy has been procured to date, of which 3,876 MW is currently connected to the grid.
South Africa faces a choice in the near future: either feed more power into the grid, or create an economic system less reliant on a centralized electricity provider.
* Load shedding describes the process of strategically cutting power to specific areas in order to stabilize the grid when demand outstrips supply.
Nchimunya Hamukoma is an economist and policy strategist (@N_Hamukoma).
Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed’s office put out a press release on July 21 confirming the first year’s filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) has been achieved thanks to heavier than normal seasonal rainfall and runoff. Abiy commended the African Union for leading the latest talks between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt to address their differences over the dam’s filling and operation, and said that further technical discussions would continue.
The statement was light on details but seems to indicate that Ethiopia is pulling back from some of its more aggressive rhetoric used against Egypt, as the two nations have rattled sabers at each other over the course of negotiations. Egyptian hackers have even launched a cyberattack on Ethiopian government websites in the past month.
There has been no official response to the press release from Egypt or Sudan.
Egypt has referred to the GERD as an “existential threat” over fears that a rapid filling of the dam could lower water levels in the Nile to a dangerous degree. Amid rumors last week that Ethiopia had begun to fill the GERD before an agreement had been reached between the three countries, Sudan reported a drop in the water level of the Blue Nile—also known as the Abbay River—reaching it from upstream Ethiopia.
When Egypt sought urgent clarification from Ethiopia over the reports that the reservoir was being filled, the Ethiopian water and energy minister responded that the level was rising due to heavy rains and not to conscious efforts to fill the dam. He said the overflow would be “triggered soon.”
Key Questions Remain
The key questions are how much water Ethiopia will release in years of low rainfall, and how future disputes will be resolved.
The United States, United Nations, and African Union have mediated negotiations to resolve the impasse. The American response has been ambivalent, however, as some in the Trump administration want to side with Egypt, a strategic US military partner, whereas others worry this risks driving a wedge between the US and Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most populous nation.
Mass demonstrations have persisted in Mali despite the threat of COVID-19. Many thousands of Malians have taken to the streets since June to protest against President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta’s handling of the jihadist insurgency, a declining economy, and government corruption. On July 10 and 11, these actions culminated in the death of up to eleven people as protesters blockaded roads, stormed the national assembly, and occupied the offices of the state broadcaster in Bamako, forcing it off the air.
President Keïta announced the dissolution of the constitutional court
In response to this latest escalation, President Keïta announced the dissolution of the country’s constitutional court, which had been the focus of public frustration after overturning several provisional results for parliamentary seats of the hotly contested elections held in April. In a televised address on Saturday, Keïta insisted on working with the political opposition to create a new constitutional court and implement some of the demands issued by the Mouvement du 5 Juin–Rassemblement des Forces Patriotiques, a coalition of opposition political parties and civil society organizations headed by Imam Mahmoud Dicko.
Opposition leaders have reacted with suspicion at Keïta’s plea for collaboration, pointing to the arrest of several protest leaders by security forces on the same say. Even the Convergence pour le Développement du Mali (CODEM), a party that is ostensibly aligned with Keïta, issued a strongly worded condemnation of the disproportionate use of force against demonstrators and demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Boubou Cissé.
Hopes of the Libyan economy clawing its way back from the brink of collapse were dashed this past weekend when Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Tobruk-based Libyan National Army (LNA), said the LNA would maintain a blockade of Libyan ports and oil fields. This reimposition of the embargo against oil exports after it was briefly lifted is to force discussion about a fair distribution of oil revenue. The LNA is also demanding an audit of the central bank in Tripoli, the seat of the Government of National Accord (GNA).
Libya’s economy is heavily dependent on oil, which, in 2018, accounted for US$24.2 billion, or just under 87 percent, of all exports. When Haftar first instituted the blockade in January 2020, production dropped from 1.2 million to about 100,000 barrels of oil per day.
The state-owned National Oil Corporation (NOC), based in Tripoli, claimed on July 5 that Russian private military contractors of the Wagner Group had occupied Sharara oil field, a claim Russia denies. The NOC has also accused the United Arab Emirates, which supports Haftar, of instructing the LNA to reimpose the blockade, a charge that neither the LNA nor UAE has responded to yet.
Earlier this week, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari announced the launch of the US$2.8 billion Ajaokuta-Kaduna-Kano (AKK) Gas Pipeline project, which he promised would significantly improve power generation for domestic use and gas-based industries. In addition, the pipeline is anticipated to bring both greater infrastructure investment and employment to towns along the pipeline’s route, benefitting the provinces of Kano, Kaduna, Niger, Abuja, and Kogi State.
Nigeria has begun work on the first 200 kilometers of the 614-kilometer-long AKK pipeline route, which forms part of the planned 1,300-kilometer-long Trans-Nigeria Gas Pipeline, a project largely financed by China Export & Credit Insurance Corporation and several Chinese banks.
Nigeria formally joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative in February 2019
Buhari’s promise of economic prosperity arising from this project underscores Nigeria’s slumping energy industry and regular power outages despite being Africa’s largest oil producer. The COVID-19 pandemic in particular took a heavy toll on the industry: at the conclusion of the first half of the 2020 fiscal year, oil and gas companies listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange reported a loss of about US$457.8 million.
China’s strong presence on this project reflects its broader infrastructure diplomacy in Africa, enacted through its Belt and Road Initiative, which Nigeria formally joined in February 2019.
Ethiopia wants to start filling the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in the Blue Nile in July, when the rainy season starts, but it has not yet reached a final agreement with Egypt and Sudan downriver. Egypt fears it would reduce its water supply, and Sudan warned on Wednesday that the filling of the GERD without an agreement between the three countries would pose a risk to its own dams. Sudan is especially concerned about Roseires Dam near the Ethiopian border, which plays an important role in supplying the country with water and hydroelectric power.
The latest round of negotiations also failed to produce a compromise
Consultations have been ongoing between the three countries, with input from the World Bank and the United States. Most issues have been resolved, but the remaining bones of contention are the fill rate of the 74 billion cubic meter reservoir and the long-term operation of the dam.
The latest round of negotiations, by videoconference, also failed to produce a compromise. On June 19, Egypt requested the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to intervene to resolve the dispute with Ethiopia, after which Sudan sent a letter to the UNSC expressing its concern over the filling of the dam without a signed agreement. The UNSC will discuss the issue on Monday, June 29.
And the African Union’s Executive Council will hold an emergency video meeting on Friday, June 26, to discuss the dispute in response to a call from South African president Cyril Ramaphosa, the current chairman of the African Union.
Ghana recently completed phase one of a three-part process to develop the infrastructure for producing nuclear power in coordination with the International Atomic Energy Agency. The focus of the first phase was on conducting a series of studies on the rationale for and feasibility of introducing nuclear power to the national and West African energy grid, a tall order considering the steep costs of constructing and maintaining nuclear reactors.
Ghana’s current installed generating capacity of 4,132 MW comprises hydroelectric power (38 percent); thermal power fueled by oil, natural gas and diesel (61 percent); and solar power (1 percent). Actual availability, however, rarely exceeds 2,400 MW due to various factors, including inadequate fuel supplies. To meet the energy demands of its growing population, currently at about 28 million, requires the country to rely on the broader West African energy grid to supplement the shortfall.
Phase Two of the nuclear plan will include meetings with potential stakeholders, developing a government financing scheme and a framework for nuclear waste disposal protocols, and determining suitable sites for construction. Dr. Robert B. M. Sogbadjie, coordinator of the Ghana Nuclear Power Program, confirmed during a press conference that four sites have already been picked out, but did not disclose their locations. Phase two is anticipated to begin in 2024, with construction to be completed by 2030.
South Africa has had a nuclear power plant since 1984
Should Ghana succeed in this endeavor, it would make it only the second country in Africa to have nuclear power, alongside South Africa, which has had a functioning nuclear power plant—providing 5 percent of the country’s total energy output—since 1984. Furthermore, Ghana’s initiative on nuclear power could incentivize other African nations to do so as well, moving the continent away from fossil fuels while meeting the energy needs of a growing population.