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COVID-19 Exposed Burden Women Bear as Caregivers—Mercy Jelimo

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Mercy Jelimo

By Kester Kenn Klomegah

For over two decades, the Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW) has been fighting for gender equality, empowerment of women and improvement of women’s rights in Kenya and broadly in East Africa.

Established in 1999, CREAW has used bold, innovative and holistic interventions for the realization of women’s rights. Most of its programs have focused on challenging practices that undermine equity, equality and constitutionalism, promoting women’s participation in decision making and deepening the ideology and philosophy of women’s empowerment.

In this interview, Mercy Jelimo, an Executive Program Officer at the Nairobi-based CREAW discusses the current situation about gender issues, landmarked achievements, existing challenges and the way forward. Here are the interview excerpts:

In your estimation and from your research, how is the situation with gender inequality, specifically in Kenya, and generally in East Africa?

This survey was commissioned by our partners Women Deliver and Focus 2030 with over 17,000 respondents covering 17 countries on six continents. The survey findings indicated that over 60% of respondents believed that gender equality had progressed. However, on average, 57% of respondents also felt that the fight for gender equality is not over particularly because we see key aspects of gender inequality persist including unequal distribution of unpaid care, domestic work and parental responsibilities between men and women (the COVID-19 pandemic has spotlighted the burden women bear as caregivers) different employment opportunities with religion and culture continuing to entrench discrimination against women.

Whereas in East Africa, the survey only covered Kenya, the results are shared across. In particular, the Kenyan respondents indicated that there has been notable progress in regards to gender equality particularly when it comes to the legal and policy frameworks to guard against discrimination on whichever basis be it sex, religion, class or race.

Over the last quarter-century, the country has promulgated a new Constitution and a raft of subsidiary legislations and policies that are critical to gender equality. Some of these laws include but not limited to: the Sexual Offences Act 2006, the Children’s Act 2001, the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act 2011, the Marriage Act 2014, the Protection Against Domestic Violence Act 2015, the Victim Protection Act 2014, the Witness Protection Act 2008, the National Policy for Prevention and Response to Gender-Based Violence 2014, the National Guidelines on the Management of Sexual Violence 2015, the Multi-sector Standard Operating Procedures for Prevention and Response to Gender-Based Violence, and the National Policy on the Eradication of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) 2019.

Kenya has also ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (the Maputo Protocol), the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, among other instruments.

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However, even with this robust legal framework, accountability and the implementation of these laws have lagged behind.

The status of women and girls as compared to men and boys still remains unequal at all levels of society both public and private. This imbalance manifests itself as normalized negative social norms and ‘cultural’ practices with brutal violations against women and girls continuing to be perpetrated, women being excluded from leadership and decision making positions, limited in their political participation and women and girls being denied access to economic opportunities.

Undeniably, women and girls continue to be victims of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) including rape, domestic violence, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and child marriage.

In fact, as of March 2020, according to statistics from Kenya’s Gender Violence Recovery Centre (GVRC), 45% of women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 have experienced either physical or sexual violence with women with girls accounting for 90% of gender-based violence (SGBV) cases reported.

Harmful practices such as FGM and child marriage are still prevalent, with the Kenya Demographic Health Survey (2014) reporting a national FGM prevalence rate of 21% for women and girls aged 15-49 years of age. The prevalence rate differs from one practising community to the other, with communities such as Somali (96%) Samburu (86%) and The Maasai (78%) having significantly higher prevalence.

Sadly, this is the story across all the other countries in East Africa where we have progressive legal and Policy framework but with zero accountability mechanisms.

It is worth noting that in 2018, the East Africa Community Council of Ministers approved the EAC Gender policy which is key to ensuring that gender equality and empowerment of women are not only integrated into every aspect of its work but provides an outline of key priority areas for partner states.

The EAC has also instituted other gender mainstreaming efforts including the EAC Social Development framework (2013), the EAC child policy (2016) the EAC Youth policy (2013), a Gender Mainstreaming Strategy for EAC Organs and Institutions, (2013) amongst others.

By the way, what are your research findings that you presented in a report on January 28? Are there any similarities and differences in gender studies in other East Africa countries?

The key findings from Kenya can generally be used to paint a picture of the situation in the EAC region. Apparent gender disparities in the region remain in a number of areas such as in political representation, access to education and training, access to quality and affordable healthcare, high unemployment rates of women, rampant sexual and gender-based violence, harmful cultural practices, inadequate financing for gender needs and programs.

Firstly, when asked about the status of gender equality, the majority of respondents identified gender equality as an important issue (96%) and that government should do more (invest) to promote gender equality.

Secondly, the role of religion and culture; how boys and girls are socialized and unequal representation were identified as obstacles to gender equality. This finding indicates the work that still remains to be done for gender equality actors in Kenya and other partner states in the EAC.

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The most important step to achieving gender equality is dismantling systems and structures that promote and protect inequalities. whereas the country has made tremendous progress in having relevant legal and policy frameworks, there is still a lack of implementation of these laws – this finding answers the why question– because institutions, people and structures are still very patriarchal.

Furthermore, the lack of representation of women (also cited by Kenyan respondents as an obstacle) might explain the failures in the implementation of the laws and policies.

Thirdly, the respondents identified corruption as the most important issue facing the country. This finding is also supported by the 2019 Global Corruption Barometer – Africa survey that showed that more than half of citizens in the continent think graft is getting worse and that governments were doing very little to curb the vice.

The impact that corruption has on service delivery cannot be overemphasized especially on public goods such as healthcare, education, water and sanitation. More specifically, is the resulting lack of public financing to programs and interventions that address gender needs & promote gender equality.

A recent Corruption Perception Index (CPI) Report by Transparency International indicated that all the countries in East Africa with the exception of Rwanda scored below the global average rate of 43 out of 100.

More importantly, is that the report noted that countries that perform well on the CPI have strong enforcement of campaign finance regulations as this correlates with the dismal performance of women in politics who often than not do not have the requisite political funding to mount effective political campaigns and outcompete their male counterparts.

What would you say about discrimination or representation of women in politics in the region? Do you feel that women are not strongly encouraged in this political sphere?

There has been significant progress when it comes to women’s political representation and participation with a majority of the countries in the EAC region adopting constitutional quotas and other remedies to promote representation.

All the countries in the East Africa Community have achieved the 30% critical mass with the exception of Kenya (21%) and South Sudan (28%).

More women occupy ministerial portfolios that were perceived to be the preserve of men such as defence, foreign affairs, manufacturing, trade, public service and so forth. Not to miss that the leading country globally – Rwanda is from the region (63%).

However, most institutions including parliaments are still male-dominated and women in the region still face a number of challenges including violence against women in politics, religious and cultural beliefs and norms that limit women role, lack of support from political parties, lack of campaign financing and unregulated campaign financing environment with the progressive legal and policy frameworks yet to be fully implemented.

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These challenges continue to limit the representation and participation of women in the public and political sphere. The region is yet to have a woman as a president just to illustrate the glass ceilings that remain.

Tell us about how women are perceived (public opinion) in society there? How is the state or government committed to change this situation, most probably by enacting policies?

“Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget and I‘ll tell you what you value” This quote by President Joe Biden aptly captures the state of affairs in the region in relation to gender equality. The countries in the region have continued to enact and reform legal and policy frameworks but have largely remained unimplemented; the primary reasons being lack of financial and accountability mechanisms to ensure that these programs and policies are actualized.

For us to reach the conclusion that governments are committed to promoting gender equality and women empowerment, we need to see a shift from lip service to prioritization and adequate resourcing of programs that advance gender equality.

What platforms are there for improving gender equality, for ending gender-based violence and for discussing forms of discrimination there? Do you suggest governments have to act now to accelerate issues and progress on gender equality in East Africa?

As Deliver for Good Campaign partners in Kenya together with other gender equality advocates, the Sustainable Development Goals and Africa Agenda 2063 provide important blueprints to developing our society economically, socially and politically.

The Deliver for Good campaign is evidence-based advocacy campaigns that call for better policies, programming and financial investments in girls and women. Most importantly, the Generation Equality Forum (GEF) is an important mobilization moment to ask governments and the private sector to accelerate progress not just in East Africa but globally.

Specifically, we will be using this moment to call on governments, not only make bigger and bolder commitments but also, to ensure that they match these commitments with financing and accountability mechanisms.

As the Deliver for Good campaign partners in Kenya, we have a particular interest in one of the GEF Action Coalitions – Gender-Based Violence – to leverage on the Kenyan government leadership and the political will to end traditional practices that are harmful to women and girls such as Female Genital Mutilation and Child Marriage. Particularly and in line with the survey findings, we will be calling for: increased accountability for physical and sexual crimes against women; increased investment in prevention and protection programs while calling for inclusive efforts and programs that leave no woman behind in Kenya and East Africa.

Kester Kenn Klomegah is a versatile researcher and a passionate contributor. Most of his well-resourced articles are reprinted elsewhere in a number of reputable foreign media

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Zimbabwe Woos More Russian Investors to Develop Economy

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Zimbabwean Minister SEKAI NZENZA Zimbabwe Woos

By Kester Kenn Klomegah

Zimbabwe, among a few African countries, featured prominently at this year’s edition of the Russian International Industrial and Trade Fair during the first week of July in Ekaterinburg, a city in the Urals region about 1,700 kilometres from Moscow.

About 76 per cent of exhibitors are top managers of Russian and foreign companies, heads of regions and representatives of federal authorities.

Widely referred to as INNOPROM, it is the main industrial, trade and export platform organized annually in Russia. Due to COVID-19, about 90 countries participated in the trade fair held under the theme Flexible Manufacturing in Ekaterinburg, according to INNOPROM official website.

Industry and Commerce Minister, Dr Sekai Nzenza, headed a sizeable business delegation, including officials from the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI), Zimbabwe Investment Development Agency (ZIDA), Zimtrade, the CEO Roundtable, the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC) and the Industrial Development Corporation of Zimbabwe (IDCZ).

Zimbabwe and Russia have an overwhelmingly close diplomatic relationship. Russia has been stepping up economic investment in Zimbabwe. Based on that friendship, Nzenza was invited by Russia’s Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov who was also the fair’s main guest.

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Nzenza’s office told Business Weekly that Zimbabwe had fruitful engagements with Russian companies that have expressed interest in the value addition of minerals such as tungsten, lithium and iron.

Russian firms are also keen to explore opportunities in agro-processing, phosphate, fertilizer and medical equipment as well as partnering local institutions in research and development.

There is scope for technology transfer from Russia to help retooling of local companies. Given the distance between the two countries, the perishability of fresh produce has been identified as a major impediment for growing exports to Russia, but the two countries have agreed to “work on that logistical challenge.”

Zimbabwe is currently exporting oranges to Russia and there is potential to increase exports of commodities such as garlic, ginger, macadamia, avocado, frozen fruits and vegetables as well as blueberries. Follow up meetings were held between business organizations in both countries.

She similarly told The Herald newspaper that the main focus participating at INNOPROM “is pushing Zimbabwe is open for business agenda and we are quite encouraged to participate at the fair.”

Russian companies are keen to invest in Zimbabwe’s various industries as the two countries further explore areas of economic cooperation. “The main focus is pushing Zimbabwe is open for business agenda we are quite encouraged to participate at the fair – an opportunity to meet potential Russian investors,” said Nzenza.

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As Zimbabwean Ambassador to the Russian Federation, Brigadier General Mike Nicholas Sango, noted in an exclusive interview with me, Russia and Zimbabwe have put in place structures and mechanisms for sustainable economic cooperation. Although Russia’s economy is under pressure from illegal sanctions and the depressed global economic environment, it is committed to assist Zimbabwe’s economic recovery.

He highlighted his government’s key priorities and expectations from Russia as follows:

Agriculture Support: Agriculture is the economic mainstay and provides 15% of GDP. Water harnessing through dam construction, irrigation mechanization, and agricultural machinery are key areas.

Infrastructure Development: Although the country has a fairly well-developed infrastructure, the road and rail infrastructure needs refurbishment and expansion to take trade volumes for the country as well as its neighbours to the north.

Mining: Zimbabwe is endowed with abundant unexploited resources.

Manufacturing: Zimbabwe’s manufacturing sector has been hit hard by illegal economic sanctions. Most industries have outdated and expensive to run machinery. They are in dire need of retooling, refurbishment and funding.

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Tourism: Zimbabwe hosts one of the wonders of the world, Victoria Falls. Investment in infrastructure development in the hotels would complement the opening by larger airports to accommodate larger body aircraft.

President Mnangagwa’s administration adopted Zimbabwe is open for business policy meant to woo investors to help revive the economy. In 2019, President Mnangagwa met his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin where the two leaders agreed to deepen economic cooperation between the two countries. Russia is one of the major sources of the country’s foreign direct investment, particularly in the mining sector.

Zimbabwe is a landlocked country located in Southeast Africa, between the Zambezi and Limpopo Rivers, bordered by South Africa to the south, Botswana to the south-west, Zambia to the north, and Mozambique to the east. The capital and largest city is Harare.

With an approximate population of 14.5 million, Zimbabwe is endowed with rich and extensive natural resources. It is one of the 16 countries, with a collective responsibility to promote socio-economic cooperation, within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) created in 1980.

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Pan-African Payments System to Help Africa Save $5bn Annually

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China Africa AfCFTA

By Adedapo Adesanya

The Secretary-General of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), Mr Wamkele Mene, has said that the planned launch of the Pan-African Payments and Settlements System (PAPSS) would save the continent an estimated $5 billion annually.

Mr Mene said this at the 2nd edition of the AfCFTA secretariat quarterly press briefing. He explained that the $5 billion would be saved from the accruals from conversions to Dollars.

He said that PAPSS, created in collaboration with the African Export-Import Bank (Afriexim bank), would address the currency conversion challenges for participating countries.

PAPSS is a centralised payment and settlement system created to serve the purpose of low cost and risk-controlled payment clearing and settlement system under intra-African trade.

He said that six countries had been set up for the pilot scheme, some of which include; Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone.

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Mr Mene projected that by the end of 2021, the secretariat would be in a position to reveal the platform’s availability for all countries to switch.

“There is an objective that one day, Africa would be a monetary union.

“Converting the about-42 currencies in Africa with its attendant cost of over five billion dollars yearly is a whole lot and so we want to reduce and eliminate this for the purpose of trading.

“Local banks would be able to switch to the platform as we are in consultation with the central banks and by the end of the year, we would be in a position to say the platform is available for all African countries that want to switch to it.

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“Afriexim bank has invested over one billion dollars and it is a strong signal that the AfCFTA would work.

“If you run a Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) and you have to use a foreign platform for the transaction, which is constraining and costly.

“With this system of payments, we would be able to enhance the effectiveness and competitiveness of SME as it addresses the constraints and costs associated with trade,” he said.

Mr Mene also noted that the Rules of Origin mechanism of trade was at 86 per cent completion, even though the secretariat was gearing for 90 per cent completion before application.

The AfCFTA chief stated that sensitisation and advocacy campaigns on the intricacies of the AfCFTA were a shared responsibility between participating states and the AfCFTA secretariat.

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He revealed that an Africa business forum for the whole continent would be hosted later in the year to raise additional awareness.

This, Mr Mene, said would also serve as a complementary step to what the various participating countries’ governments were already doing nationally on sensitisation.

“It is very important that the private sector is aware that there are export opportunities that this market creates and how they can maximally benefit from it.

“In all my visits to various participating countries, I have met with the private sector as a way to inform and incorporate them into what the AfCFTA is about,” he said.

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Africa Needs to Eradicate Energy Poverty—NJ Ayuk

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NJ Ayuk Energy Poverty

By Kester Kenn Klomegah

Understandably, energy is expected to drive Africa’s economic prosperity. In order to make great strides in the industrial sector and attain a high-level of sustainable development, for instance, energy is the key determining factor, argues NJ Ayuk, Executive Chairman of the African Energy Chamber, a pan-African company that focuses on research, documentation, negotiations and transactions in the energy sector.

According to him, scaling up Africa’s production capacity in order to achieve universal access to energy is a challenging task and points to the need for a transformative partnership-based strategy that aims to increase access to energy for all Africans.

He further talks about transparency, good governance and policies that could create a favourable investment climate, especially in the energy sector.

Speaking in an insightful interview with Kester Kenn Klomegah in early July 2021, NJ Ayuk unreservedly calls for strong foreign partnerships in harnessing and distribution of energy, stresses the significance of foreign investment in large-scale exploration projects in African countries.

Within the context of the newly created African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), he suggests that politicians, investors and stakeholders need to change the business perception and create an entirely new outlook into the future. Here are the interview excerpts:

What are the popular narratives about energy sources, production and utilization in Africa? In your expert view, how would you characterize energy needs in Africa?

The popular narratives are the prevalence of energy poverty on the continent. Most of the oil and gas producing countries have some kind of conflict going on in the area which affects the local people and the companies which choose to invest in these areas. For a country like Ghana, for example, we have seen the upside of the effective way of carrying out oil production, a major contribution has been its transparency and its policies.

African countries do, however, suffer from the policies they draft which take years to implement, and if implemented take long to administer the contracts for production to take effect. With that said, the effect on the upstream sector automatically affects the midstream and downstream, sectors, which essentially affects the economy of the different countries.

It’s without a doubt that energy poverty needs to be eradicated. Africa has the world’s lowest per capita energy consumption: with 16 per cent of the world’s population (1.18 billion out of 7.35 billion populations), it consumes about 3.3 per cent of global primary energy. Of all energy sources, Africa consumes the most oil (42 per cent of its total energy consumption) followed by gas (28 per cent), coal (22 per cent), hydro (6 per cent), renewable energy (1 per cent) and nuclear (1 per cent). South Africa is the world’s seventh-largest coal producer and accounts for 94 per cent of Africa’s coal production.

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Africa’s renewable energy resources are diverse, unevenly distributed and enormous in quantity — almost unlimited solar potential (10 TW), abundant hydro (350 GW), wind (110 GW) and geothermal energy sources (15 GW). Energy from biomass accounts for more than 30 per cent of the energy consumed in Africa and more than 80 per cent in many sub-Saharan African countries. Sub-Saharan Africa has undiscovered, but technically recoverable, energy resources estimated at about 115.34 billion barrels of oil and 21.05 trillion cubic metres of gas.

Do African leaders see some of the controversial issues, in the same way, as you have discussed above?

In my opinion, African leaders do take heed of what has been discussed above but are too slow to tackle the issues, which eventually then build up. The effect of that is that once they have eventually tackled the first problem, they realize others have piled up and have to continue digging. Leaders also need to start bringing young people to the table who have fresher eyes and valuable contributions because of the times they live and are growing up in. A major contribution to that is the internet.

How do you assess the impact of energy deficit most especially within the context of the fourth industrial revolution? Is energy finance the determining factor here?

Firstly, we need good governance that creates an enabling environment for widespread economic growth and improved infrastructure. African leaders need an unwavering determination to make Africa work for us, even when there are missteps and things go wrong.

Without stability, projects and contracts cannot take effect. A recent example is an insurgency in Mozambique which has claimed lives but put a halt to a project which would have had a positive impact not only on Mozambique and its region but the entire continent. But now, we have to look ahead and not dwell on the shortcomings or pitfalls.

In order to change the tide and spur a post-pandemic recovery in the energy sector that will also enhance overall economic growth in Africa, African leaders must double their efforts to attract investment into their energy sectors. They must put in place timely and market-relevant strategies to deal with external headwinds like the drive to decarbonize globally and evolving demand patterns for energy internally and hydrocarbons globally. They must end restrictive fiscal regimes, inefficient and carbon-intensive production, cut bureaucracy and other difficulties in doing business that is preventing the industry from reaching its full potential.

What individual countries have set exceptional examples, at least, in offering energy and its utilization both in the urban cities and remote towns?

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Consider the impact of energy deficiency. Approximately 840 million Africans, mostly in sub-Saharan countries, have no access to electricity. Hundreds of millions have unreliable or limited power at best.

Even during normal circumstances, energy poverty should not be the reality to most Africans. The household air pollution created by burning biomass, including wood and animal waste, to cook and heat homes has been blamed for as many as 4 million deaths per year. How will this play out during the pandemic? For women forced to leave their homes to obtain and prepare food, sheltering in place is nearly impossible. What about those who need to be hospitalized? Only 28 per cent of sub-Saharan Africa’s health care facilities have reliable power. Physicians and nurses can’t even count on the lights being on, let alone the ability to treat patients with equipment that requires electricity — or store blood, medications, or vaccines. All of this puts African lives are at risk.

Africa does not need social programs, even educational programs, that come in the form of aid packages. What’s more, offering Africa aid packages to compensate for a halt or slow-down of oil and gas operations will not do Africans any good. This is not the time for Africa to be calling for more aid.

Africa has been receiving aid for nearly six decades, and what good has it done? We still don’t have enough jobs. Investment creates opportunities. We, as Africans, must be responsible. Our young people should be empowered to build an Africa we all can be proud of. Relying on the same old policies of the past, relying on aid, simply isn’t going to get us there.

Do you support expert views about “energy mix” — a combination of wind, solar, hydro and nuclear power? Why nuclear is still bug down with problems in Africa?

Straightway I would like to say yes. Africa must continue to bank on all forms of energy to address its shortfall in Energy production and distribution. From country to country, access to the generating resource will differ. Therefore, countries should focus on those resources to which they have easy and affordable access. Nuclear continues to be least accessible in Africa, due to the absence of technology and the high upfront construction costs associated with building such plants.

Africa has an almost unlimited renewable energy capacity, abundant access to solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal sources; however, except for a few large-scale projects, such potential is not adequately developed. What the continent needs is to reach a balance between reaching its energy transition goals and exploiting its natural resources, particularly natural gas, to ramp up power generation, generate jobs, and as a source of revenue. Natural gas’ potential to breathe new life into struggling African economies that are still reeling from the brutal economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Natural gas, affordable and abundant in Africa, has the power to spark significant job creation and capacity-building opportunities, economic diversification and growth. I am not saying that African nations should continue oil and gas operations indefinitely, with no movement toward renewable energy sources. I am saying that we should be setting the timetable for our own transition, and we should be deciding how it’s carried out. What I’d like to see, instead of Western pressure to bring African oil and gas activities to an abrupt halt, is a cooperative effort.

A number of foreign countries and private energy investing giants have shown interest in the energy sector. How do you assess the dynamics of their performance on the continent?

Local content is a pillar of the industry’s sustainability efforts. Sustainable development of African economies can only be attained by the development of local industry — by investing in Africans, building up African entrepreneurs and supporting the creation of indigenous companies. Oil companies have an unmatched ability, and a profound responsibility, to support countries in shaping an economy that works for all Senegalese and preserves their freedoms.

What is your view of Russia, considered as an energy giant, for instance, teaming up with China in Africa? Can both have a unified approach to collaborating on issues of energy projects in Africa?

First and foremost, Africa has already made an indelible mark in the oil and gas industry. I think Russian companies have to do more to really get involved. I always say that Africans want to get married, but Russians just want only to date. We need to change that and become more accountable. Both our compatriots expect better and more from our energy sectors.

As far as China and Russia are concerned, if both countries can avoid applying a “one size fits all” approach, so much good can come out of our oil and gas relationship with Russia. Africa has a lot to gain from Russian involvement and vice versa. Both must work towards empowering each other with concrete projects that bring benefit to investors and communities in which projects are situated. To be fair, positive developments from Russia and China don’t go unnoticed as their active presence in the continent leaves room for greater opportunities towards the energy mix.

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