"Electricity is like the blood in your body. If you have blood, you live. If don't have blood, you don't live." These were the opening remarks made by African Development Bank President, Akinwumi Adesina, on Thursday, January 21 in Davos, Switzerland, during a live televised debate on "Africa's Next Challenge".
The Bank President was joined on the panel by Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda; Hailemariam Desalegn, Prime Minister of Ethiopia; Hans Vestberg, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Ericsson Group; and Yemi Osinbajo, Vice-President of Nigeria.
A day earlier, Adesina presented the African Development Bank's New Deal on Energy for Africa, which aims to provide universal access to energy by 2025. Also present at the January 20 launch of the New Deal and the Transformative Partnership on Energy for Africa were global political and business leaders, including Kagame, Desalegn, Kofi Annan, Nigerian businessman Tony Elumelu, and singer-songwriter and philanthropist Bono.
"One hundred and thirty-seven years after Thomas Edison developed the lightbulb, the simple lightbulb, Africa is in the dark. It doesn't make sense," Adesina said Thursday. "With electricity, you can have industrialization, you can create jobs, create SMEs. Then Africa will not be known for the darkness of its cities. Everywhere will be bright."
Kagame said there was political will behind the New Deal, and underscored the key role of private sector investment in lighting up and powering Africa. "Leaders in government and leaders in business are speaking the same language with a sense of urgency, that something must be done," said the Rwandan President. "Energy can lead us to many other things, whether it is in manufacturing, or growing of industries in different sectors. Energy is essential. In Africa, we have huge potential in various sources of energy. All the ingredients are there. We need to move very fast."
For his part, Hailemariam Desalegn, Prime Minister of Ethiopia, said the lack of universal access to energy was holding back Africa's development potential. "Africa has huge opportunity and it is becoming a global pole for growth. Energy is the main challenge in Africa. The main challenge is to have a quality, reliable energy source that makes industrialization possible. In my country, we have witnessed double-digit growth for the past 12 years. The need for energy is growing by 25-30%, which is beyond the growth rate in the country. It means that we need to move very fast in energy development if we want to move even faster in development.
"I appreciate what the African Development Bank has launched, the vision of the President," Desalegn continued. "Africa has huge green renewable resources. We have to harness this potential at this time. We need the private sector to come in and engage in developing this potential."
Hans Vestberg, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Ericsson Group, the Swedish telecommunications giant, which has been doing business in Africa for 120 years, said two things are crucial for economic growth and sustainable development on the continent. "One of them is universal access to electricity, which is extremely important. The other is the technology, which is spreading across the whole continent. Right now 80% of Africans have a mobile phone, which is amazing considering how quickly it has gone. But that is slow compared to what we are going to see in the next five years. We'll go from 70 million people in Africa having access to the internet to 700 million in 2021."
This technology leapfrogging is enabling Africans and African governments to start using technology to transform industry and transforming society, through the provision of digital healthcare, digital education - all key elements to inclusion. "It is a unique opportunity that Africa has at this moment," said Vestberg. "That's why I'm excited."
But, first and foremost, the need for universal access to electricity on the continent must be addressed, the panelists agreed.
"Roughly 645 million people [in Africa] do not have access to electricity," said President Adesina. "An additional 700 million people do not have access to clean cooking fuel. These are numbers we know. And we think that this is not acceptable."