Ayuk’s a just transition: Blueprint for an African century

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By Duggan Flanakin 

The 2020 African Youth Survey, sponsored by the Ichikowitz Family Foundation, found that 65 percent of the 4,200 African youth surveyed across 14 nations believed that the 21st Century will be “the African Century.”

Foundation chairman Ivor Ichikowitz called the results of the survey “a loud wake-up call to all the Afro-skeptics” and boasted that youth in Africa want to shape their own destiny. Young Africans are “honest about what needs to be done, and what their role has to be to achieve this – and they are keen to make that difference.”

In his new book A Just Transition: Making Energy Poverty History with Natural Resources, Cameroonian attorney NJ Ayuk, founder and chairman of the African Energy Chamber, lays out the blueprint for bringing that hopeful vision to reality.

Ayuk, an avoked capitalist, found great wisdom in a statement that Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin applied to Communism: “Industry cannot be developed without electrification” of the whole continent. Fortunately, Ayuk added, Africa is endowed with an abundance of energy sources that can and must be developed to the greatest extent – by Africans.

In his earlier book, Billions at Play: The Future of African Energy and Doing Deals, Ayuk’s goal was to create a roadmap that African petroleum-producing countries could use “to break away from the resource curse and fully harness the benefits of our natural oil and gas resources.”

But in May 2021, Ayuk learned that Africa Oil Week, the continent’s largest oil and gas conference, was being moved from Cape Town to Dubai – out of Africa entirely. In his view, the decision, made by Europeans, represented “the same insulting, patronizing mindset that has led environmental groups and Western countries to suggest they know what’s best for Africa as they pressure our leaders into energy transition decisions that aren’t in Africa’s best interest.”

This final straw of European arrogance, Ayuk says, led him both to write this book that lays out a continent-wide template for developing Africa’s energy and human resources. He also kicked off this effort by creating African Energy Week and holding it in Cape Town – the city the European-led Africa Oil Week sponsors had rejected.

The ridicule for this bold move included, Ayuk notes, “racial epithets and coded words used against us.” But Ayuk had the last laugh. Not a single energy minister or head of state from any of Africa’s oil-producing countries went to Dubai. They all came to Cape Town instead, as did representatives from a host of international companies. And they did not just talk about oil and gas but also about renewable energy’s role in Africa’s future.

And, perhaps best of all – the focus was on promoting free markets and limited government. Moreover, participants at that first African Energy Week made nearly $24 billion worth of deals.

Ayuk admits there are multiple, difficult obstacles for Africans to overcome to create the African Century for an energy-thirsty continent in which 600 million have no access to electricity and where there are far too few jobs, too little education, and too much outside interference. An “all of the above” energy policy is the only way to power the continent for 21st Century prosperity.

The only sure pathway, Ayuk argues, is to ignore the demands of rich-nation environmentalists and develop abundant oil, associated gas, and natural gas resources that enable electrifying the continent while also timely developing Africa’s equally abundant resources for wind, solar, hydroelectric, blue and green hydrogen, and geothermal energy.

African governments, Ayuk urges, should support all projects with promise for increasing domestic electricity supplies. African countries need electricity to create and sustain more jobs and a higher standard of living and to enable the diversification of African economies to include technology, petrochemicals, fertilizers, and factories – and a transportation system that allows for higher efficiencies and increased trade.

The challenge also includes incorporating good governance, artificial intelligence and analytics, better education, jobs, and working conditions for women, an end to abusive child labor, and a greater emphasis on STEM studies and research funding to empower African innovation. And, he adds, an end to “foreign aid” and the strings that come with it. Africans, too, must begin to finance their own growth and seek partnerships, not handouts (or bad advice).

Ayuk points to recent oil and gas discoveries in Angola, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, South Africa, Gabon, Ghana, and beyond that can provide local electricity and jobs as well as wealth. Natural gas, though, is the essential bridge to an African clean energy future, and major natural gas discoveries in Mozambique, Ghana, Senegal, and Tanzania – just for starters – can fuel gas-to-power projects to turn the lights on across the continent.

South Africa, Ayuk says, could soon become home to Africa’s first “hydrogen valley,” an incubator for pilot projects across the hydrogen value chain – production, transport, distribution, and end uses that include hydrogen-powered heavy equipment, steel production, and more. Morocco, he notes, is already working to build a hydrogen economy to include infrastructure, hydrogen pipelines, and a logistics hub.

Africa too has huge potential for wind and solar (40 percent of the world’s solar energy potential), but to properly develop these resources for Africa’s advantage the continent must build an economic base to finance their development. That, Ayuk says, begins with using gas to meet domestic energy demand in full to create mature energy markets continent-wide.

Then, as with the developed world, Africans can install more solar panels and wind turbines as complements to gas-burning power plants that “make sure the lights always stay on.”

Moreover, as African nations also supply the rare-earth metals, copper, cobalt, and other raw materials for renewable energy equipment, Africans can begin to manufacture solar panels, wind turbines, batteries, and other components without adding the cost of transporting raw materials halfway around the world and back.

Ayuk sums up his proposal for creating an African Century this way. Start with gas in order to quickly beef up African electricity production – the key to just about everything. Explore options for developing all energy resources. Use oil domestically in the manufacture of petrochemicals, lubricants, plastics, and other products.

Phase in renewables, which admittedly do not yield as much energy today for the money as fossil fuels; and use energy growth – electricity – to support agriculture, manufacturing, tourism, and other sectors that can create jobs and expand the economy.

Seize every opportunity to acquire new technologies and skills along the way, and work with partners who can help train Africans to use them. Africans have already benefitted from leapfrogging via cell phones – moving rapidly in two decades from a society with fewer land lines than Manhattan to over a billion cell phones that have transformed the continent’s access to information and communications. Other leapfrogging options should be seized upon.

And most of all – build an African Century for Africans. The world will benefit as well.


  • Duggan FlanakinDuggan Flanakin
  • Duggan Flanakin is the Director of Policy Research at the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow.
  • A former Senior Fellow with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Mr. Flanakin authored definitive works on the creation of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and on environmental education in Texas.
  • A brief history of his multifaceted career appears in his book, “Infinite Galaxies: Poems from the Dugout.”

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