A conversation with Lorenzo Colantoni
The huge effort that the world is making during these difficult days will be vital to re-start in the future in the right way. Global Governance keeps on putting all the possible effort to maintain the “normal” course of activities in order to offer to GG students lots of inspiring models for their careers.
In these terms, in the last Global Conversation, GG students were delighted by the presence of a very special guest who dealt with a particular topic: the energetic revolution in Sub-Saharian Africa.
Lorenzo Colantoni is a researcher for the “Istituto Affari Internazionali” (IAI) focused on Sub-Saharian Africa, European Union and climate change impacts. He is the videomaker and executive manager of a cultural association called Akronos. He is the author of several books and web documentaries in collaboration with National Geographic; moreover he is specialized in video making and multimedia journalism.
This new era for Africa is not only the symbol of future perspectives for a developing country, but also an important proof of how perseverance and dedication can bear fruit. It is clear that an energetic revolution will have a huge impact on politics, economics and society of the whole continent.
There are multiple major business constraints in Sub-Saharian Africa (SSA), such as lack of energy, informal labour, corruption, everything seems being lagged behind; However, in the last years there have been substantial turning points that are indicator of change.
First of all, one of the greatest turn of SSA has been the decrease of percentage of people without the access to power. Considering the most optimistic view, the improvements of Africa are at first stages: the total population of Africa is 1.2 billion of people and 600 millions of them are living without access to electricity. 60% of them is living in SSA lacking access to electricity and 80 % as well in the rest of Africa lived in rural areas. Considering that “access to energy” is the basis society and every activity like market, education or industrialization; the lack of it has its visible consequences: it is one of the first causes of deforestation in Africa, 600,000 deaths a year in SSA for the lack of clean cooking and electric lights and more.
The forecast for the future population are concerned in the double of the current number and 1.3 billion are expected to live in cities by 2050. This new vision is not only considering a step forward in the quality of life for citizens but also the need for new resources, with a “clever exploitation” of them .
After the conversation I have had the pleasure to interview Mr. Lorenzo Colantoni in order to explore better his points of view about Africa and his experiences in the continent; Moreover, he shared three beautiful pictures taken by his drone to let us see the beauty of African nature.
The core of the Global Conversation was related to new perspectives for Africa, in particular in energetic terms. Can you give us three words that are able to sum up this “new future” for Africa?
Well, this is a very interesting question. There are actually a lot of words that are able to describe this new situation for Africa, but if I have to choose the first word that comes to my mind is “Unique”.
This is an unprecedented moment for Africa. This feeling of optimism and huge potential is traceable in the early 1960s: historical moment when seventeen colonies have gained the independence. It is the perfect moment to build the soul for a “new continent”. In the past, this dream has not been realized; now it is the perfect moment for a new era first for the population of Africa and then for the economy of the country.
Then, the second word is “Leapfrogging”. It is a concept that expresses a quick development through a technological advancement. We can see here that Africa is able to skip some intermediate steps of development that Europe or China had to face in the past. An example can be the communication problem that Africa is trying to overcome: the great distances among the cities of the continent have been reduced by the construction of infrastructures for telecommunications. The “added value” concerns the adoption of a green mindset from the very first moment because it is the starting point of the economy; a fast and dynamic way of action is able to grow in a difficult land.
Finally, I think that the third word could be found in an expression “Africa is at the fork”. This continent has all the elements for a stable consolidation of the current development: we need to exploit this “Golden moment” to give the possibility to Africa for a fair competition on global market, an equal consumption of resources without an over-exploitation of the territory. An example can be the event of over fishing in the gulf of Guinea: an episode of sea raids where there is not a real control.
In your memory, what have been your first impressions about Africa, in particular Sub-Saharian Africa?
From the human point of view, I can say that it’s easy to fall in love with Africa:
its beauty hits you from the very first foot placed outside the airplane; being welcomed in this country is like staying at home. It is inevitable to say that working there is a difficult practice, life as a “tourist” has not to be taken into account. Every region is very different from the others, in particular they have their own traditions, economic capacity and State organization; for example Ghana has a more fragmented reality with a high interchange with Europeans, on the contrary Mali is the descendant of a great civilization with a completely different relationship with the world.
What are your most beautiful memories about your multiple experiences in Africa?
When I think about Africa, a nostalgic tinge always touches my heart. I have lots of wonderful memories about the places that I have visited and people that I met, but I have two favorite moments that describe in a perfect way what Africa means for me.
The first one concerns my arrival to Mali: I was working as a journalist for an UN mission against the female circumcision. I remember the spontaneous atmosphere of people, in particular women; everyone was dancing with a huge smile. I have to say that I was not feeling so far away from home because it seemed to be in Italy.
The second one is linked with my experience in Uganda, there I was the witnessing the particular mixture of difficult life and health conditions of Lake Victoria’s archipelago.
In which way the energy trilemma can be applied to the new African perspectives on the use of energy ?
The concept of energy trilemma can be extended to the “Sustainability discussion”: we need to reason on social and economic sustainability.
We can’t look at the system in an inorganic way, in particular because we have to face climate change with a well-rounded sustainable action; moreover it is important to think about the consequences of our action on a social sphere. The right energy for a better society because in the case of Africa, the social sphere needs to be the priority when a transformation like this one is happening. It is true that the industrialization should be a priority for a developing country but the growth should reach everyone with an equal geographical and social size.The trilemma concept is a winning idea in Africa because the social factor is the point of departure for every project: the richness of the continent lies in the population. In the past the “traditional channels” have failed in triggering the transformation; a greener attitude could be the key to achieve some results, such as an African electrification network.
What is your advice for GG students that are making plans for their future?
My personal advice to you is to acquire an entrepreneurial spirit: you need to bring new ideas to the world having an original method to express them. Everyone can offer new perspectives to see the world, the difference is made by the courage to shout it out loud to the world.