/Mamphela Ramphele: Needs of the majority must be top priority

Mamphela Ramphele: Needs of the majority must be top priority

2019-09-17 05:00

We need to learn from our fellow African countries such as Kenya that are leading the charge to become high performers in the renewable energy space, writes Mamphela Ramphele.

Good news is in short supply these days,
but there are hidden gems if one looks beyond the gloom and doom. Importantly,
there are amazing stories of success in unexpected places.

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta has announced plans to move the
country to 100% green energy by 2020, as it scales up renewable
investment. With an eye on sustainable development, Kenyatta aims to help
mitigate climate change by reducing Kenya’s carbon footprint, while creating
much-needed jobs.

The move comes as the country looks to triple the number of
people connected to its power grid, to reach 60% of the population. Africa’s largest single wind
power facility is currently being developed at Lake Turkana in Kenya’s Rift
Valley, with separate investments to develop other wind power plants. An
estimated 9 million Kenyan households have access to off-grid renewable energy
and this figure is set to rise.

So
what has Kenya managed to do that has eluded other African countries? The
secret seems to be decentralisation of development processes to the county
level, thus allowing deeper participatory planning informed by local needs of
communities. Even more amazing is that Kenya having adopted a constitutional
dispensation modelled on our own after the bloody conflicts related to past
election campaigns and their outcomes, has succeeded more to make democracy
work at local levels than we have thus far managed to do.

READ: Kenya opens Africa’s largest wind power project

What
did they do with their constitution that we have yet to do? A Kenyan
performance art and storytelling expert, Prof Mshai Mwangola, a civil society activist
and academic attending the Social Justice Forum led by Prof Thuli Madonsela of Stellenbosch
University two weeks ago, explained how civil society organisations operated.
They followed up their success in getting Kenya to adopt much needed constitutional
reforms, with civic education county by county, to enable citizens to hold
their leaders accountable for delivering on election promises. Ordinary Kenyan
citizens are growing in confidence that their voices matter in shaping public
policy and its implementation.

President
Cyril Ramaphosa’s District Development model offers us opportunities to learn
from Kenya how to get the needs and voices of ordinary citizens to shape how we
tackle critical public policy and development challenges. Our commitments to a just
energy transition process, are undermined by the disproportionate attention
accorded to the voice of organised labour in comparison to the voices of the
majority of citizens who are confined to the margins of society: rural people,
women and young people.

Tackling
poverty, inequality and unemployment is not possible without paying attention
to the needs of the majority of citizens and freeing their human potential to
become contributors to shared prosperity.

Imagine
if many more civil society activists, academics and faith-based communities
were to accompany the president’s pilot areas to ensure that civic education
reaches every citizen. Such a process would embed Ubuntu (human rights) values
in all social relationships in broken communities, schools and farming
communities.

A foundation for mutual respect and
lower conflict

A
shared value system as spelt out in our Constitution would help raise trust
levels in our society as a platform for healthier and safer communities. This
would lay the foundation for mutual respect and lower conflict and violence in
our society. Trust is essential for sustaining collaboration and mutual support
to forge inclusive development. Enhancing education; promoting well-being;
developing renewable energy programs suitable for a diversity of districts;
enhancing regenerative livelihoods, restoring damaged environments and water
sources. The possibilities are endless.

South Africa was a pioneer in establishing frameworks for Public Private Partnerships
with our much-lauded Independent Power Producer model that was the envy of many
across the globe. We have however fallen behind over the last few years in
implementing the just energy transition to renewables we committed to, due to
the derailment occasioned by state capture and other nefarious sabotage within
the public service.

Is
this not the time to recalibrate and give renewable energy the space for
acceleration within our District Development model? This would significantly help
us to tackle the pressing problems of job creation, energy hunger and restoring
our degraded natural environments in the poorest rural areas of our country. The
job creation and livelihood enhancement opportunities would be massive. 

We
also need to follow the advice of the 2017 Biennial Report the Academy of
Science of South Africa to Cabinet on the State of Climate Change in SA. Their
advice is for our government to better and more consistently leverage our rich
national endowment of some of the best climate scientists, technology experts and
professionals in the world in the implementation of our national plans. The report
also recommended better collaboration with the private sector to accelerate
investments in renewable energy projects to affect the just transition we are
committed to.

There
is no reason why high energy consumers such as the mining industry cannot be
encouraged to build renewable energy plants to supply their own energy and
contribute to the grid. Many business leaders are disappointed by the long
delays to get licences to build and run such plants. Why are these delays
allowed to undermine our progress?

The
restructuring of Eskom into the three components of generation, transmission
and distribution is a critical success factor to enable a seamless,
decentralised and collaborative energy model, for the benefit of all end-users
and to connect all citizens to electrical power. Struggling municipalities need
to be weaned off revenue models that rely on selling electricity at inflated
prices to fund their operational expenses. Much of these revenues go into the
continued high levels of wasteful expenditure reported by the auditor general
annually over the last decades. Municipalities need to be held accountable for
the widespread wilful poor governance that is deepening the poverty and
inequity holding poor people hostage across our nation.

Empowered citizens can free themselves
from corruption

Civil
society organisations need to work together to insist on schools, workplaces,
faith communities and the public service across the nation to roll out civic
education programs to empower citizens with the knowledge of their rights and responsibilities.
Empowered citizens would free themselves from being prisoners of corrupt elites
by insisting on those guilty to be held accountable, including removal from
public service.

Those
not willing to be servants of the people, should not be allowed to undermine
our national goals. The structural violence of corruption and state capture have
become breeding grounds for the high levels of crimes and violence in our
society.

We
need to learn from our fellow African countries such as Kenya that are leading
the charge to become high performers in the renewable energy space. Overcoming legacy
problems is difficult, but it is a pre-requisite to becoming successful
attaining sustainable socio-economic development, technological advances and
the promotion of well-being and shared prosperity in the 21st century.

– Mamphela Ramphele is the co-founder of ReimagineSA.

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