Paul Lachine

Lighting the Dark Continent

Nineteenth-century European explorers called Africa the Dark Continent, because to them it was vast and largely unknown. Today, Africa may still be dark, but for a very different reason: it is chronically short of electricity.

NAIROBI – Nineteenth-century European explorers called Africa the “Dark Continent,” because to them it was vast and largely unknown. Today, Africa may still be dark, but for a very different reason: it is chronically short of electricity. Indeed, nocturnal satellite images show that, except for some parts of southern and northern Africa, it barely twinkles.

The United Nations has designated 2012 the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All. Its official launch in Africa in mid-February will not “switch on” the continent in a flash – but it can help to jump-start global efforts towards that goal, thereby enhancing the lives and livelihoods of millions of people.

Attempts have been made before to electrify Africa, with mixed results. But this time can be different. Many countries are already testing the technologies and policies needed to bring energy to rural areas and growing cities. Innovative investment mechanisms and sharply falling manufacturing and installation costs of renewable energy technologies, including wind, advanced biomass, and solar power, are essential to unlocking the continent’s potential.

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