A Scramble For African Energy

By Ariel Cohen, Alum of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University

Wars often change the course of history – that’s a cliché. But it is also a truth. Before the war in Ukraine, the European Union was resolute in its green evangelism. Now the 27-member bloc is waking up to a harsh reality. The strategy of relying on Russian energy to avoid Middle Eastern quagmires and engage with Russia via an EU-wide Ostpolitik has failed. Schroeder and Merkel got an egg on their collective face, although Macron did not get the memo yet.

Their strategy, which has jeopardized Europe’s energy security, offers little reprieve. Now the EU is scrambling for new suppliers of liquified natural gas (LNG) to replace Russia’s piped gas. German Green Party has morphed into a coal lobby.

Energy-hungry eyes in Europe turn to Sub-Saharan Africa as a solution to these energy woes, but what does this gaze imply for European climate policy and African energy politics? Despite obstacles, North Africa is a practical alternative to Russian gas owing to existing pipeline infrastructure and LNG supply relationships. Further south, large quantities of LNG can be produced, from Nigeria and Angola to Tanzania and Mozambique. In late May, the African Export-Import Bank and the African Petroleum Producers Association established the African Energy Transition Bank to reinforce existing relations and address the withdrawal of international financing for Africa’s oil and gas industry.

The EU has proven eager to leap at this opportunity and incorporated exploring “the export potential of sub-Saharan African countries like Nigeria, Senegal, and Angola” into its REPowerEU strategy— the bloc’s plan to reduce its dependence on Russian energy imports rapidly. Individual actors have also hurried to secure their share. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz traveled to Africa at the end of May to offer cooperation on gas production in Senegal. Italian oil and gas giant, ENI, has committed to bringing an LNG project off the coast of Congo onstream next year.

These initiatives are built upon the two continent’s longstanding trade and energy ties. The Africa-EU Energy Partnership (AEEP) was launched in 2007 to foster greater access to affordable and sustainable energy services in Africa. This partnership was supported by creating the Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs in 2018 to promote African employment and sustainable development.

Africa may become the core of Europe’s current plans for promoting its climate change strategy. In December 2021, the European Commission launched the Global Gateway strategy to mobilize €300 billion in investment for lasting global recovery. Approximately 50% of that investment is committed to partnerships on expediting energy transitions and infrastructure development in Africa, particularly renewable energy generation and biodiversity protection.

The current lack of appropriate European infrastructure and African geopolitical uncertainty challenge the EU’s plans. Most of Africa’s gas producers only export LNG, which Europe is now ill-equipped to receive due to a shortage of regasification import terminal capacity. Algeria, one of Europe’s main natural gas suppliers, suspended its 20-year friendship treaty with Spain in June and significantly reduced its gas exports. This comes after last year’s conflict between Algeria, and Morocco shut down the Maghreb-Europe pipeline, considerably affecting the supply chain. Algeria is not an outlier as security concerns in Mozambique, Nigeria, and the Democratic Republic of Congo have all disrupted European energy initiatives.

There are signs these issues are being resolved. The Trans-Saharan Gas Pipeline project approved earlier this year will transport Nigerian gas into the EU through Niger and Algeria. British oil and gas giant BP has partnered with American deep-water exploration company Kosmos EnergyKOS -3.3% to develop a $4.8 billion world-class gas project and a major LNG hub on the Mauritania-Senegal border. As the demand for LNG is set to increase steadily for the next several decades, driven by economic growth in Asia, European companies could leverage this momentum to invest in such projects.

Africa itself is also looking to the future of energy. African states, especially Nigeria and Namibia, have invested in green hydrogen production as a practical step. African wind and solar projects seek to export clean energy to Europe through new record-breaking underseas cables produced by British company XLinks, connecting the UK with Morocco. In South Africa, the world’s largest green ammonia plant is under construction. Africa can join Europe to develop the future of energy that is renewable and economically profitable.

Port of Antwerp CEO Jacques Vandermeiren, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, Namibian President Hage … [+] BELGA MAG/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Europe’s energy strategy and the deluge of interest and investments for Africa present a paradox. On the one hand, the immediate profits and developmental potential are immense. Conversely, this windfall could deepen Africa’s natural resource-related corruption and exacerbate dependence. Hydrocarbon and uranium projects in Africa need to be verifiably transparent. After all, Norway and Canada minimally suffer from a resource curse, so can Africa.

The challenge for the EU and African actors finding the win-win formula for cooperation, economic complementarity, and symbiosis. On the other hand, African states must recognize European acute energy needs. On the other, Europe needs to recognize the legacy of colonialism and exploitation and share technology and capital with the resource-rich countries. Africa and the EU must work closely on aligning their economic development objectives, climate goals, and energy policies to acknowledge and manage the hard truths and enormous opportunities of energy capacity building and transiting to renewables.

This piece is republished from Forbes.

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