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THE NEW SCRAMBLE FOR AFRICA: Europe Eyes Africa’s Vast Gas Reserves As Alternative To Russia

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  • European countries see African energy resources as a possible substitute for Russian gas, announcing stop-gap investments in the near future despite also announcing plans to eliminate fossil fuel consumption.
  • African nations welcome the investment, but want long-term commitments.
  • “The West’s rush for African natural resources… is received with suspicion,” Patrick Godi, a project officer at the National Resource Commission of the Republic of South Sudan, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “Africans view Russia as… a confidant in the aspirations of many African countries during the liberation and independence struggle.”

European nations are eyeing the vast, untapped energy reserves of African as they wean themselves off from Russian natural gas. However, Europe’s commitment to “net-zero” emissions climate policies could cause the new scramble for Africa to backfire and even drive African nations closer to Russia.

European leaders say enhanced outputs in liquid natural gas (LNG) from resource-rich countries in Africa can offset cuts in gas deliveries from Russia, which are the result of sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. However, Europe’s unwillingness to pursue long-term investments in new production facilities could undercut fragile African economies, exposing the “hypocrisy and double standards” of the West, Patrick Godi, a project officer at the National Resource Commission of the Republic of South Sudan, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

“The West’s rush for African natural resources in the wake of the war that has disrupted oil and gas supplies to Europe pushing up prices of commodities is received with suspicion,” said Godi. “A long-term commitment to sustainable African development is needed to win the hearts, mind and soul of the continent.”

The EU proposed a gas rationing system for member countries Monday as Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned energy producer, announced that LNG flows to Europe through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline would drop to 20% of capacity after a brief outage.

Facing the prospect of a freezing winter and a complete halt to Russian gas imports, European countries are turning to alternative suppliers. Former Italian President Mario Draghi struck a deal with Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune on July 18 to import an additional 4 billion cubic meters of gas, cementing the North African country’s place as Italy’s largest gas supplier, according to Euronews. Russia formerly held that position.

Other contenders to supply Europe include the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola and Mozambique, NPR reported. The Congo announced Monday a plan to auction off 27 oil blocks and three gas blocks, many in endangered ecological areas the government promised to preserve, Reuters reported.

That plan conflicts with Western leaders’ hopes of weaning African nations off fossil fuels.

The G7—consisting of the EU, the U.K., Germany, Italy, France, Japan, the U.S. and Canada—announced the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, intended to facilitate a “just transition” in developing countries to sustainable energy sources at an annual summit in June. The G7 also reaffirmed their commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 and reducing new fossil fuel subsidies by 2030.

“We commit to end new direct public support for the international unabated fossil fuel energy sector by the end of 2022, except in limited circumstances clearly defined by each country,” in accordance with the Paris Agreement, the G7 said in a joint statement.

“In these exceptional circumstances, publicly supported investment in the gas sector can be appropriate as a temporary response… and if implemented in a manner consistent with our climate objectives and without creating lock-in effects,” the G7 added in their June communique.

Western oil and gas executives have flocked to Africa bearing investment deals that purportedly bring jobs and increased export revenues to struggling economies, according to NPR.

“This is a good step if Europe is now hoping to depend more on Africa for the purchase of natural gas from across the continent,” said Abdoulie Ceesay, Member for Old Yundum as the Deputy Majority Leader of The Gambia.

However, short-term oil and gas projects in view of a green transition might lead governments to sink huge amounts of money into assets that eventually become worthless, NPR reported.

African countries will likely want to begin long-term projects lasting 20-25 years, Matt Drinkwater, senior editor for Power, Gas and LNG at commodities forecasting firm Argus Media, told the DCNF. “It’s not at all intended to be an open-ended, long-term commitment, but enough to help the private sector partners in the initiative to get the project over the line to make sure it happens.”

European countries could secure offtake agreements with African producers to purchase defined quantities of oil and natural gas over the longer term, Drinkwater explained. However, once European demand declines, the countries will look to resell that gas, a prospect producers will likely balk at.

“Having the ability to resell the gas also gives the buyer the ability to effectively undercut the producer with the producer’s gas,” Drinkwater said.

African countries could eventually shun Western overtures for Russia, who they see as an opposing force against colonialism, Godi told the DCNF. While Africa has suffered disproportionately from food scarcity caused in part by a Russian blockade of Ukrainian wheat exports, African nations like Uganda have avoided taking public stances against Russia, Reuters reported.

During the Cold War, African countries joined the Non-Aligned Movement, a forum of nations that professed allegiance to neither superpower. Many adapted Soviet Communism to nationalist agendas, attempting to escape the legacy of centuries of European colonial rule and resource exploitation.

“Africans view Russia as a non-aggressor in the global stage and more so, a confidant in the aspirations of many African countries during the liberation and independence struggles,” warned Godi.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made a stop in the Congo on July 25 before heading to Uganda, where Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni acknowledged Russia as a partner in anti-colonialism and said he did not see the invasion of Ukraine as a reason for criticism, Reuters reported.

Lavrov met with a coterie of ambassadors in Ethiopia on July 27, Reuters reported, with an overall goal of strengthening ties between Russia and African countries, according to the invitation letter Lavrov sent to African Union diplomats that was seen by Reuters.

“Our country does not impose anything on anyone or [tell] others how to live,” Lavrov said in an essay prior to his African tour.

“We treat with great respect the sovereignty of the States of Africa, and their inalienable right to determine the path of their development for themselves. We are firmly committed to the ‘African solutions to African problems’ principle,” Lavrov wrote.

The European Commission and G7 did not return the DCNF’s request for comment.

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