By Dr. Suleiman Walhad
May 18th, 2022
In this article we address the consequences of the adverse climatic changes and the energy potential of the region that could help lessen the impact of these adverse weather changes. This is not an in-depth study of the subject but would touch on it to enable the leadership of the region and its ordinary population take stock of the opportunities at their front doors. It is hoped that both the region’s leadership, and its populations, at large, will find solutions for these adverse climatic changes from which they suffer regularly and in a mesmerizing frequency, through the available potential energy, both fossil and renewables.
The Adverse effects of Weather Changes
The Horn of Africa States has one major recurring crisis – This is a cyclical climate issue that affects millions of the people of the region in the form of droughts and famines interspersed by floods and flooding periodically also. It has a great impact on the lives of the people, which the leadership of the region need to understand and address, for this will continue in the foreseeable future, and maybe for the rest of the century.
The region is generally engaged to the hilt in political melodramas and civil conflicts which takes away the attention of the leadership from the real problems at hand – the climatic changes, which is, as a matter of fact, a security risk, for if there is no peace, there is only misery, hunger, migration, death and diseases. It is a sad story to see a very rich region in terms of almost everything except a capable leadership, capable of working together, capable of addressing the real needs of the population, capable of removing the old prejudices and legacies of the ancient politicians and not allowing the populations to do their daily life-sustenance activities of agriculture (farming and pastoralism), artisanal works, construction, production of their implements, their trade with others an so on and so forth, fishing, manufacturing, mining, education and health services – the normal chores of any living society anywhere.
The Horn of Africa has not polluted the earth, but its population is one of those unfortunates that suffer most from these climatic changes caused by polluters from afar. The region suffers because of lack of water despite plenty of it and food insecurity, which give rise to political and economic unsustainability, and which, in turn, leads to violent civil wars, cross border conflicts, and hence, more scarcity of water and food, and eventualy migration. It is one of the main causes of political upheavals and tensions among the nations of the region and within the nations and, therefore, retards their development and the region as a whole.
The Horn of Africa States leadership, in terms of the governing parties, the opposition parties and the elites of the region, need to make informed review on the matter of climate change and prepare the region for the next cycle that will surely come and should they not take appropriate preparations on confronting these climatic malaises, the people will continue to suffer its devastations. Working together would be the first step in the right direction. Their concentration on their political maneuverings and games, undermining each other, as has been the case so far, is definitely catastrophic. The region’s leadership should understand that there is no one party’s wellbeing, but the region’s general wellbeing.
The region enjoys many assets, which today remain unexploited in terms of energy sources and the leadership, as we defined before, need to put their minds together to taking advantage of these bounties, the best way they can. There is water energy in terms creating dams like the GERD on all its possible cataracts and water falls in its rivers, wind energy as the land enjoys plenty of winds from every direction, fossil fuels both onshore and onshore and potentially in enormous quantities, geothermic energy in the volcanic landscape of some of its regions, and of course solar energy.
The region has one of the largest solar hours in the world. The region is hungry in terms of energy and there is truly no regional grid. The GERD is the first truly gigantic step in the direction of substantial electric power generation to address the region’s energy poverty. Yet the way it looks, the leadership of the region largely see it as an Ethiopian asset only and pay little attention to the great burden befalling on Ethiopia because of the GERD. The region should see that it would be beneficial to all members of the region and support the completion of the project as well as the negotiations going on with non-regional parties that have vested interests in the waters of the region. Participating in a collective bargaining approach to all matters of interest to the region should be a prime responsibility of the region’s leadership. Note the importance of the connection of Ethiopia’s electric network and that of Djibouti and how it has eased the pressures on Djibouti’s network, under its intense summer temperatures, which makes life in that country almost unbearable.
Over some eighty million of the population of the region have no source of energy and hence use charcoal as a source of energy for cooking, ironing and even making implements. This puts the trees and forest lands of the region under great threat, which in turn lessens rainfall and hence less water. It is a long chain that is interconnected, where one false step leads to another and another and another and hence the continuing turmoil of the region in terms of politics and governing, lack of health and education and eventually the mass migration to other parts of the world, for which the region is famous.
The region’s potential renewable energy development is enormous. Somalia’s annual solar radiation estimation is over 2450 kWh/m2/year. Ethiopia receives around 1,898 kWh/m2/ of solar radiation each year And Eritrea receives around 2200 kWh/m2/year of solar radiation each year while Djibouti has over three thousand hours/year of sunshine duration and solar radiation of 2300 kWh/m2/year. This is a total of 8,848 kWh/m2/year of solar radiation (source: Erkan Dursun, Marmara University: Solar Energy Potential in Horn of Africa, Balkan Journal of Electrical and Computer Engineering – September 2021). The solar radiation of the region is sufficient and ideal for photovoltaic systems (PV), which can be used for both on-grid and off-grid applications, especially refrigeration, lighting, communications, water pumping and some others.
Most of the population of the Horn of Africa live in rural environments and at present there is poor national and regional electric grid infrastructures, and it would be ideal to develop off grid networks that are based on the vast availability of solar energy. The picture below shows a solar energy station in Eritrea, which supplies electric power to the town nearby.
Hydro energy could also be another major source of energy for the region and the GERD in Ethiopia is a vanguard infrastructure in this respect, although it does anger downstream nations such as Sudan and Egypt. A good, negotiated settlement of the issue would be ideal for, indeed, there is no other way. Egypt did build a huge Dam on the Nile and so did Sudan. They should accept that the source country and region should also put dams on the river Nile to benefit their equally enormous populations that need both water and energy.
Hydropower is a renewable energy source and represents a mature, reliable, cost effective and environmentally friendly way of producing electricity and the region enjoys tangible sources of this energy. Linking the electricity grids of the member countries of the Horn Africa States, would assist in the economic integration process and would strengthen the region, in its negotiating ploy with non-regional parties.
Despite the fact that there are enormous pressures on moving away from fossil fuels to renewables, yet fossil fuels remain the main source of energy for the world. The Horn of Africa States is believed to have substantial potentially exploitable hydrocarbon wealth. The Horn of Africa is said to be a new frontier in the exploration for hydrocarbons after Anadarko Petroleum made a large gas discovery off Mozambique two decades ago. Many companies from the West, mostly British, French, Italian and, of course, American companies are all working to exploit the potential resources of the region and are busy fending of Asian (Chinese, Arab and Indian) interests and investors.
The competition among those foreign parties is putting a lot of strains on the region, perhaps, even fueling the continuing civil wars in the region. Ethiopia, which was, once the most stable state in the region, is now under enormous pressure fending off what seems to be foreign inspired conflict within the country. Somalia with an extensive hydrocarbon potential has paid a heavy price as a result of this competition for these precious products (oil and gas). The Ukraine crisis and Europe’s quest to find alternative sources of oil and gas, is expected to assist the first exploitation of the hydrocarbon resource of the region in the not-too-distant future, perhaps in offshore wells on the Somali coast. The election of a new President in Somalia, thought to be an understandable person, a couple of days ago, seems to point in that direction.
The Horn of Africa States is an extremely important region and, therefore, attracts both friends and foes. It straddles an extremely important geographic space that overlooks the Red Sea, the Bab El Mandab, the Gulf of Aden and the Somali Sea (northeastern Indian Ocean). This is one of the most important shipping lanes in the world where ships transporting not only normal goods but also tankers transporting oil and gas to Europe and the Americas from West Asia ply. The region is also the source of the Blue Nile, which provides water to Sudan and Egypt – a lifeline that Egypt labels “a gift of God to Egypt”, ignoring the fact that it is, indeed, a gift to all the parties and lands it passes through from source to the sea.
The leadership of the region should ensure that it is important not to be divided like what happened to it towards the end of the nineteenth century. Every community or society has internal differences and that is why laws are made to ensure that every member of the community abides by it and so do countries, regional blocks and even the United Nations. The regional leaders should be taking the lead to ensure that the region remains united while keeping and maintaining the peculiarities of each member so that differences within each country and between the countries of the region are not exploited by those who have are not fans of the people of the region but are mostly interested in exploiting its huge natural wealth. We must always remember that “Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable”.
The region enjoys substantial energy sources, and its people should not be energy poor as seems to be the case now. The region must sweat to ensure that its population is not energy poor anymore for as Nigerians say, “success is only 10% ability and 90% sweat”.
It is always better to swim together and not sink divided
*Dr. Walhad writes on the Horn of Africa economies and politics. He can be reached at [email protected]