A boom in African clean-power investment could help curb the influx of migrants into Europe blamed for the rise in populism and the U.K.’s decision to quit the European Union, said Guinean President Alpha Conde.
The best way for European governments to keep young Africans at home is to invest in renewable energy, creating jobs and boosting access to power, the 78-year-old, who also heads a body promoting alternative electricity on the continent, said in a Wednesday interview through a translator in Davos, Switzerland.
“The big challenge for the EU is really immigration,” said Conde, who heads the African Renewable Energy Initiative. “How can we keep our population in our countries if we don’t have development?”
An surge in immigration to Europe from places like Africa and Syria has been blamed for the rise of populist parties such as the U.K. Independence Party and France’s National Front. Their leaders also question the scientific consensus of man-made climate change, criticize foreign aid and taxpayer support for renewable energy.
Boosting help for clean power in Africa could actually reduce immigration, said Conde.
The African Development Bank estimates there are 620 million people living without access to electricity on the continent. Between 2015 and 2050, the region will account for more than half the world’s population growth, according to the United Nations.
“Apart from the growth of populism, I have high hopes because of what we’ve accomplished ourselves,” Conde said. “Because today Europe has as a big interest in us. Why? Immigration.”
France has committed to fund 2 billion euros ($2.13 billion) of renewable projects in Africa through 2020, a 50 percent increase on the previous five years. The African Renewable Energy Initiative, under the mandate of the 54-member African Union, was started in 2015 and is targeting $20 billion of investment to develop at least 10 gigawatts of power by 2020.
Private investors are also tapping into African renewable-energy opportunities. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund invested in the Lekela Power platform — a joint venture between Mainstream Renewable Power Ltd. and Actis LLP that plans to install more than 1.3 gigawatts of renewable electricity across Africa by 2018.
As the U.K. prepares to exit the EU, Conde said he is seeking talks with the British government to ensure its commitment to financing African projects.
The African Development Bank turned its focus to energy this year and is funding both conventional and renewable power plants. It’s said it will triple its financing of climate action projects to $5 billion annually by 2020.
“The big companies should understand that energizing Africa is a big opportunity for them,” Conde said, adding that power could potentially be exported from the continent in the future. “Africa will be a big market and also we will be a factory to export electricity.”
In Guinea, home to 12 million people, Conde has focused on the development of hydropower with the backing of Chinese enterprise but it’s also seeking investment in solar energy. Data from the World Bank shows that only a quarter of Guineans have access to the national grid.
China International Water & Electric Corp. is building the $2 billion Souapiti dam in the country which will supply 550 megawatts. It’s CWE’s second Guinean project after it completed the 240-megawatt Kaleta dam in 2015. The nation also recently opened a tender for a 300-megawatt facility, Conde said.
Development of these projects will allow Guinea to export power to neighbors such as Mali, Senegal and Guinea-Bissau, Conde said.
The U.S. is the richest of the major emitters of greenhouse gases and has promised $3 billion to a UN Green Climate Fund, a linchpin in the UN effort to help poorer countries cope with climate change.
Trump has vowed to cancel future payments to the fund and redirect them toward projects in the U.S. On Tuesday, three days before leaving office, President Barack Obama made a $500 million contribution to it, taking the total given to $1 billion.