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Russia–Africa: Thousand Prospects for Energy Cooperation



The African continent is one of the fastest growing energy markets in the world. This is due to the growing economic and demographic potential of African countries, as well as the efforts of many of them to combat climate change. Despite having passed through a long period of tumultuous post-colonial era, Africa’s efforts on ensuring effective energy cooperation with leading global powers has not been an easy journey down the years. Until today, more than half on the estimated 1.4 billion still have no access to electric power for domestic utilization while industries continue suffering from frequent power outrages (interruptions), thus adversely affecting the level of industrial production across Africa.
Several summits, conferences and whatever have offered Africa the lee-way to network for potential external collaborations and tackle its ultimate energy deficits. Some energy experts still believe that African leaders have faced multiple obstacles in resolving the energy question on the continent. These obstacles include outright inability to prioritise the energy sector and redirect funds in securing energy both for domestic and industrial use. Some experts also say Africa countries lack the adequate funds needed for energy, while style of approach grossly differs from one country to the other depending on objective assessments of existing concrete conditions across Africa.
Russian President Vladimir Putin at the plenary session of the Russian Energy Week international forum, on 11th October 2023, spoke at a considerable length, briefly touched on Africa. Putin stressed the readiness to support Africa with its steps in ensuring energy security on the continent. His arguments was based on the logical comprehensive Russia-Africa energy cooperation and also made reference to the fourth power unit at the El Dabaa NPP in Egypt which is being built ahead of schedule.
This is Russia’s illustrative flagship project on the African continent, but it is not only limited to the construction of the facility. In fact, Russia is seriously cooperating with Egyptian specialists to develop the nuclear energy industry in that north African country from scratch, which includes training personnel, providing maintenance support and so on. In other words, Russia is supporting Egypt to embark on the path to sovereign energy development.
This integrated and systemic approach is one of Rosatom’s main competitive advantages, not to mention its traditionally high safety and reliability standards. In reiterating its energy status, Russia is fully independent in terms of technology, both at the construction stage and during the maintenance of nuclear power plants. “At the same time, we are not against the participation of companies from third countries in the construction of nuclear power plants that we have designed,” explained Putin at the plenary session. It was the sixth Russian Energy Week (REW) held under the theme ‘The New Reality of Global Energy: Building the Future’ and gathered over 4,000 participants from more than 60 countries, including government representatives, executives of major energy companies and organisations, scientists and experts.
The main objective was to critically assess the trends of and prospects for global energy, exchange opinions on the challenges the global fuel and energy sector faces and, further discuss how to ensure the long-term stability of the global energy markets. With Moscow as the host, the REW placed emphasis on the global economy within the context  of transitioning to the multipolar model with several growth centres, and importance of each country defined by how it responds in the framework of the irreversible geopolitical processes, and how efficiently it can defend its economic, industrial, technological and energy sovereignty, readjust investment, trade and cooperation ties.
Of course, there are other options, as part of the energy mix, available such as the hydroelectric and solar power. China and India are offering Africa solar power to argument the existing energy supply in the continent. Russia’s  RusHydro, with hyperbolic interest in Africa, has been involved in designing and building more than 350 facilities in 54 countries around the world. Today, the company supplies its technological solutions to 17 countries, including countries in Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and Latin America, boosting technology transfer and providing engineering support for the entire service life of its plants, which is 50–70 years. That is, the company enters into long-term contracts, which help to establish strong ties not only between companies, but also between countries.
Nevertheless, Africa holds breathe for Russia’s nuclear power technology. The State Energy Corporation popularly know as Rosatom has bilateral agreements with nearly 20 African countries. The engineering, procurement and construction contract for the El Dabaa NPP was signed at the end of 2016. The project calls for building four 1,200 MW generating units with VVER-1200 reactors. But the agreement signed with Egypt dated back as November 2015, and Rosatom practically started to build the third unit at El Dabaa in May 2023. The construction of all four units at the El Dabaa Nuclear Power Plant (NPP), requires financing of up to US$30 billion (the Russian loan of US$25 billion covers 85% of the costs and that Egypt would finance the rest) and is expected to be completed by 2028-2029. Under the agreement, Egypt is to start payments on the loan, which is provided at 3% per annum, from October 2029.
A project on such a scale is unique for Egypt, so the partners have adopted a meticulous approach to establishing their mutual obligations. Monitoring and research show that other African countries wishing to adopt Russian nuclear technology grossly lack finance, while in the interim Rosatom offers support for the training of specialists in educational institutions in the Russian Federation.
Without much doubts, Russia has, long ago, expressed the desire to build the energy base in order to overcome energy shortages and deep-seated deficits across Africa. The partnership between Russia and African countries has gained additional momentum and is reaching a whole new level. With South Africa, the agreement for the large scale nuclear power plant (NPP) development was initially signed during the International Atomic Energy Agency General (IAEAG) Conference in Vienna between Russia’s Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation director general Sergey Kiriyenko and South Africa’s Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson.
The construction of the nuclear plants has had a chequered history. Due to opaque nature of the deal signed with Russia, South Africa has not achieved the expected success with its nuclear project under Jacob Zuma. For the last twenty years, South Africa has not been able to make investments in new power plants, which has resulted in a severe power crunch. Generally, power outrages, with frequent crippling blackouts, still presents a huge and real constraint to industrial growth in South Africa.
Knox Msebenzi, Managing Director of the Nuclear Industry Association of South Africa (NIASA),  a body committed to promoting the highest standards in the development and application of nuclear technology, in discussing the impact of challenges on the country’s economy and a way out of the power generation difficulties, recommended that South Africa pursue an energy mix that includes coal, wind, hydro-power, nuclear and renewables going forward.
There are no silver bullets when it comes to energy sources generally across Africa. Criticisms of nuclear relating to costs and project managements (long delays with huge projects) are being addressed with Small Modular Reactors. Nuclear power will not come online today as it takes time to implement, but countries do not plan for now but for the future.
Perhaps, the most important way forward is for African countries to with Small Modular Reactors. Certainly, there are attributes of resorting to these SMRs. The International Atomic Energy  Agency (IAEA) simply describes Small Modular Reactors as advanced nuclear reactors that have a power capacity of up to 300 MW(e) per unit, which is about one-third of the generating capacity of traditional nuclear power reactors.
SMRs, which can produce a large amount of low-carbon electricity, are:
Small – physically a fraction of the size of a conventional nuclear power reactor.
Modular – making it possible for systems and components to be factory-assembled and transported as a unit to a location for installation.
Reactors – harnessing nuclear fission to generate heat to produce energy.
Many of the benefits of SMRs are inherently linked to the nature of their design – small and modular. Given their smaller footprint, SMRs can be sited on locations not suitable for larger nuclear power plants. One of the challenges to accelerating access to energy is infrastructure – limited grid coverage in rural areas – and the costs of grid connection for rural electrification.
Efforts to achieve the target of universal access to energy, SDG 7, has made visible progress; however, gaps are still prevalent, mainly concentrated in remote and rural regions. As global efforts seek to implement clean and innovative solutions, the increased use of renewable energy coupled with the introduction of SMRs has the potential to fill such gaps, says International Atomic Energy  Agency (IAEA).
At the last Russian Energy Week, Burkina Faso and Mali (both landlocked French-speaking West African countries) became the latest to be added to the long list, as both signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoUs) with Rosatom. As one of the least electrified countries in the world, Burkina Faso and Mali signed the declaration of intent with Russia’s Rosatom to construct nuclear power plants, a strategy to achieve 95% electricity access for urban areas and 50% for rural areas by 2030.
The deal, which of course involves a lengthy process including providing suitable site and infrastructure for the project, has enjoyed world-wide media publicity. The agreement was, however, a culmination of talks the Burkinabe military ruler Capt. Ibrahim Traore had with President Putin on 29th July 2023 in Moscow, during the Russia-Africa Summit in Moscow. A similar agreement was signed with Mali, like Burkina Faso, on the same occasion when both outlined its immense energy needs and geostrategic position in the region, with a view to fostering energy collaboration.
Without much doubts, Mali and Burkina Faso appreciate support from Russia. President Vladimir Putin met with Interim President of Burkina Faso Ibrahim Traore at the Constantine Palace in St. Petersburg on 29 July 2023, both agreed to strengthen partnership. Burkina Faso treat Russia with sympathy and interest. In December 2022, the Prime Minister of the interim government made a working visit to Russia. Talks between defence ministries were held in June as it is now conducting the special military operation there.
“In this context of building bilateral relationship, we certainly need to generate more energy – this is an important item on the agenda. If possible, we would like to have a small nuclear power plant for electricity generation in the country. We have a strategic location – we are in the very centre of West Africa. This whole region is short of energy. it would be able to generate energy for the entire subregion,” Burkina Faso Ibrahim Traore told Putin during their bilateral talks. (Kremlin, July 29, 2023)
Russian Energy Week reports said that “Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom has signed a memorandum of understanding with Burkina Faso and another with Mali on cooperation in the field of the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. The agreements were signed on 13th October in Moscow on the sidelines of the 6th Russian Energy Week Forum.”
This collaboration is a testament to the commitment to driving innovation within the nuclear energy sector in Africa. By this taking this step, it emphasizes the importance of dispelling old stigmas surrounding nuclear energy and applauds proactive efforts to explore innovative nuclear technologies. It further shows Russia’s inroads in West Africa are a welcome sign that Africa too will be benefiting from multipolarity in the coming years. Burkina Faso is one of the least electrified countries globally, with only about 20% of the population having access to electricity, according to the International Energy Atomic Agency. National electrification for Mali is slightly higher with about 30% to 35%.
According to reports compiled from Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Russia has also signed for such construction of nuclear plants with a number of African countries but yet to begin implementing its side of the agreements. These include agreements with Algeria (2014), Ghana (2015), Ethiopia (2019), Republic of Congo (2019), Nigeria (2012, 2016), Rwanda (2018), South Africa (2004), Sudan (2017), Tunisia (2016), Uganda (2019) and Zambia (2016). Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) were signed with Kenya in 2016 and Morocco in 2017.
Bloomberg reported back in 2018 that Russia has signed agreements with Nigeria to build and operate a nuclear power plant in the oil-rich West African nation that has a deficit of reliable power and faces security challenges by Islamist militants in the far northeast.
Feasibility studies for the plant and a research center construction will include site screening, capacity, financing, and time frames of the projects, state-owned Russian nuclear company Rosatom said in an emailed statement to Bloomberg. That report said several African nations signed intergovernmental agreements on cooperation in the field of the peaceful usage of nuclear technologies. Nigeria in 2015 was in talks with Rosatom to build as many as four nuclear power plants costing about US$20 billion, the Nigeria Atomic Energy Commission said at the time.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, distributes an average of 4,500 megawatts of electricity. Half the output of the Egbin power plant, the nation’s biggest, is lost because of inadequate transmission infrastructure, its chief officer said. Rosatom was seeking to build nuclear power plants in other countries on the continent including South Africa.
Reports from the first summit in 2019 indicated that Russia and Ethiopia have signed an intergovernmental framework agreement on cooperation in the field of peaceful uses of atomic energy. It was reported that the document was signed on the side-lines of the Russia-Africa Economic Forum by Rosatom Director General Alexei Likhachev on behalf of Russia, and by Ethiopia’s Minister of Innovation and Technology Getahun Mecuria Kuma, the on behalf of Ethiopia.
Rosatom is the company behind the Centre of Nuclear Science and Technology (CNST) under construction in Chongwe, Zambia, under the 2018 engineering, procurement and construction contract signed in 2018 between the Zambian government and Rosatom. These areas include: fine tuning the projects for construction of the Center for nuclear science and technology (CNST) and nuclear power plant (NPP) on the territory of the Republic of Ethiopia, developing nuclear infrastructure in accordance with international recommendations; applying nuclear and radiation safety regulations; implementing fundamental and applied research for peaceful uses of nuclear technologies; producing and using radioisotopes in various industries, healthcare and agriculture; cooperating in the field of radiation technologies and nuclear medicine applications and education, training and retraining of specialists for the nuclear industry.
The Intergovernmental agreement creates a legal framework for establishing cooperation between Russia and Ethiopia on a wide range of areas. In explicit remarks, Alexei Likhachev noted: “We are glad to provide Ethiopia with access to more than 70 years of experience in the peaceful use of nuclear technologies in Russia and hope that the cooperation will contribute to the sustainable development of Ethiopia and improve the quality of life of the nation.”
Cheikh Niane, Permanent Secretary for Energy, Secretary General of Ministry of Petroleum and Energies, Senegal and NJ Ayuk, Executive Chairman, African Energy Chamber, both have argued seriously that African states have strong potential to construct plants by 2030. Algeria, Morocco, and Nigeria could also operate research reactors after having expressed interest in the nuclear plants. Kenya and Sudan have worked with the IAEA and supplier countries such as Russia and China. (African Energy Chamber, October 8, 2023)
“We encourage these states to continue the good work, and for others to accelerate their talks with the IAEA. Even a single SMR can power an entire city  for decades, and scaling them will only grow easier. Nuclear remains a safe, clean, and reliable long-term investment – and our strongest weapon against our rising population’s demand for energy,” underscored Cheikh Niane, Permanent Secretary for Energy, Secretary General of Ministry of Petroleum and Energies, from the Republic of Senegal in West Africa.
Countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia are currently working with IAEA who is supporting them as Embarking Countries in Establishing National Infrastructure for Research Reactors program and this is progressing well considering the milestones approach of the IAEA.
The second Russia-Africa Summit took place in the Russian city of St. Petersburg from July 27-28. The summit saw participants sign several multilateral and bilateral accords. The accords are geared towards increasing cooperation at the highest level and promoting constructive dialogue within the framework of existing international, regional, multilateral and bilateral Russian-African mechanisms on a wide range of strategic, political and economic issues of mutual interest.
Despite the presence of Russian companies including Lukoil. Rosneft, and Gazprom in Africa, NJ Ayuk says African oil producers are still disappointed at the slow pace of Russian investment in the energy industries. “There needs to be stronger cooperation between Africa and Russia to fight energy poverty and climate change. Africans want to get married, Russians just want to date, so we need to watch this dating game,” NJ Ayuk, Executive Chairman of the African Energy Chamber-AEC said.
Quite apart from that, Senior Presidential Advisor from the Republic of Ghana, Yaw Osafo-Maafo, has also underscored the imperative of making nuclear energy affordable to catalyse its widespread adoption as the continent continues its exploration of nuclear energy as a means to meet the burgeoning energy demands and secure a long-term energy future.
According to his interpretation, nuclear energy offers a dependable and sustainable power source, which is pivotal for driving economic growth and enhancing the standard of living for the population across Africa. But the point closely relates the importance how to adopt the latest cost-alternative technology, the keen-ness on using nuclear energy, and making efforts to minimize its associated financial risks by being wary of things like predatory financing and unscrupulous suppliers.
Many policy researchers and analysts have written, and reasonably argued about Russia’s financial capabilities and inconsistent approach (ref: Situation Analytical Report 2021) in implementing bilateral policy projects in Africa. Contrary to negative views held previously, now a lot more important issues are receiving high attention since the first (October 2019) and the second (July 2023) African leaders summits.
On the other side of the arguments in favour for Russia, Ryan Collyer, the Regional Vice-President of Rosatom for Sub-Saharan Africa, explains that energy (construction and repair of power generation facilities as well as in peaceful nuclear energy and the use of renewable energy sources) is an important area of the economic cooperation between Russia and Africa. That Russia can play a key role in the construction of nuclear power plants in African countries, as three African countries are currently mining uranium in industrial quantities – Namibia, Niger and South Africa.
In particular, Ryan Collyer further explained that a nuclear power program is a complex undertaking that requires meticulous planning, preparation, and investment in time, institutions, and human resources. The development of such a program does not happen overnight and can take several years to implement. There are various scenarios for energy development, and prospects for the use of eco-friendly and sustainable energy sources.
According to his explanation, another critical question is the cost. Most of the funds are needed during the construction period. Building a large-scale nuclear reactor takes thousands of workers, massive amounts of steel and concrete, thousands of components, and several systems to provide electricity, cooling, ventilation, information, control and communication.
More often, Africa is always described as endowed with enormous resources, and yet poor, in terms of infrastructure and industrialization. Half the population still live in abject poverty, without access to energy to drive simple rural industries and for domestic use. These should be blamed on the system of governance. Besides, there are fundamental rhetorical questions here. What public policies are African countries adopting to ensure sustainable energy development? How do the activities of Russian companies fit into this context? What challenges are there along this path? What financial support measures can be provided for projects?
Quite recently, Eng. Mohamed Hamel, Secretary General, Gas Exporting Countries Forum, also noted that energy drives progress across all sectors of society. From powering industries that bolster economies, to providing the means for essential services such as healthcare, education, and clean water, reliable energy sources are paramount. For Africa, blessed with a young demographic and abundant natural resources, yet plagued by energy poverty, socio-economic development is an overriding priority. With 40% of the continent’s population without access to reliable electricity, the energy needs are staggering to support the increasing population from 1.4 billion today, estimated to rise to 2.5 billion in 2050.  (Weekly African Executive, October 23 – 27, 2023)
NJ Ayuk, Executive Chairman of the African Energy Chamber, shared the same views with Eng. Mohamed Hamel, Secretary General, Gas Exporting Countries Forum, and in addition stressed that “The development of energy cooperation within the framework of international relations is extremely relevant today. The realization of full-fledged interaction in the energy field largely depends on the parties involved. The African Energy Chamber is a reputable institution capable of ensuring quality dialogue when discussing energy issues from Africa’s perspectives.”
The South African based African Energy Chamber will provide mutual consulting, information, and expert support. One area of cooperation will involve promoting existing partnerships and exploring new long-term collaborations between representatives of the business communities of both parties to attract investment in African and Russian energy projects. Noticeably, it has already been maintaining a dialogue in investment and identifying sources of finance for energy projects. Soon Africa will have its own Energy Bank.
Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, Alexander Novak, said in comments with strategic interaction with like-minded people, one does not need to waste time trying to find a common language. Thus, special attention could be paid to the prospects for energy cooperation between Russia and African countries, as well as Russia and China. But, do China and Russia have the main keys to Africa’s low-energy existence, the digital transformation of energy and the introduction of modern energy solutions, especially at this time of global development.
An improved practical Russia-Africa collaboration could ensure that energy development is accelerated and in pursuit of making energy poverty history in Africa by 2030. With this targeted year, every resource available on the continent needs to be maximized. Russia could drive long-term energy investment and know-how into these resources, considerable degree to alleviate energy poverty and further ensure the continent benefits from its natural resource wealth. With factors such as inadequate funding and energy producing infrastructure are slowing down growth in the sector. At the same time, there is that broad perception that Russia shares its best practices with Africa to navigate through these decades-long challenges and utilize its untapped energy security opportunities across the continent.
Judging from above discussion, it could be concluded that substantial investment in energy infrastructure development is required to realise Africa’s economic potentials and attain an acceptable industrial growth. With the current rapidly geopolitical changes, Africa is on the rise, drawing unprecedented focus of global players which points to the fundamental fact that it is an exciting time for the continent. Therefore it is paramount to address its renewable energy supplies, particularly solar energy as they are vital ingredient for further continental growth. This is an extremely important factor for the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which aims at expanding intra-African trade, and is expected to strengthen the size of Africa’s economy to US$29 trillion by 2050.
As a result of an incredible transformation and significant contributions, Africa’s geopolitical weight in the world is growing now. Despite the existing challenges and multiple difficulties facing the African energy sector, many foreign companies are flexing their tentacles there in Africa, exhibiting confidently readiness to ensure energy security, laying the long-term foundations for the development of the economy, industry, agriculture, transport and infrastructure, and for improving the quality of life for the estimated 1.4 billion people in Africa, which falls within achieving the 7th UN Sustainable Development Goals.


Source:| Kestér Kenn Klomegâh

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