Mobility, innovation and stability, three of the most important civilizational factors in economic development, are not calibrated the same way in every region of the world. Mary McAuliffe reports on the specific nomadic habits of African populations, for WeForum: “One of the most striking aspects about international migrants in Africa is that most move within the region. Contrary to much media coverage, the majority of Africans do not leave the continent. They largely move to neighboring countries. Between 2015 and 2017, for example, the number of African international migrants living within the region jumped from 16 million to around 19 million.”
Off-grid systems are therefore necessary in this context to adapt to this particular situation of population distribution. Electricity, for instance, has long been a problematic lack for many remote areas to develop, as HuffPost Odabias Ndaba writes: “In Sub-Saharan Africa, more than two-thirds of the population doesn’t have access to electricity. This level of energy poverty stunts economic growth, which in turn adversely affects the ability of nations to fight poverty, improve health care and education.” This problem is being addressed with the arrival of new off-grid systems, such as solar panels provided by the Chinese partners, which will enable power production anywhere the populations go.
It was mobile banking that started the trend. With many of its population living in remote rural areas, with no access to banks, the economic potential of banking had long been neglected. Diana Brazzel writes for the Huffington Post: “When up to 90% of your population doesn’t have a bank account, how do you bring them into the financial system quickly and easily? Rosengard believes Kenya has struck on a promising solution: mobile banking.”
But when smartphones spread like a rash all over the continent, and Africans started using electronic terminals to conduct business, nomadism transformed from a shackle to an opportunity. In 2017, the Chinese smartphone manufacturer Transsion Holding became the number one phone seller in Africa, surpassing its Korean competitor Samsung with more than 50 million phones sold in the first semester alone, reflecting how important China was becoming as an economic partner.
Creating our won area of prosperity
Off-grid systems, in their very nature, are small, nimble and self-standing. If a small community, like a village or a valley, simply unites around the project of powering their area, or securing a source of safe water, then private and local projects will be carried out much faster. Inhabitants can even create, with off-grid systems, their own area of prosperity.
Patrick Couzinet, CEO for Veolia Water Technology, says: “Off-grid systems represent an opportunity for inhabitants of neglected regions to take matters into their own hands and develop their surroundings regardless of exterior factors.” His company has recently launched a campaign towards Africa, with the development of new off-grid water treatment units. Basically, a miniature water treatment plant built on a truck, these units can supply hundreds or thousands of people with fresh clean water, and serve different locations, whether or not a water network exists.
When considering the tremendous impulse which electricity gave the industrial revolution, one can only imagine what electrical power could yield on the African continent, if it were generalized and immune to economic disruptions. The recent massive influx of Chinese funds has come with Chinese technology. Once limited to low-grade manufacturing, China has now reached a standing of a powerful industrial country, capable of achieving both high quality and massive quantities, at falling prices, and Africa is on the way to establishing the same development feat, namely through Chinese-supplied solar power.
Reporter Louisa Gee writes: “Many people around the world, in both urban and rural communities, struggle to break out of the cycle of poverty. One of the reasons is a lack of electricity. A staggering 600 million people in Africa are without reliable, affordable electricity […] The ongoing discussions of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) have included recommendations on sustainable energy projects such as solar power.”
Solutions for nomadic people
Africa is already benefiting the massive solar panel construction capacities of its Chinese partner, in its environmental transition. Much like water treatment units, solar panel fields can power entire regions, funded only by local industries and inhabitants, and don’t care much whether a national power grid is up and running or not. Some African countries are in such good position to receive solar power that it alone could make a significant dent into poverty. SOLA analyzes the solar resources of countries and writes that “Africa has fantastic solar resource, and, unlike the finite fossil fuel resources which have historically been extricated from the continent, solar energy renews every day, and can be used directly where it lands. Coupled with the dire need for affordable, decentralized energy to enable economic growth, solar PV is the perfect resource to facilitate Africa’s progress. Along with this, the falling costs of solar PV are set to be a positive boon for Africa.” Generalized, locally-sourced and reliable access to water and electricity would be an immense leap in African development. Given how water issues trickle down into many subsequent problems, and how lack of electrical power contains economies to workshop levels, such a change would jolt African nations onto a new growth path, because mobility of networks would now be fitted to that of the populations. Nomadic populations with systems that support their livelihood and businesses are faster and more efficient and launching projects. In economic terms, it’s called disruption, in the best sense of the term.
Generalized, locally-sourced and reliable access to water and electricity would be an immense leap in African development. Given how water issues trickle down into many subsequent problems, and how lack of electrical power contains economies to workshop levels, such a change would jolt African nations onto a new growth path, because mobility of networks would now be fitted to that of the populations. Nomadic populations with systems that support their livelihood and businesses are faster and more efficient and launching projects. In economic terms, it’s called disruption, in the best sense of the term.