How did the relationship between the EU and West African countries shape renewable energy policy transfer to West Africa?

Titilayo Soremi

It is widely known that developing countries will likely suffer the most from climate change effects. This is despite their limited to negligible contribution to the economic activities resulting in increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and changing the climate. Unlike their counterparts in the developed countries category, developing countries have limited access to the financial, technical, and human capital resources required for mitigating climate change and averting catastrophic environmental events. This concern is more crucial for West African countries, having endured years of European colonisation and failed economic restructuring imposed by Bretton-Woods institutions. Nonetheless, West African countries have committed to joining efforts with developed countries, particularly the European Union (EU), to combat climate change with renewable energy solutions.

While renewable energy sources, including solar, wind and biomass, are abundant in West African countries, the region has limited financial resources. However, the possibility of harnessing renewable energies in West Africa is heavily dependent on financial resources. This makes the EU important to West African countries. But, it also presents a premise for an asymmetrical relationship between the EU and West Africa. Based on the cumulative wealth of the EU and its member states, it is without a doubt that the EU can facilitate investments for deploying renewable energy technologies in West African countries. However, establishing a relationship with West Africa on the grounds of financial prowess does not represent an equitable relationship. We argue that this will be a domineering relationship that will likely not respect the sovereignty of the African states nor recognize local knowledge. Also, this relationship mode will leave little or no room for decision-makers in African countries to lead and shape climate change conversations and solutions within their jurisdiction.

Policy Narratives of the European Union
Our study examined the policy narratives of the EU and West African countries, showing that the EU appears to be aware of the risks associated with portraying African countries as in dire need of financial support. It refrained from emphasising a victim status in its communication with West African countries and its policy and project documents. Instead, the EU forged a narrative of allyship that sought to elevate the status of West African countries and portray a partnership of equals. However, the EU did not hold back in projecting its financial strength. The study finds that this positioning of heroic strength informed the EU’s policy recommendation on what should be done to address climate change in West Africa and its use of conditionality to ensure the recommendation is adopted at the regional and national levels.

The recommendation called for restructuring the administrative arrangement within a long-established regional institution, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The intervention of EU’s member states, therefore, facilitated the creation of a new agency, the ECOWAS Regional Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (ECREEE). Also, the EU led the development of the ECOWAS renewable energy policy. While these actions may seem appropriate steps for combating climate change, the study notes that this degree of external influence on the domestic administrative arrangements within a jurisdiction typifies hierarchical relations between sovereign units and is rare in developed countries. As such, the EU’s use of conditionality and the restructuring of ECOWAS’ administrative arrangement did not reflect the partnership of equals that the EU sought to portray.

Figure 1. Solar panels as renewable energy solutions in West Africa
Credit: Lexica art
Policy Narratives of ECOWAS

On ECOWAS’ side, their communication with the EU also emphasised a narrative of allyship. In most instances, they reiterated the positioning favoured by the EU. They also refrained from emphasising the debilitating conditions in the countries and focused more on their achievements. Another observation is that ECOWAS did not portray the EU in the grand heroic way it posited itself vis-à-vis ECOWAS. This shows that wielding financial strength is likely not a preferable basis for establishing a partnership of equals for combatting climate change. It is also noted that the emphasis on allyship enabled ECOWAS to contribute to the policy development and indicate rural populations as the target population for the region’s renewable energy policy. The narrative of allyship opened a space for the less-wealthy ECOWAS to have an input in the renewable energy policy that was facilitated by the EU and driven by conditionalities. This represents a significant shift from the harsh conditionalities of the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) of the Bretton-Woods institutions, which was, according to John Akokpari, characterised by the excessive use of economic power to advance a daring “this or nothing” approach, leaving the recipient countries with no say in the development of SAP policies.Conclusion and Recommendation
To face the challenge of climate change head-on, developed and developing countries must work together to develop policies and implement solutions proffered by the scientific community. One region should not stand in the way of the other. The emphasis on heroic prowess over a political entity is antithetical to the call for an equal partnership. Wealthy regions, like the EU, should limit the dependence on economic weight to influence and control the policy direction in West African countries. Rather, they should consistently be positioned as allies. A turn to allyship will ensure that the joint communication channels of the partnership are never shut. It will also help to demonstrate respect for the sovereignty of West African countries. This, in turn, may enable the two parties to agree and work together on other environmental, economic, and human rights issues in their regions.Importantly, as West African countries assume a more assertive position in their relations with the EU, their standing should be backed with substantial contributions. Relying on heroic depictions in narratives will not suffice. The substantial contributions could be in the form of proactively leading the implementation of joint initiatives, completing local impact assessments on policy and project proposals, or providing matching grants for some projects. This approach can ensure their participation in international policy debates on climate change as reputable members of the international community. In this way, the countries will not only bear the status of hero and ally but will also play their part.

Titilayo Soremi is an Assistant Professor (Teaching Stream) at the University of Toronto Scarborough. She holds a master’s degree in International Development from the University of Sussex, and a PhD in Political Science from the University of Exeter. Her doctoral thesis examined the involvement of the European Union in the policy transfer of renewable energy policy to West Africa, and applied the Narrative Policy Framework (NPF) to analyze the policy narratives of the actors. Titilayo has worked with the Energy Policy Group and the Nexus Network at the University of Sussex. Her research interests include global public policy transfer, policy narratives, and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). She has published articles in the International Review of Public Policy, Policy Design and Practice, the Global Journal of Social Sciences, and the Canadian Journal of African Studies.

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