Change the world? Change the way you see it
I write about a series of energy related paradigms that require shifting. One paradigm every week, ten weeks in a row. This is the fourth one.
Down memory lane
Last year I visited Niger for the first time in 26 years. I grew up in a family of development workers and lived in West Africa until I was eleven. The school I attended had no electricity, and as you can see in the header picture we were lucky to have electric light and even television in our home.
Today Niger is the 9th most energy-poor country in the world. Less than 15% of the population has access to electricity. Energy poverty is considered to be the worst kind of poverty according to Time magazine. The lucky ones in Niger have all their power imported from Nigeria, where it is produced by coal-fired power plants. Even for them 6 power cuts per day are no exception.
This seems quite normal for a poor -more than 60% of the population survives on less than $1 a day- country like Niger, but it is strange once you find out that Niger is the world’s 4th exporter of uranium.
Nigeriens (not to be mistaken for their neighboring anglophone Nigerians) are not granted access to their own resources. How did this happen?
Oh là là
Niger -more than two times the surface of France, of which half is covered by the Sahara desert- has been a French colony until 1960. In 1957 the colonists discovered uranium while searching for copper. Niger became independent, but the uranium mines remained under French control through commercial mining companies, owned by the government. Since then Niger grew into the fourth uranium exporter in the world, mainly exporting to France, which built 58 nuclear power plants in the following years –roughly one seventh of all the nuclear power plants world wide-. One may argue that the old-way colonialism has merely been replaced by government-owned-corporate colonialism. Even former Frech president Jacues Chirac stated in 2008 that “Without Africa, France will slide down into the rank of a third [world] power”.
Never too late to negotiate
In recent years the government of Niger attempted to negotiate better export conditions for all that uranium. They succeeded: the government can now expect a "whopping" $39 million in additional annual revenues, doubling their earnings in comparison to previous decades. They can now also further negotiate their mining royalties to 12% of mining company Areva’s Niger-based operational profits, and for the first time in history bring Nigerien directors on the mining companies’ board.
Unfortunately none of these promises have been effectuated yet, due to the "low price of uranium these days". In comparison: the Dutch government receives 180 times more -over $16 billion- for the exploitation of their natural gas fields each year, and owns 50% of the Dutch natural gas fields.
A French game of Risk
Moreover, Niger is only one out of 14 African countries that are obliged to pay France a “Colonial tax”, have their national reserves confiscated and controlled by the France Central bank, and are obliged to ally with France in case of war or global crisis.
Is there hope for Niger? Well, if it were only for the uranium I think not. I believe the Nigeriens may consider themselves lucky for not having been granted the opportunity to become addicted to highly radioactive material. Instead, the sun in sub-Saharan Africa is so abundant that more and more Nigeriens start to discover its super powers.
Strength beyond measure
For instance: the mobile phone grid is largely powered by solar energy, and the first street lighting in Dosso -where I grew up- is also powered by the sun. My belief is that Niger and other African countries will soon discover their strength beyond measure thanks to renewable resources that can be claimed or owned by none, and utilize them to finally become truly independent.
Arash (1977), activist entrepreneur, startup coach, speaker, aims to contribute to a culture of empowerment in an economy of abundance. Watch his TEDx here.
You can read Arash' other articles in this series here:
Paradigm #1: No energy savings will save us
Paradigm #2: Alternative is not alternative
Paradigm #3: Thank you fossil fuels!
Stay tuned for paradigm #5 next Tuesday
- photo credits -
header photo: Regina van der Poel, ca. 1982, Dosso, Niger. The boy in the middle is the author of this article
bodytext photo: mobile telephony transmitter near Koygolo, Niger, photo by Arash Aazami