Tag Archives: Africa

Small chat about Africa and optimism


The other day I interviewed my colleague Jon Spaull about his recent trip to South Africa, where he visited the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) radio telescope. The telescope is still under construction but once completed, in 2028, it will enable astronomers to “monitor the sky in unprecedented detail and survey the entire sky thousands of times faster than any system currently in existence.”

You will learn more about the project in the next SciDev podcast, or you can watch Jon’s film here.

While talking about the young researchers working at SKA, I realised that the strongest impression I got from I daresay all of my African friends and in general the African people I met, regardless social background, gender or age, is of a strong optimism.

Born and raised in a country where people know that the best is behind and the future is something from which one should protect oneself instead of embrace it, optimism always strikes me.

I drew a secret map of what people said me, the reasons why they want and believe they can make an impact in the respective countries. They look with trust at their political leaders or at the scientific progress of their nations. Sometimes they just believe that change will come from civil society. Having worked for a little while with African partners and having eagerly listened to the stories of those who travelled and lived in the continent, I came to think there is an element of truth in this positive narrative.

Of course once you detach yourself from the success stories you hear and report on, and look at solid data on poverty, governance, transparency or energy access the situation looks very different, and it makes you feel a bit of a fool.

But I think that optimism is a mandatory first step in a drive for change. That’s what’s lacking in my homecountry. People want a change, but nobody really believes it’s going to happen, or it’s even possible.

Here’s a soundbite of me and Jon that I randomly grabbed during our interview.

On Africa, energy and what’s next


Looking back to my feelings about my first trip to Africa, I remember thinking – should I hate it (after having written so much about it) would I have to quit my job?

Now that was a joke, but in truth I didn’t know what to expect and I was rather nervous at the idea of catching strange diseases of parasites. Someone told me you can get maggots that grow under your skin. No joke he still has tiny scars on his forearm.

Anyway at the end of the two weeks I spent in Ethiopia I was struck by the difference between my Europe and what felt like another world, and I decided to go back to Africa as soon as possible. So South Africa is waiting for me in May, this time for holiday and I will probably be offline for a while.

Addis will linger in my memory as city of contrast, with mothers and babies sitting on the side of dusty roads while businessmen and diplomats eat expensive meals in the restaurant of a luxury hotel just a few meters away.

A room in an average hotel costs about 175 US$ per night, equivalent to 3380 birrs, the local currency. The average monthly salary of a chef or an experienced waiter is around 2000 birrs.

My two weeks were spent working on two very different tasks. For the first week I’ve been covering a conference of the African EU Energy Partnership. It was a very interesting meeting where I had the chance to meet awesome people from different countries, had a lot of fun and tested my skills with some data journalism.

The partners from Africa and the EU gathered for the first time in 2010, in Vienna, to set goals for energy progress in Africa to be met by 2020.The goal involved different fields, the most important of which were energy security, to be achieved through increased energy production from a mix of renewables and fossil fuels, and energy access for additional 100 million Africans by the end of the decade.

But the first status report, published during the conference, unveiled a rather upsetting situation. None of the target is likely to be met and a serious lack of planning leaves little room for hope. You can read a blog I wrote on the topic here, and the full report here.

Among other things, here’s an infographic I produced with Piktochart (here the interactive version). It shows how long would it take to meet the targets at the present rate of increase. Pretty striking figures: wind energy would meet the goals set for 2020 in… 2117.

That of course raises questions about the baseline used to set the goals, and about the data collection capacity underlying it. You will hear more on that in my next podcast, to be published in a few days.

Africa energy performance