Recently, there have been growing concerns about plans being discussed for the large-scale production and export of green hydrogen to and from Africa.
Some claim that instead of helping Africa’s green transition, these plans and partnerships will be a vehicle for neo-colonialism.
Such opinions are also sometimes heard in Europe, especially in circles which themselves have a deep-seated interest. For example, the myth that Europe could and should produce all of the emission-free electricity it needs on its own territory, with enough reserve power to electrolyze all of its hydrogen on its own.
But there is no serious study or projection that would conclude that Europe can do it on its own and at home.
Between 25% and 50% of the green hydrogen needed in Europe from 2030 will have to be imported. And obviously, it has to be imported from neighboring countries, particularly North and West Africa.
Would European countries once again plunder African resources, leaving behind impoverished communities and corrupt leaders, while comfortably reveling in the cheap green hydrogen they have extracted?
The article continues below the ad
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Hydrogen has the potential and it is to date the only substance with such potential to finally make Africa and Europe partners while propelling the African continent to the forefront of a new industrial era.
An African statesman said recently, how could Europe take things away from us if we produce and use hydrogen here?
“We have our sun, our wind and our waters, which have been here forever and none of which can ever be transported anywhere else,” he explained. Therein lies the truth: Africa’s abundant resources needed to transition to a hydrogen economy are endless and cannot be stolen.
They can only be used in partnership, so that Africa can transition to an industrial economy based on renewable energy while Europe gets some of the hydrogen it needs after investing and paying for it.
Is harvesting African hydrogen for use in Europe a new form of colonialism?
Let’s imagine for a second that green hydrogen is produced in Africa and can begin to fuel mineral transformation processes.
Imagine that African mines produce ore that is valued locally, instead of being shipped without added value, as has been the case for too long. Imagine African companies which, because of the massive investments that would have been undertaken to produce green electricity, would be able to supply their own network – without continuing their age-old dependence on imported oil.
Imagine that the silhouette of Africa is brightly lit under the night sky because the electrification of the entire continent has finally taken place, using the resources of Africa itself. Does this sound like colonialism?
Of course, Europe would invest in Africa because it needs something, for its own benefit. However, this time we will ensure that the African states concerned receive their own share of what their sun, wind and water can generate.
Partnerships with African states and regional associations, and even possibly with the African Union, would be designed in such a way as to establish from the outset that there is an African project that Europe will help to bring to fruition.
We are talking about exporting hydrogen to Europe, yes, but above all we are talking about stimulating a development dynamic that Africa has never known. And what is wrong with a continent that is advancing, when it produces far more than it needs and consumes itself?
In a previous life, as an MEP, I followed the Europe-Africa summits for ten years.
The rhetoric may have been convincing, the results disappointing. But now we have the opportunity to build a new narrative.
In the 21st century, the African and European continents can become true partners as they will fully commit to producing enough renewable energy to power their respective development.
There must be no competition between producing countries, but cooperation on a scale large enough to supply continents, not individual states or industries. The future hydrogen economy will have space and benefits for all.
Investing in Africa benefits everyone
The presence of fossil fuel players in hydrogen development plans is often criticized.
Yes, they can be there. But no, they will not “extract” something in Africa and then take it out of Africa.
They will invest in projects that will benefit Africa before they benefit anyone else, but have the potential to benefit everyone.
The hydrogen produced in Africa will first be destined for Africa, then for export. I hope that Africans will know how to use the potential of this new logic for their own good.
Entire countries will become energy self-sufficient if investments are used wisely. Development and cooperation can take on a whole new form when African countries run on their own fuel – the eternal sun, wind and waters.
Jorgo Chatzimarkakis is the managing director of the trade association Hydrogen Europe.