“African gas is an opportunity, not a silver bullet”

Chronic. “We don’t want to be seen as war profiteers. » This comment by Tanzanian Energy Minister Jan Makamba, who was interviewed by the in late March Washington Post, may surprise. Since the outbreak of hostilities between Russia and Ukraine, African countries seem to be losing far more than they are gaining. Households are facing a new wave of inflation and the risk of a food crisis is multiplying across the continent.

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But like any war, the conflict waged by Vladimir Putin can produce deadweight gains. And the question on Mr. Makamba’s mind, like other energy sector specialists these days, is this: could African gas complement, even replace, Russian supply? The equation is simple. The European Union imports 40% of its gas imports from Russia. A toxic addiction she would like to break free of. In contrast, Africa has some of the largest natural gas reserves in the world, most of which are untapped.

Aging infrastructure

“Europe is looking for alternative gas supply sources. It could be in Africa”, summed up Akinwumi Adesina, head of the African Development Bank, at the end of March. Nigerians, Mr. Adesina knows what he is talking about. His homeland, the continent’s largest oil producer, has huge gas reserves.

A “Trans-Sahara Gas Pipeline” project is to connect Nigerian production fields with Algerian pipelines, run more than 4,000 kilometers through Niger and then reach the European market. The site had been on the table for more than a decade and relaunched in February. In order to finally realize oneself, one needs money. A lot of money: 13 to 15 billion dollars according to various estimates. Can the international context encourage new financing? Other gas-producing countries are also hoping to benefit from the current geopolitical deal, from Angola to Mozambique to Senegal and Tanzania. And of course Algeria, which already supplies 11% of gas purchases from the old continent.

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Yes, so there is an opportunity for resource-rich, low-income producing countries to take advantage of. But be careful: these deposits are no magic bullet to meet Europe’s urgent needs, even to boost African economies. After years of underinvestment, the infrastructure is outdated or non-existent depending on the country. And even in these times of crisis with Moscow, capital will not always flow.

diversification and industrialization

One obvious obstacle is security issues. The route of the Trans-Saharan gas pipeline is a telling example: it originates in the Niger Delta (southern Nigeria), the scene of sabotage actions by armed gangs against oil facilities, and is intended to cross very unstable regions. the Sahel, where terrorist groups such as Boko Haram and Al-Qaeda operate.

The situation in Mozambique is at least as complex. The underwater deposits discovered in 2010 should place the country among the top ten producers in the world. But a jihadist insurgency has frozen the rush for Mozambique gas for now. In particular, it has pushed the TotalEnergies group to shut down a liquefied natural gas (LNG) mega-project worth more than €15 billion in the northern province of Cabo Delgado a year ago.

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Another more fundamental question arises on a continent where many countries are already overly dependent on their subsoil resources. History shows that these assets rarely translate into human gains. In recent years, political speeches have promoted the pursuit of diversification and industrialization. But as the director of the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Africa department, Abebe Aemro Selassie, summarized: “If gas starts to attract a wave of new investments, how can we ensure that this goal is not forgotten? »

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