AUSTIN, Texas — In 2021, almost half of the European Union’s natural gas imports came from Russia. After the recent invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, however, European leaders have pledged to reduce their dependence on Russia and find new sources of foreign energy. One possible alternative source is Africa. Certain regions in Africa possess substantial reserves of untapped natural gas as production bottlenecks and a lack of transnational infrastructure make the reserves difficult to export. By working with African manufacturers to build this export capacity, Europe could mitigate its energy dependence problem. At the same time, Europe could serve its commitment to African development as the growth of the African energy sector has widespread implications on both regional growth and individual poverty.
Africa’s Untapped Resources
Africa has a few standouts when it comes to natural gas. Algeria is Africa’s largest exporter of gas and due to the nation’s favorable location along the Mediterranean, Algeria has become one of Europe’s top five importers of natural gas and the 10th-largest exporter of natural gas in the world. However, the continent’s largest gas reserves are actually located in the sub-Saharan African country of Nigeria. As of 2021, Nigeria has the eighth-largest natural gas reserves in the world, totaling approximately 203 trillion cubic feet. Unfortunately, the country’s lack of infrastructure paired with the unforgiving geographic barrier of the Sahara Desert makes it difficult to export these massive reserves.
The Trans-Saharan Gas Pipeline
One potential solution to both of these problems is the Trans-Saharan Gas Pipeline. Currently, under construction, this pipeline would traverse the Sahara Desert through Niger and link the untapped reserves of Nigeria to the bountiful Mediterranean ports of Algeria. Once completed, it will be the largest pipeline in Africa and carry 30 billion cubic meters of natural gas from Nigeria, Niger and Algeria to European markets every year. In February 2022, the leaders of these three countries came together to sign the Declaration of Niamey, which renewed the Trans-Saharan Gas Pipeline’s construction after security concerns in the Sahel region had stalled the project for a short period.
The Effects on African Poverty and Development
By capitalizing on this development and transitioning toward African imports, the EU has the unique opportunity to kill two birds with one stone: while reducing its dependence on Russia, it can simultaneously help Africa reach its development goals. On a macro level, importing energy from Africa would increase the region’s government revenues, create connections with the global market and encourage the industrialization of its economy. All of these benefits will stimulate economic growth and leverage the region’s position in the international market.
On a micro level, there are hopeful implications for individual poverty. For one, as the African energy sector grows, it will create more high-quality domestic jobs. According to the African Development Bank Group, these jobs will demand skilled labor and thus, pay salaries that are above the national average. This demand for skilled labor also means that African governments will likely invest more in higher education and technical training to staff these jobs, which represents a valuable public asset and a driver of social advancement for all Africans.
Developing the African energy sector is beneficial not only for export but for domestic consumption. The region’s capacity to extract and distribute energy can help decrease Africa’s massive levels of energy poverty, which describes the unequal access to modern sources of energy. Sub-Saharan Africa currently has the world’s highest rates of energy poverty — in 2019, the 20 least-electrified countries in the world were “all located in sub-Saharan Africa” and the region accounts for almost 75% of the global population lacking access to electricity.
Increased electrification would reduce poverty by increasing access to modern technologies, vitalizing important public services like health care and education and neutralizing common health threats due to the indoor inhalation of fumes from open-fire cooking, which kills almost four million people every year.
With the urgent need to find new exporters of natural gas after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, now is the perfect opportunity for the world to invest in the African energy sector. Doing so is beneficial for all parties: the international community gains a productive source of energy, African governments increase their revenues and the African people gain crucial access to sources of social advancement like high-quality employment, technical training programs and domestic electricity.
– Jack Leist
Photo: Wikipedia Commons