Heart of Darkness – Why Electricity for Africa is a Security Issue

By Geoff Hill

Be afraid of the dark

You could have knocked me over with a candle. It was October 2017 and I was with a group of journalists quizzing US energy secretary Rick Perry on his first visit to Cape Town, when someone asked why Washington was spending billions on electricity plants in Africa. I expected a politician’s answer: human rights, good work, a policy that cares about the less fortunate.

‘It’s a security issue’, he said. ‘Militia and terror groups are a magnet for young men without jobs, and if there’s no grid or power, you can’t industrialise’. He rolled off the numbers. More than 600 million Africans – half the population – are not on the grid. America uses more electricity in a day than Ghana or Tanzania generate in a year. Investors are keen on the continent, but a lack of capacity keeps them away.

Perry comes across as someone who understands how tough life can be for some Americans and how much harder it is in the developing world. He hasn’t always been a politician; he served in the US Air Force, rising to the rank of captain, and flying humanitarian missions to Africa and Central America. He has a grasp of the world outside Washington. In his youth he worked in many roles, including as a door-to-door salesman. And he holds the record as the longest serving governor of Texas where, he says, he was exposed to ‘the anguish of unemployment and the hopelessness people feel when they can’t get a job’.

The border between Mexico and the US is more than 3000 kilometres long, and two-thirds of it lies in Texas. As governor, Perry took a special interest in immigration. The number of illegal crossings fell during his 12 years in office, but he insisted that poverty, poor governance and unemployment is what drove people to seek a better life.

‘I see the same problem when young people trek hundreds of miles through the Sahara Desert to try crossing the Mediterranean into Europe’, he said. ‘Thousands have drowned, others made it, but many are deported. I don’t believe we should vilify these exiles, but the answer also doesn’t lie in moving them somewhere else. Rather, we need to make their countries of origin a better place to live’

Read the rest of Heart of Darkness on the Global Warming Policy Foundation website at https://www.thegwpf.org/content/uploads/2020/06/Heart-Darkness-Africa-Energy-Poverty.pdf