European solidarity with the people of Africa is more than just a slogan. Last week I witnessed first-hand how our development aid, led by Commissioner Mimica, transforms the lives of millions. I thought my support to the committed women and men who work in development would encourage them. But it was rather their devotion, vision and entrepreneurial spirit that encouraged me...
In the first part of this post, I described the primary objective of my recent visit to Africa: to coordinate our efforts for tackling climate change with the continent which is the first to subdue its effects. But it was equally important for me to offer Europe's hand to help in the economic development of African countries in general and their sustainable energy in particular.
The Power of Development (or the development of power)
I won't lie; the reality I saw in South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Senegal was far from ideal. During my speech at the University of Pretoria, I experienced several times energy disruptions; in DRC millions have no access to electricity at all; and in Senegal, extreme pollution pushed up the mortality rate and badly hit the tourism industry. But a closer look shows that despite the major challenges, there is great room for optimism. Change is within reach.
The energy disruption in university was a perfect opportunity to discuss with South African students and scholars the tremendous potential in creating a cross-border network of electricity infrastructure, just like the Energy Union we are building in Europe. In fact, the interest in enhancing regional cooperation around energy was expressed in most of my meetings, whether with citizens, civil society, the business community or politicians.
The Inga dams of DRC, for example, have a huge potential for generating clean hydropower of no less than 44K MW, of which half can be transmitted to South Africa. The European Investment Bank is already assisting the development of this project.
I am also very proud of the EU funding of no less than €90 million to the waste disposal facility near the N'djili airport, also in DRC. This is a very effective use of development aid. First and foremost because reducing pollution brought a significant drop in the number of related diseases. Second, because this facility serves 12 million residents of 9 municipalities and employs 140 locals. And finally because the purpose of development aid is to build local capacity rather than dependence; the facility will therefore be transferred soon to the hands of the local authority.
Collection & disoposal facility
Celebrating creation of DRC
Visiting EU project
Last but not least, in the case of Senegal, human ingenuity recognised that waste should not be treated like a burden but as a resource. In Europe we call it Circular Economy but the same principle applies all over the world. With the help of the European Investment Bank and the French Development Agency, waste from the Bay of Hann will now be collected and reused. This is the new way of producing energy out of sustainable resources!
Power to the people!
As mentioned, Europe is deeply committed to the development of Africa. But what touched me the most was seeing the very impressive results of local grassroots action. Civil society organisations and community leaders - mostly women - who have transformed the reality on the ground with their foresight, wisdom, and entrepreneurial spirit. Such examples were abundant throughout my week-long visit.
The Khangezile primary school near Johannesburg is a perfect example of how local leaders transformed the reality of an entire village, creating a better future their children. In 2012, the school was about to close its gates because of lack of resources. Today, with the help of the EU and Oxfam the school is energy self-reliant using dozens of solar panels and biogas. The transition to a sustainable way of life is not merely a means to survive financially but rather an entire lifestyle, transmitted to the 450 pupils as part of their curriculum.
Still in Khangezile Primary School
In DRC as well, I witnessed the pivotal role of women in bringing progress, especially in rural areas. They organise their communities, design and implement new projects, and are therefore an indispensable part of the development.
Finally, with French Minister Ségolène Royal, I witnessed the wonders of a French-Senegalese man who took the initiative of planting mangroves along the coast in order to stop coastal erosion. His originality and devotion succeeded not only in stopping the coastal erosion and providing a natural CO2 capture, but also in restituting bio-diversity as birds were nesting while we were visiting!
Plantation de Mangroves à Dakar
Réserve de la Somone
Connecting the dots
I am taking the time to write down and spread the word about these grassroots projects hoping that these stories will inspire other communities in similar situations. In fact, one of my conclusions from my trip was the need to foster closer links and exchanges of good practices among communities and municipalities.
This is definitely true for communities across the same region but not only. It would be highly beneficial for all sides if cities in Europe and Africa could share ideas and practices about sustainability. There are brilliant ideas in Africa which we could definitely implement here in Europe, and we have many technologies to export which could make a real difference in the lives of Africans.
It is important to remember that climate migration has driven millions from rural areas into urban centres. Yet, given the high pace of urbanisation, African cities can hardly keep up and often lack sufficient infrastructure. The need for sustainable solutions is therefore not a luxury but rather a means of survival. Rather than reinventing the wheel we should (re)apply what already works elsewhere.
That is why I encouraged the inclusion of African cities into Europe's Covenant of Mayors which we are currently expanding to a global scale. I hope that through this local level we will see much much more Euro-African cooperation in the years to come.
I started this post by describing some of the acute problems African societies are facing, some which may seem unsurmountable. But as Nelson Mandela said, many things seem impossible until they are done. He was a living proof of what he said. The inspring men and women I met along my week-long visit filled me with hope that the new generation of African leaders is following Madiba's footsteps and does not accept any challenge to be impossible. Their optimism is also mine.
More pictures of memorable moments:
With the devoted teachers of Khangezile School
Khangezile School food garden, Johannesburg, South Africa
Sustainability is Khangezile School's way of life but also part of its core curriculum