Women can energise the future

UNDP Gender Director: Powering Africa out of poverty

18.04.2012 - 11:10

Ms Winnie Byanyima, Director of the UNDP Gender Team is no ordinary official or advocate. Prior to joining the UN she has been pioneering Uganda’s development and governance by ensuring that women were part of the process and is as known for her feminism as her reforms.

She introduced ground-breaking gender equality provisions in Uganda’s 1995 post-conflict constitution, including a one-third quota for women in local government, which resulted in thousands of poor women elected for the first time to make decisions at all levels of local government.

She visited Brussels as part of the Sustainable Energy For All campaign, run by the UN and the European Commission and found time to speak with New Europe.

As the continent begins to lift itself out of poverty, its energy needs are forecast to grow rapidly, is there going to be enough energy for Africa?

“Africa has a huge potential for energy to drive its development,” Byanyima replies, “ In fact it is a continent rich in fossil fuels, there are parts, like Nigeria, Libya that are oil exporters and there have been oil discoveries in several countries, so there’s a substantial oil resources, but Africa also has a huge potential for hydro-power and geo-thermal energy. “

As part of a plan to provide energy for all, President Barroso announced a €50 million initiative for clean energy projects in developing countries.

Byanyima was impressed by the initiative, ‘But the conference was important, because we were talking about energy for all and access to energy for poor people, this is what falls off the policy table. Many people are focusing on the power to drive industry, communications and industry and don’t pay enough attention on the energy needs of poor, and often rural populations, so that they can be connected and have the energy they need to improve their livelihoods and bring themselves out of poverty.”

She elaborated, “Africa, despite its potential, most of its people do not have access to modern energy services. The first colonialists called Africa the dark continent, but if you look at the satellite photographs, you can see Africa is still dark, because it has the least access to electricity, it’s still a dark continent because it is still not lit up!”

Byanyima stresses the effect on the poorest, who can benefit from having energy, even a small solar panel on a home can achieve real improvements, not least in lighting and heating. The use of indoor wood fires has a detrimental effect on the environment and the inhaled smoke often causes serious respiratory disease.

The Director is also aware of the importance of business and of training and bringing opportunities to young entrepreneurs, and letting host nations and communities set targets, “What is very important is, at the very beginning, is to have a conversation with developing countries, and regional institutions to get an understanding of the priorities.”

“The private sector is important, there will not be enough resources coming from government to connect everybody,” she says. “But we must not forget that we cannot just abandon responsibility to the private sector, we must provide services to everyone with their help.”