Home OPINIONS China: Reliable partner in Africa’s greener, greater future

China: Reliable partner in Africa’s greener, greater future

Under the FOCAC framework, China and Africa have already carried out over 100 green energy projects, many of which have become flagship projects that turbocharge Africa’s socio-economic development and industrialization.

The Garissa solar plant was undertaken by Chinese firm CJIC. Photo/Courtesy

China-Africa cooperation can be characterized in many ways. It is based on sincerity, aims for real results, promotes amity, and proceeds from good faith. If one were to use a color to highlight this cooperation, green comes to mind.

At the very first Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) held in 2000, ministers from China and Africa realized and emphasized the need to strengthen cooperation on the development of green energy. Since then, it has remained an important part of China-Africa cooperation, featuring in the ten cooperation plans, eight major initiatives, and nine programs under the FOCAC framework.

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Located in northeastern Kenya, the Garissa Solar Power Plant is the first major solar plant to tap into the country’s vast solar resources and the largest grid-connected solar power plant in East and Central Africa. Designed and built by a Chinese company in conjunction with Kenya’s Rural Energy Authority, this plant supplies half of the solar power generated in the country, powering 70,000 homes and offsetting about 43,000 tons of carbon emissions every year. The former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta praised the plant as a project that puts Kenya on the path of achieving green energy sufficiency and adds to Kenya’s rich profile as the center of Africa’s green energy transition.

In Uganda, the Chinese-built Karuma hydroelectric plant is the largest power-generating installation in the country. It can cut 3.48 million tons of carbon emissions annually, not to mention the US$200 million-plus in revenue it generates for the government, which is close to one percent of the country’s current GDP.

Together with the Isimba hydroelectric power plant also built by a Chinese company, it has doubled Uganda’s total installed hydropower capacity from 764 megawatts to 1,552 megawatts, contributing immensely to the country’s goal of ensuring that every person has access to secure, affordable, and sustainable energy.

In South Africa, the De Aar Wind Farm developed by a Chinese company has an installed capacity of 244.5 megawatts. The project has supplied 760 million kilowatt-hours of clean electricity annually since its operation in 2017, meeting the electricity demand of 300,000 households while reducing 619,900 tons of carbon emissions each year.

The list goes on. Under the FOCAC framework, China and Africa have already carried out over 100 green energy projects, many of which have become flagship projects that turbocharge Africa’s socio-economic development and industrialization.

Such cooperation is beneficial for Africa’s green transition drive. According to Brookings’ Foresight Africa report, by 2030 Africa will have 17 cities with more than five million inhabitants and 90 cities with at least one million inhabitants. The African Development Bank predicts that Africa can more than double its industrial GDP from US$751 billion to US$1.72 trillion within the next decade. But at the same time, Africa is the most vulnerable continent to climate change, the impacts of which can threaten to undo its development gains and cause the continent to slip into even higher levels of extreme poverty.

Hence the great importance of building more robust and resilient green electricity-generating facilities to meet growing electricity demand from rapid urbanization and industrialization and reduce environmental pressures. And partnership with China, as evidenced by the numerous solar, wind, hydro, and thermal power plants running across Africa, is instrumental in this process.

China-Africa cooperation on green energy also contributes to the betterment of the well-being of the local people. In addition to large-scale projects that power entire cities and regions, small and beautiful programs have been rolled out that focus on the electricity needs of those living in rural communities, considering that a significant percentage of African people still live in underserved rural areas.

In September 2023, China pledged at the first Africa Climate Summit that it would launch an Africa Solar Belt program to advance RMB100 million yuan (US$13.7 million) for solar projects in regions not served by main power grids, which will help at least 50,000 families. Then on the sidelines of last year’s COP28, China announced the launch of the China-Africa Energy Innovation Accelerator Program, under which China will work with Africa to explore and apply smaller-scale innovative technologies and solutions best suited to the diversified needs of African countries in their energy transition.

“Actions speak louder than words,” a famous Chinese proverb goes. The two-pronged approach combining large-scale power projects with small and beautiful people-centered programs has helped light up numerous African households and Africa’s path to sustainable development. In real and concrete terms, China has proven itself a reliable partner in the continent’s greener and greater future.

Yi Xin is a Beijing-based observer

Yi Xin
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