Uganda and other East African countries have agreed to move faster in energy transition, but without sacrificing critical industries like oil and gas and minerals.
At the regional energy transition dialogue, members of the civil society and the academia also warned that despite the need to exploit their minerals and other resources, African countries will have to work with concessions with the developed world because of limited financial and technical capacity.
The dialogue dubbed Just Energy Transition was called to chat ways on how the countries government can balance between exploiting their extractives while participating in the transition from fossil fuel, coal and others dubbed harmful to the environment, to clean energy.
It comes at a time when Uganda is in the midst of a campaign by conservationists and climate change activists who are opposed to the development of the oil and gas industry, and particularly the construction of the crude export pipeline, EACOP.
State minister for Mineral Development, Peter Lokeris, urged the players in the extractives sector to support the ministry in ensuring that minerals used for renewable energy generation are produced in a sustainable manner and benefit communities.
He however said that Uganda and the other countries in the region cannot go at the same speed with the developed world because they still need the oil and energy to develop.
According to him, in the developed world for example, everyone has access to the national grid for a kind of energy for cooking, lighting and heating, while in Uganda and most of Africa, more that 80 percent of the people have no electricity.
Lokeris said that to these people, even the word ‘transition’ makes no meaning.
However, he said the government’s energy mix of hydro, solar, wind and other sources will help the country fit in the transition movement, saying it is now even more possible with the venturing into the electric vehicle industry.
Francis Odokorach, the Executive Director at Oxfam Uganda also agreed that transition will be hard for a greater number of people who are even yet to either access of afford the currently available energy sources.
Odokorach said however that if the countries had the commitment and adequate finances needed, it would be possible for everyone to access some kind of clean energy because the sources are available.
Over 600 million people in Africa do not have access to electricity, and around 900 million lack access to clean cooking facilities with Uganda being among the top 26 countries with energy access deficits.
National figures also show that Uganda’s access to the national grid is less than 20 percent, while 38 percent have access to off-grid solar electricity, which is mainly used for lighting and phone-charging.
George Stephen Odongo, Uganda’s representative at the East African Legislative Assembly, said progress in energy transition is partly affected by politics because leaders strive to fulfil what voters will remember them for.
Uganda’s other advantage is that is that the new discoveries of minerals are deemed critical to the current global developments like the growing electric motor industry, information technology devices and others.
These include rare earth elements and graphite which are used in the manufacture of batteries essential for electric and electronic appliances, among others.
However, they are coming at a time when geopolitical conflicts are increasing in numbers and the threat of renewed arms races increasing.
According to experts, this will increase the demand for the minerals mined in Africa, especially Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo, including uranium which is used in the nuclear industry.
While this might seem a good opportunity for the mineral reach developing countries, it pauses a risk that such mineral could be sanctioned at one time by the global community.
Dr. Livingstone Ssenyonga, a Senior Lecturer-Energy Economics at Makerere University Business School said that in that case, there is fear that the heavy investments happening now could be rendered useless.
He however, advised that African countries can overcome the challenge f financing for mineral development and even raise their voice if they cooperate in the exploitation of the resources instead of each country handling its own industry.