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The global campaign to provide vulnerable and marginalised communities with sustainable and affordable energy has gained considerable momentum in the past decade. The Africa-EU Energy Partnership’s target of giving electricity access to 100m more Africans by 2020, set in 2010, was exceeded by mid-decade. The United Nations’ Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) initiative should achieve its target of pulling 1bn people worldwide out of energy poverty by 2030; some 500m of these people live in sub-Saharan Africa.

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With further progress in its electricity privatisation, increased food production due to investment in agriculture, and capital markets responding favourably to banks and bonds, it is easy to be drawn into the bubble of optimism that has built up around the Nigerian economy and its prospects. Away from the conflict zones of the north and Niger Delta, real progress has been made, but for every bit of positive newsflow there is a reality check, such as a new report from the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) which examines illegal oil exports – a still little understood cog in the machine of money and power-broking that defines public life in Nigeria.

Nigeria
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With tougher anti-bribery legislation in place in the US and UK, local partners have been identified as a key vulnerability. Foreign companies need them to help them navigate the local business environment, especially if it is government policy to develop local content.

Gambia | Benin | Nigeria | Equatorial Guinea | Burkina Faso
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The much-anticipated partial float of the naira, introduced from 20 June, reflected a concession by President Muhammadu Buhari, who had resisted devaluation as he did during his first stint as president in the 1980s. Buhari was forced by deteriorating economic conditions and declining confidence to listen to markets. African Energy hears that concerns over the naira and other issues have led to the World Bank Group, a key guarantor of the liberalised generation and distribution system, making quiet threats to stop guarantees.

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Whoever emerges from the 7 December election that pits President John Dramani Mahama against New Patriotic Party (NPP) candidate Nana Akufo-Addo will have to confront the build up of uncomfortable levels of external debt, poorly performing state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and other weaknesses that undermine Ghana’s performance.In meetings with bankers and investors, officials routinely recommit to the reform agenda endorsed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which on 28 September approved its third review of Ghana’s Extended Credit Facility, enabling a much-needed disbursement of about $116.2m.

Ghana
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The African Development Bank (AfDB) announced on 29 June that South Korea’s Ministry of Economy and Finance (MoEF) and the Export-Import Bank of Korea had signed an agreement to provide $600m to co-finance energy projects in Africa. It adds to the glut of funds targeting the African power sector, but oversupply of donor money – or undersupply of projects – is driving interest rates down and causing concern amongst financiers.

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African Union and European Union leaders met for the sixth EU-AU Summit in Brussels on 17-18 February, co-chaired by European Council president Charles Michel and AU’s Senegalese chairman President Macky Sall. It had been three years in the making – due to Covid and other delays – and, as with previous summits, there was talk of huge financial flows, boundless co-operation and commitments to a future of inclusive development.

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With all the talk about leapfrogging the grid, it is surprising how little the possible implications have filtered through to the debate about tariffs. The Africa Investment Exchange: Power and Renewables conference in London on 15-16 November saw a lively discussion about potential grid ‘disruptors’, in particular low-cost, small-scale renewable power sold directly to consumers. The technology has huge potential to provide clean power to households and industry at a fraction of the cost of the grid.

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There may be strong economic arguments, as well as the ethical objections raised by campaigners, why development finance institutions (DFIs) should no longer focus on supporting extractives-led growth. A Chatham House research paper* asks whether such models of development are still appropriate as the global economy reduces its carbon dependency. Discussion of the paper at the Fossil Fuel Supply and Climate Policy conference in Oxford on 26-27 September tested the thesis made popular among DFIs during the long commodities boom that exploiting natural resources could end aid dependency and drive socio-economic development.

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When most African governments struggle to fund even the most essential projects, costly new technologies may seem a luxury. But rethinking how they can be applied to energy networks can be a valuable exercise for policy-makers and investors: ‘disruptive technology’ can have far-reaching benefits, or prove a red herring for cash-strapped economies.

Kenya | Ghana | Rwanda | Djibouti | Morocco | South Africa
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Production cuts by a majority of Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) producers, working in coordination with non-Opec exporters led by Russia, have helped to raise oil prices from their 2014-16 lows; the strategy seems likely to maintain crude benchmarks at around $50 for some time. While second-guessing the oil price is a hazardous business, African Energy’s soundings of major international oil companies (IOCs) suggest this represents a ‘new normal’ for the industry, as factored into corporations’ base case scenario-planning.

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The recent increase in oil prices will be especially welcomed by Central Africa’s small but dominant ruling elites. The stand-off over Gabon’s presidential election – with Jean Ping contesting the narrow victory announced for President Ali Bongo Ondimba, his former brother-in-law whom he served as foreign minister – is just the most recent manifestation of political turbulence in a region where vulnerable economies have been rendered even more fragile by the slump in the global commodities cycle. Suggestions that Republic of Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso and allies close to the presidency in Côte d’Ivoire might have supported Ping against Bongo point to the network of close contacts that still typifies the region’s murky politics.

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Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s announcement that he will not seek a fifth term as Algerian president has once again raised questions of gerontocracy and failed governance in Africa. Tunisian head of state Béji Caïd Essebsi benefits from a degree of popular legitimacy but many citizens are concerned that the spry ‘BCE’ at 92 is too old to stand again when presidential elections are held in December. Before that, his fractured Nidaa Tounès (NT) will come under a strong challenge from the Islamist Ennahda party, now the two major parties’ alliance has broken down, and from other rivals, when parliamentary elections are held in October.

Tunisia
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Opposition from local authorities to UK private equity investor Actis’ planned takeover of French operator Veolia Environnement’s electricity, water and sanitation concessions in Morocco may be explained in part by a shift in political and popular opinion away from privately financed projects and concessions back to a greater role for local politicians and the state. Morocco is not alone in this: public/private partnership models that give public bodies, and the politicians who lead them, more control are increasingly in vogue.

Ghana | Rwanda | Ethiopia | Morocco
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Updated forecasts from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) show global expansion weakening with the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) growing by an estimated 3.7% in 2018, and forecast at 3.5% in 2019 and 3.6% in 2020. The projections are downward revisions from October’s World Economic Outlook (WEO), in part reflecting the trade war between the United States and China. A tightening of the Chinese economy may be reflected in Beijing’s reappraisal of lending to sub-Saharan Africa.