The main driver for the new expansion of fossil fuels in Africa is the hope for economic growth. African leaders believe that harnessing these natural resources is crucial to progress. At the same time, the global context - characterized by gas shortages and increased demand from developed nations such as the EU - adds layers of complexity to this narrative.
For nations on the continent, oil and gas exploration is seen as the ticket to economic growth. But this aggressive pursuit of fossil fuels not only threatens Africa's unique biodiversity and communities, it also dims global hopes of limiting temperature rise. And with the current gas shortage, Africa's reserves have become even more attractive to the developed world, especially the European Union. Beneath this rush are layers of politics, economics and the complex power dynamics between the Global North and the Global South.
As a team of five journalists based in four countries, we will be investigating the shifts in Africa's fossil fuel industry over the coming months, with the aim of providing a comprehensive picture of the fossil fuel rollback across the continent.
We want to uncover why Africa is turning to fossil fuels and why African leaders are embracing this path. We'll also examine the role of international forces from the Global North and explore the potential long-term impacts on local environments, communities and the wider global climate.
An overview of the case studies we are highlighting in this project:
Mozambique (Cabo Delgado)
In Cabo Delgado, in the north of Mozambique, gas exploration in the 2010s uncovered significant reserves, attracting global energy giants such as Total, Eni and ExxonMobil. While this promises economic growth, the region has seen a rise in militancy since 2017, leading to a humanitarian crisis that has seen thousands killed and nearly a million displaced. In addition, these projects have displaced farming and fishing communities, impacting local livelihoods and the environment. However, multinational corporations plan to extend the gas extraction in the region.
ReconAfrica's search for oil and gas in the Okavango Delta, which straddles Namibia and Botswana, poses environmental, socio-cultural and economic challenges. The Delta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is at risk of ecological damage, particularly from potential fracking. There are also concerns about greenhouse gas emissions and the project's impact on water resources and indigenous rights. While drilling has been suspended, a new exploration phase is scheduled for 2024. While ReconAfrica claims it will be environmentally responsible, strong doubts remain. All this is happening in a country that is said to be at the forefront of renewable energy production worldwide.
The proposed East African Crude Oil Pipeline through Uganda and Tanzania promises economic benefits, but has already caused problems of displacement and environmental concerns. The project, which will transport oil from Ugandan sites to the Tanzanian coast, has been criticized for its potential environmental impact and the resulting socio-economic challenges for displaced communities. Despite these concerns and global warnings about climate change, the EACOP project is proceeding.
Saint-Louis in Senegal has recently become a hub for oil and gas exploration, attracting international energy companies with its promising hydrocarbon prospects. Notable discoveries include the Tortue/Ahmeyim, Yakaar and Teranga fields. While these projects promise economic growth, they pose environmental risks to the UNESCO-listed region and raise concerns about community rights and the distribution of benefits.
Seismic exploration along Wild Coast, South Africa
Oil giant Shell's plans to conduct seismic surveys along South Africa's Wild Coast have sparked a bitter dispute with environmental and civil rights groups. These groups, concerned about the environmental and social impact of the exploration, successfully halted Shell's activities through a ruling by the Makhanda High Court. However, with Shell appealing the decision and the South African government backing it, the future of the exploration remains uncertain. Campaigners argue that while the exploration promises short-term economic benefits, the long-term environmental and social damage could be irreversible. A final decision on Shell's exploration has been delayed until 2024.
This article is part of our current reporting project "Dismantling the Fossil Fuel Industry".