Why I delivered a piece of charcoal to the World Bank


By Patricia Nanteza

December 5, 2023 was Energy Day at COP28 in Dubai and I had a special gift for the World Bank.  Thankfully, their pavilion was just a stone’s throw from the Ugandan one.  With the gift in hand, a colleague from RePlanet France and I set off from the Uganda pavilion to deliver it. The gift-giving was one of numerous activities in the “Switch On Africa” campaign.

The gift? A piece of charcoal, wrapped in a white napkin, symbolizing the weight of an entire continent’s struggle. This simple offering aimed to spotlight a profound injustice fueled by the campaign’s mission to achieve 100 per cent electrification of Africa through clean low-carbon energy sources.

African forests

As we entered the World Bank pavilion, guided by the campaign’s goal, we chose three gentlemen as the fortunate recipients of our message. The campaign had uncovered a disheartening truth – according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), firewood and charcoal represented 90 percent of all wood harvested from African forests.

Every year, 697,000 people die prematurely from indoor air pollution in Africa. Many, mostly women and children, succumb to diseases linked to inhaling smoke from kerosene, wood and charcoal fires, which are commonly used in the developing world for cooking.

If Africa must feed herself, she must destroy her rainforests! If we choose to protect the forests, we must contend with hunger. What injustice is this? Fuelled by a sense of duty and justice, I decided to confront this paradox head-on.

Energy poverty

In my hand, the piece of charcoal became a tangible representation of Africa’s unsustainable reliance on biomass, a poignant form of protest pleading with the multilateral bank to help Africa break free from the chains of energy poverty. This symbolic act was more than a gesture; it was a call to action, urging a more responsible, pragmatic and ethical approach to green energy.

Clean energies

I handed the charcoal to Nicolas Peltier Thiberge, the Global Director of Transport, who promised to deliver it to Dr. Demetrios Papathanasiou, the Global Director of Energy. This act signified a chapter in the larger narrative of the “Switch On Africa” campaign—a story of resilience, advocacy, and a commitment to real change through increased investment in clean energies on the continent.

How can you be part of this change?

World Bank: Fulfill your promise of universal clean energy coverage in Africa by 2030. Increase investments to accelerate progress.

Global North citizens: Please donate to our campaign and save lives from indoor air pollution.

Reach out to the Global Director of Transport and ensure the delivery of the charcoal and our message to the Global Director of Energy. We eagerly await their response.

Global South citizen: Sign the “Reduce Charcoal Use Pledge” and transition to natural gas or electricity. Gift cookers and gas cylinders to your relatives in the village and remember to regularly refill for them.

Everyone: Follow @RePlanetAfrica on social media and YouTube. Watch and share our campaign video widely.

Let us collectively contribute to the “Switch On Africa” campaign, fostering a future where progress doesn’t come at the expense of human rights or environmental preservation.

Nanteza is Director for WePlanet Africa, a grassroots organisation committed to tackling climate change and promoting sustainable energy solutions across the African continent.

Email: patricia@replanetafrica.ngo





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