In moments of uncertainty, talking about the future is hard. And nothing spells uncertainty like a pandemic and its worldwide effects, the full extent of which we are yet to witness and grapple with. However, it is precisely in such moments that it is crucial to think ahead and delve into a future that not only will give us hope but also propel us into action.
Access to electricity is often considered to be the single most important contributing factor to development and growth. A flow of readily available and reliable electricity is a feat of technological development that so many take for granted and that so many are yet to benefit from. That magic flow of electrons that allows a student to read after dark, women to give birth in proper sanitary conditions, and companies to carry out their activities and investments with minimal disruptions is, without a doubt, the lifeblood of any economy and a catalyst for new possibilities.
It is also one of the challenges that the African continent is facing and, naturally, one of the key priorities for most governments. Increasing the electrification rate and providing access to affordable, reliable and safe electricity to populations has therefore been a high priority goal, and one supported by a range of development institutions. But increasing access to electricity is a capital-intensive endeavor and a highly specialized undertaking, for which private sector participation has increasingly been solicited and welcomed. Due to its specificities, negotiating the terms of such involvement is often a burdensome and lengthy process, the importance of which – with adequate legal representation – cannot be stressed enough.
The African Legal Support Facility (ALSF) has, for the past ten years, been supporting African governments in negotiating complex commercial transactions with the private sector, in an effort to level the playing field and support governments in securing balanced contracts that will adequately protect their interests, enhance the credibility of the process and minimize the risk of renegotiation. Hosted by the African Development Bank, the ALSF is an international organization set up by African ministers of finance to support African governments in creditor litigation, in the provision of advisory services for contract negotiation and capacity building activities in relation to sovereign debt, natural resources, infrastructure and, specifically, power.
The ALSF has increasingly been tightening ties with Lusophone African countries. Often presented as a seemingly uniform block – or, rather, unnoticed or overlooked by non-Lusophone individuals or institutions – the Portuguese speaking countries of the continent comprise a multitude of rich traditions, languages, outlooks and specificities that cannot be disregarded by anyone wishing to enter the Lusophone world. All these differences, geographical, historical and regional, are nonetheless bound together by a sense of common heritage, the notion that, in order to succeed in their objectives, Lusophone countries have to come together, share experiences and support each other. ALER is the epitome of these ideals, by bringing together Lusophone countries and the private sector under the common objective of promoting renewable energy, establishing a knowledge disseminating platform and producing content in Portuguese.
Certainly, in an increasingly interconnected world, Lusophone countries cannot go it alone and, more than ever, bridges are needed that connect them to the rest of the world. Significant challenges still lie ahead in terms of mobilizing capital to increase and secure the supply of electricity, to expand the grid and provide affordable and sustainable power to populations. Language is often a barrier in transactions and, when it comes to acquiring expertise and additional knowledge, an unintended deterrent, since only a fraction of the world’s resources is available in Portuguese. The ALSF is aiming to contribute to bridging that gap by setting up a new initiative called “Lusophone Webinar Series”, which is meant to gather experts around the table and discuss relevant issues in Portuguese, to the benefit of a Lusophone audience in the continent. The first webinar took place on 15 July 2020 and focused on “Financing infrastructure projects in the "new normal”.
As we sit in this fleeting moment, unaware of what is yet to come, we can only dare a glimpse into the future. We should not shy away from acknowledging the challenges that still hinder the attainment of all electrification goals, but neither should we be deterred by the difficulties and disregard the clear signs of hope. By enhancing in-country technical knowledge and strengthening partnerships for sustainable development, capitalizing on the Lusophone ties and going beyond them, Lusophone African countries are already paving the path for a brighter future.
Legal Counsel, African Legal Support Facility