Kenny Raharison

Kenny Raharison

According to a 2020-report by MusicWatch, country music is the third most popular musical genre in the U.S. Amid the pandemic, country music was the “genre of music that is not hurting right now” – Bloomberg wrote last year. Country signers know how to build audience loyalty despite the growing musical trend toward hip-hop and pop domination.

Let us go back to the roots!

In 1927, Victoria Records, one of the first players in the recording industry, went looking for “hillbilly” musicians in Bristol, Tennessee. Two local acts – The Carter Family from Virginia and Jimmie Rodgers from North Carolina – signed the recording contracts. The Carter Family played old-time mountain music and Jimmie Rodgers sang ballads using a vocal technique called “yodelling”. In 1928, Rodgers’s recording “Blue Yodel” was a huge musical and commercial coup, with a million copies sold. The two acts paved the way to other country artists. Contrary to what a lot of American people still believe until today, Nashville was not the birthplace of country music. According to a resolution passed by the U.S. Congress in 1998, Bristol, Tennessee was.

At the beginning, hillbilly performers used fiddle, guitar, banjo, and sometimes Appalachian dulcimer, harmonica, and mandolin. Later in the 30s and 40s, traditional country music became influenced by other genres: blues and gospel. Until today, many music professionals claim that country music has African-American roots as well. A point to note is, country music had always been labelled “hillbilly” music until 1949 when it was officially given its current name.

In a context of war and crisis, country music conveyed messages about poverty, orphaned children, and loneliness. Today, the lyrics are among the reasons why American people are attached to country music.

Country music is still on track in the 2020s. Here is why.

Unlike pop singers who are sometimes unable to sing fully live, most country singers are very talented performers and vocalists. They work with knowledgeable musicians who perfectly master the instruments that they play. Lyrics tell meaningful stories and display various emotions. It is very common to relate to what a well-written country song is carrying as a message. Country singers do not merely sing in an explosive show, they “share” a story, sometimes in a very intimate way. Songwriters tell a story in a very simple way and do not ask the audience to decode what hidden message is behind a song.

In the early 2020s, country music has seen an impressive revival. Many music executives explain that country music is comforting during these weird days. Others explain that country music goes hand in hand with drinking – since alcohol sales have soared as well during the Covid pandemic. Another explanation would be country fans are starting to stream more country songs rather than buy physical disks.

Today that life in the U.S. is gradually getting back to a certain normalcy, the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, the heart of country music – which started broadcasting since 1925 – has reopened its door to the public. The weekly concert has officially resumed. Masks off, no more social distancing.

Sources: MusicWatch – Bloomberg – Britannica – Chicago Tribune

During the U.S. – Africa Business Summit, USAID Administrator Samantha Power gave an overview of the U.S.’ relationship with Africa over the last 60 years since the USAID was born and defined new directions moving forward.

Samantha Power recalled the assistance the U.S. is providing for its partner countries in key sectors such as education, healthcare, agriculture, and energy and the significant impact of its support on the lives of many people worldwide. Moving forward, the relationship between the U.S. and Africa mostly based on aid must evolve into a cooperation, with more sustainable impact, fuelled by trade.

The Biden-Harris Administration launched during the Summit the Prosper Africa Build Together Campaign to “elevate our commitment to two-way trade and investment between African nations and the United States,” Samantha Power said.

While acknowledging the role of public investment in developing countries, she claimed that the private sector is the key driver to Africa’s long-term economic growth and prosperity.

“Through Prosper Africa, USAID will directly connect American investors with African businesses ripe for investment by funding delegations and making crucial connections to local actors, leveraging our long-standing relationships on the continent. This work will help American businesses access Africa’s fast-growing markets and create thousands of jobs for both African and American workers.” – Samantha Power explained.

The United States will use U.S. pension funds to increase high-yield return-generating investment in Africa.  Samantha Power quoted Angela Miller-May, chief investment officer of the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund: “Before my first delegation... my understanding of Africa was based on what I had seen on TV or read in the news, and I perceived Africa as a place of risk. But all of those perceptions quickly went out the door: I saw that Africa was filled with opportunities. The discussions [I had]...shortened the distance between the U.S. and Africa for me.”

After her trips in Africa, Angela made a $20-million investment in African companies involved in healthcare, education, technology, and other vital sectors of the economy. It is in this selfsame spirit that Prosper Africa, through its Build Together Campaign, will continue to “shorten the distance” between U.S. investors and African businesses.

A new trade and investment strategy – beneficial to both sides – will be implemented in accordance with American values rooted in mutual respect, national sovereignty, democratic governance, and individual dignity. “Less aid, more trade!”

Source: Africa Media Hub

The U.S. Department of State’s Johannesburg Media Hub hosted Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Africa at the National Security Council Dana L. Banks for a digital press briefing on how the U.S. government is working to increase U.S.-Africa trade and investment through Prosper Africa. In the meantime, the virtual U.S.- Africa Business Summit was also held in late July.

Africa must address some pressing issues.

Dana Banks reiterated how committed the Biden-Harris administration is to rebuilding partnerships with countries all over the world. The United States renews its readiness to partner with African nations as well as with African civil society and African youth. However, in order for the vision for Africa to be achieved, many issues have to be addressed: violent extremism, climate change, undue foreign influence, conflicts and humanitarian crisis. Resolving such pressing problems is a key condition to a fast-growing Africa, and the United States will support the continent in the process.

Prosper Africa Build Together Campaign

During last week’s U.S. – Africa Business Summit, the U.S. administration kicked off the Prosper Africa Build Together Campaign with a requested additional funding of 80 million dollars. The aim of the campaign is to “substantially increase two-way trade and investment between the United States and Africa by connecting U.S. and African businesses and investors with tangible deal opportunities.”

Prosper Africa will identify new opportunities for U.S. and Africa businesses to increase trade and investment as drivers of economic growth and job creations. Focus will be given to identified key sectors and the green economy.

In practical terms, the U.S. Development Finance Corporation (DFC) has engaged a total of two million dollars and another half million in financing Africa-based projects this year. The Millennium Challenge Corporation has agreed to support the energy sector in the West Africa region. Other agencies among the 17, including the USAID, the Department of Commerce, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) have facilitated other agreements towards key economic sectors such as healthcare, agriculture, and power. If the funding of 80 million dollars is approved by the Congress, it is expected to support, for example, infrastructure building and matchmaking for businesses and American investors. The Build Together Campaign will also help small businesses run by the African diaspora across the United States.

A continuation to AGOA?

When asked about the upcoming expiration of the African Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA) in 2025, Dana Banks explained that the sunsetting of AGOA is not necessarily a bad thing. AGOA has been more beneficial to some countries than to others. The United States will look at a mutually beneficial trade relationship both with individual countries and the African continent as a bloc. That is why the U.S. administration is seeking to engage more in the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Even though discussions with the U.S. Trade Representative’s office are being held, no conclusion can be drawn regarding another round of AGOA coming up.

Nevertheless, Prosper Africa, through USAID and other agencies, will continue to provide the necessary advising services for local businesses in terms of U.S. market access. Africa and its products are “à la mode” and there is a great potential for smaller businesses – including woman-led businesses – to explore the U.S. market if they are provided the appropriate information and support.

As a reminder, Prosper Africa is an initiative launched by former president Donald Trump back in 2018. The Biden-Harris administration is seeking to “re-imagine” and revive the initiative then considered “the centerpiece of U.S. economic and commercial engagement with Africa”.

Source: U.S. Department of State / Agoa.info

Understanding cultural differences and integrating them into strategic business operations should be taken very seriously. Cultural mistakes have been the cause of many business failures around the world.

A few examples of business failures

Back in 1992, Walt Disney planned to replicate the success of Disneyland in the U.S. and in Japan in Europe by launching a pilot project in Paris, France. The giant entertainment company attempted to explain its struggle as the impact of the recession in Europe in the early 1990’s. In reality, first, the French government and intellectuals have developed a certain contempt for Americanism after the World War II. A series of other issues explain that failure. Alcohol ban in the park sounded absurd to French people who are used to enjoying wine at lunch time. French people were not used to takeaways and their staffs have not been trained enough to understand the eating habits and the daily habits of French people in general. Later, to address the situation, a French citizen has been appointed as director and the new team adjusted the company’s human resources management and policies. Up until today, Disneyland in Paris is one of the most appreciated attractions in Europe.

Another example of cultural mistake would be that of the American famous coffee chain Starbucks in Tel Aviv. In 2002, an Israeli company opened a first Starbucks coffee shop and planned to open 20 more within one year. That never happened. A well-developed coffee culture is rooted in the Israeli society. They enjoy gathering and enjoying either a cappuccino or an espresso, needless of a long list of options in the Starbucks menu considered too complicated. The market being too small for Starbucks, the franchise has failed to come back to Israel until recently. All hope is not gone. Even though no coffee shop has been opened, a pop-up store distributing free samples to customers operated last April and May. A story to be continued!

Let us stay in Israel. The giant KFC made a tremendous mistake when they ignored how Israelis – the majority of whom are Jews – follow religiously kosher laws. Besides, in a country where chicken is considered a staple food for most households, a customer needed a viable reason enough to visit and buy at KFC. As of 2021, KFC is present in five locations in Israel after a series of “come-and-go” since the 1980’s.

More giant American multinational corporations have failed due to cross-cultural mistakes. Starbucks failed in Australia; so did Walmart in Germany. That is why cultural awareness must be taken seriously when embarking on an international effort. A preliminary in-depth assessment of the uniqueness of national cultures should be carried out, covering aspects like environment, legislation, local values and traditions, the population’s lifestyle and daily habits, just to name a few.

2020’s shoppers would not buy a product only because it is affordable and beautifully designed. They buy it based on the story the product is telling, a story they can relate to or a story in line with their values and convictions. Multinational companies should never underestimate cultural considerations, especially when targeting markets with strong cultural identities.

These American people spent some time in different regions of Madagascar. They tell us about their best moments in the country.

Roy Cox, former Peace Corps Volunteer in Madagascar

Roy 1

“I had the pleasure to live alongside Malagasy people for three years and was impressed by the culture of generosity in Madagascar. In both cities and rural places, people are generous with their time, happy to talk, teach a skill, or invite you along on an errand or to a party.

Malagasy people, even those with little to spare eagerly invite you to share their food and often their home. To “mandray vahiny” or give hospitality to a guest, is among the most important Malagasy values.

What I experienced as a visitor, I saw take shape between Malagasy people as a strong drive to build community, an enthusiastic social engagement, and a love of debate and conversation.  This is exemplified by the formation of fikambanana (a society or organization) ubiquitous in every part of Madagascar for mutual professional, civic, or educational benefit of members. No matter how busy or tired, Malagasy people come together and share.”

 

Fiona Fitzgerald, Tourist.

"After graduating from university, I spent three months working, traveling, eating and exploring the beautiful country of Madagascar. My time in Madagascar was particularly unique for an American because I was staying with family who lives in the country. This resulted in me immediately being immersed into the culture and life of the Malagasy.

What stands out to me the most about Madagascar is its people. Madagascar is full of the most kind, welcoming and happy individuals in the world. I don't speak Malagasy, nor do I speak French, yet I made lifelong friends despite the language barrier. While in Fort Dauphin, my surf instructor spent all day trying to teach me how to catch a wave (which was a sad sight). And after I finally called a quits, he invited me out to town without a thought. I spent the night drinking THB, munching on brochettes and attempting to learn Malagasy. I still recall; “Iza ny anaranao?” and “Ny anarako dia Fiona.”  The people of Madagascar welcome you into their country with open arms, welcome you into their home as if you are family and are proud to share their beautiful culture. Madagascar will always hold a special place in my heart thanks to the people I met, and I thank everyone along the way for that."

 

Tim Fallon, Backpacker.

Tim 1

“Madagascar was the adventure of a lifetime. In 10 short weeks, I learned some Malagasy, some French, learned to surf, had my first lychee, saw lemurs and chameleons and crocodiles and gigantic snakes. Most importantly, I learned about Malagasy culture and their beautiful people. In the 2 years after I graduated from university, I managed to backpack around the world and see a fair amount of interesting cultures. I am ever thankful for these two years and all of the places in between, but I am proud to label my time in Madagascar as the best times of my life. An entire country welcomed me with open arms and taught me everything they could about being Malagasy. I was most impressed by the pride of the people and the land that they occupy. Brochettes, langouste, THB, and oysters filled my stomach and my heart while Ambatovy, Tana, Mahajanga, and Fort-Dauphin filled my eyes. One of my favorite memories from my time in Mada was witnessing a victory from the football (soccer in America!) team and celebrating with all of Tana. ALEFA BAREA!”

 

Payton Hansen & Austin Bergera – Vazaha Miteny Gasy

Vazaha Miteny Gasy 1

Payton: “Before arriving in Madagascar, I didn't have any courses learning about the culture, and didn't know a single Malagasy person. So, my initial arrival (I first lived in Ambositra) was quite a shock! Being the first country in Africa I ever visited, I had the impression that all of Madagascar (and even Africa) was just like Ambositra: few paved roads, a lot of farming land, very few stores and amenities etc. After later spending time in Antananarivo and Mahajanga, I, of course, learned that this was not true. The diversity of each Malagasy city, combined with the charm of its people is what I first fell in love with. Malagasy people are very welcoming, and very smiley; this really helps for new visitors to feel at home quickly. They were also VERY encouraging while I was learning to speak Malagasy. Even when I was just learning, they would often comment "Ary mahay miteny gasy be ianao an!" This really boosted my confidence and helped me learn quickly. After getting comfortable with the language, I fell even deeper in love with people's straight-forwardness and desire to connect. I share this desire to connect with people as well, chatting with people in the streets, making jokes with street vendors and talking with everyone I meet. These are some of my favorite things about Madagascar.”

Instagram: @vazahamitenygasy | Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/vazahamitenygasy | Website: https://vazahamitenygasy.com/en/

 

This article is also available in the 11th release of "The American" magazine. The full PDF version of magazine is available for download here.

Daniela, an entrepreneur.

After my graduation in 2014, I moved to Antananarivo to settle and start a new life, to live on my own and to pursue my goal: becoming a computer engineer. Instead, I was surprised by the high price of fish and seafood in the market whereas fishers’ communities live in poor socioeconomic conditions such as livelihood insecurity and extreme poverty. I quickly understood that there is an obvious and large distance between direct providers and customers; and middlemen had huge influence on price negotiation.  This situation influenced my career path. I created a social enterprise called “VIAVY FISH SHOP” whose mission is to improve the conditions of small-scale fishers in my home village. VIAVY FISH SHOP is an online platform that connects fishermen and buyers and promotes fair trade.

VIAVY FISH SHOP produces fresh fish, frozen fish, dry and salty fish, and seafood (in May).

Daniela on business resilience.

My company struggled a lot last year during the government lockdown. We lost most of our customers which were mainly restaurants and snacks, as they remained closed. There were times when I had demands of less than 100 kg. However, I could not deliver the goods as I had to fill the refrigerated truck with at least 500 kg before they agree to transport the fish from Mahajanga to Antananarivo.

Indeed, me and my teams tried to cope with this pandemic, and search for new strategies. We have now launched new products: frozen fish. We build up enough stock for one month and we partner with other fish shops so that we could fill the refrigerated truck together with our orders, in case there are other government lockdowns in the future.

Daniela on youth entrepreneurship

I teach entrepreneurship. I think young Malagasy people are getting more and more interested in entrepreneurship today. I am convinced that all Malagasy people have the entrepreneurial mindset, but we need to shake them awake.

Daniela on her YALI Mandela Washington Fellowship experience

I was selected for the 2019 Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders and was placed at the University of Iowa. The fellowship changed the way I do business. The most important lesson would be: rather than seeing other companies that sell the same or similar products as mine as competitors, I consider them as partners and collaborators.

About Daniela

Daniela Loberline Ratiarisoa, social entrepreneur, climate activist, youth inclusion advocate and feminist. She is passionate about building resilient communities and strengthening inclusive economy. She has been involved in improving livelihoods of fishermen’s families in using entrepreneurial skills and social capabilities focusing on women capacity building to reduce poverty, give access to education for girls and promote blue economy as well as circular economy. She has 5 years experiences in Business Management and Entrepreneurship.

Key economic sectors such as tourism and mining have been hardly hit by the economic impact of the sanitary crisis in Madagascar and worldwide. According to economist Fano Andriamahefazafy, the country’s economic recovery will largely depend on the sanitary parameter. Today, Madagascar is still in a state of flux.

Notable lack of visibility over the economic recovery

The current economic crisis is the outcome of the sharp drop in domestic and international demands. Lockdowns, travel bans and restrictions everywhere in the world carried very severe consequences on our economy, especially on the tourism and hospitality sector, and the economic downturn at the national and international levels had significant impact on Madagascar’s largest contributors to the GDP, including mining and services. However, the impact has been somehow counteracted by resilient sectors such as the agriculture sector. In the same way, households who can rely on supplementary economic activities are more resilient than those who do not. The crisis later touched the social and political spheres. In Fano Andriamahefazafy’s opinion, the biggest issue that economic actors are facing today is a cruel lack of visibility, as only short-term approach has been adopted so far.

Economic recovery based on public contracts.

The budgetary policy adopted by the government was intended to support the private sector through public contracts. However, it is debatable if the initiative does really support local economy, or if it promotes imports instead. For example, building materials used for roads and school constructions are generally imported.

Even though the government implemented an emergency plan and granted loans to salaried employees through CNaPS, Fano Andriamahefazafy explains that the available budget resources are limited.

In terms of monetary policy, the Central Bank of Madagascar was bound to adopt a prudent one. Madagascar has an outward-looking economy, a decrease of the policy rate would in fact boost external demand and generate inflation. Thanks to a prudent monetary policy, the Central Bank managed to contain inflation amid the pandemic.

The recovery will depend on the health situation.

According to economist Fano Andriamahefazafy, Madagascar is now on track to start its economic recovery. However, it will depend mainly on how the sanitary situation evolves. Potential future lockdowns would be disabling for our economy. Madagascar can envisage a positive GDP growth of five percent like in 2019.

An appropriate economic policy to address the crisis.

Fano Andriamahefazafy prescribes an economic policy which targets better the driving forces of economic growth. This means, the government should prioritize sectors like agriculture, agribusiness and food industry, services, mining, and tourism.

However, the beneficiaries of those measures must adhere to a performance contract. The contractual approach proved to have been efficient in Asian countries. The private sector should commit, for example, to not laying off staffs, or to creating new jobs and recruiting new employees. With a contractual approach, supported by a proper design brief, private companies should meet a performance requirement. Otherwise, the effect of the economic policy will be weakened.

Andy Razafindrazaka is a 14-year-old very talented drummer who made his mark on the jazz scene in Madagascar from an early age. Despite his reserved character, which contrasts with his impressive stage energy and playing, the young musician tells us about his career with outstanding maturity and lucidity. With more than 15,000 followers on his Facebook page, his decisive encounters with jazz greats such as Mike Moreno, Darryl Hall, Stephy Haik, Bunny Brunel, Olivier Hutman and Jeanot Rabeson, and his many stage appearances, Andy Razafindrazaka is one of the worthy representatives of young Malagasy jazzmen.

The American: Why jazz?

Andy: I think I was influenced by my father, Désiré Razafindrazaka, who plays bass and hosts jazz events. I feel comfortable with jazz and I love it! But I also play light, rock, and Malagasy music.

The American: Your musical influences?

Andy: In jazz, I listen to a little bit of everything, especially pianists Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock. I love jazz but I am also keen on funk and rap.

The American: How did you start with drums?

Andy: I started at the age of seven. I learned the basics by watching YouTube videos. Then I took drum lessons with Sitraka Ranaivosoa, Josia Rakotondravohitra, Lova Ramanampilaza. I also did music trainings with Ferenc Nemeth, Yves Ouezan, and Frank Raholison.

The American: Your first public performance?  

Andy: It was in 2015 when I was only 8 years old. As soon as I knew how to play different jazz rhythms, my father took me to cabarets in Antananarivo for jam sessions with musicians such as guitarist Datita  Rabeson and pianist Samy Andriamanoro. I was both nervous and happy to play! Then I played during the Jazz Tohatohabato festival and the Madajazzcar Festival afterhours with foreign musicians like Andy Narell, Bunny Brunel, Baptiste Herbin. When I was 9, I was doing my first concert as Andy Razafindrazaka.

The American: Your favorite drummers?

Andy: Tony Williams, Jack DeJohnette, Dave Weckl, Steve Gadd, Damien Schmitt, and Malagasy drummers Bolo Rakoto David, Titan Randriamasindrazana, and Josia Rakotondravohitra.

The American: Your appreciation of the Malagasy jazz scene?

Andy: Jazz is not the first music Malagasy people would listen to, but things are changing. More people attend jazz concerts; more musicians, including youngest ones, play jazz.

The American: Andy Razafindrazaka’s band members?  

Andy: Our band is composed of Mahefa Ramiandrisoa, my pianist from the beginning, Ranto  Ranoarimanana on bass, Tantely  Rasoloarimanana on guitar, Andry Michael  Randriantseva on saxophone, and myself on drums. 

The American: Your latest events and the upcoming ones?

Andy: In December, I participated in the TEDx Youth Antananarivo event and “Jazz à l'Université”. Lately, there was the Tribute to Chick Corea at the Alliance Française de Tana and a concert – with my younger brother on trumpet – in tribute to Luis Ramaroson, a pianist who died earlier this year. Now, my band is planning stage projects and video shoots for my YouTube channel and my Facebook page “Andy Razafindrazaka – Musician”.

The American: Andy’s time management?

Andy: I must balance it out! Honestly, music is above all a passion and my family supports me. But I put studies first because it is important! For leisure, I love video games and I am a football fan.

The American: Your wildest dream?

Andy: Travel all over the world, meet Herbie Hancock and rapper Nekfeu! I also dream of playing one day with Joey Alexander, an Indonesian pianist, and Justin Lee Schultz, a multi-instrumentalist from South Africa, two amazing musicians living in the USA who are around my age.

We are living in an era where information is sometimes considered as the “currency”. To respond to the world challenges, NGOs, CSOs, businesses, and anyone need access to relevant data, especially in uncertain times like today. Unfortunately, Africa is still far from data democratization.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution gave rise to new data-providing technologies. Digital Earth Africa (DE Africa), for example, seeks to “process openly accessible and freely available data to produce decision-ready products”. Data are provided from Earth observation of the continent’s natural resources, and the human and climate impact on them. DE Africa reports that the impact of its actions on the African industry could be evaluated at more than $2 billion annually.

Data access to cope with current challenges.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) predicts a slowing economic growth which will push 27 million African people into extreme poverty. The main challenges the continent is facing include difficult access to drinking water, deforestation, and food insecurity. EO satellite data help decision-makers to improve their understanding of Africa’s changing landscape and how to overcome related challenges, and to explore new business opportunities – in the agricultural and mineral sectors for instance.

Satellites have provided images of the African continent and coastlines for decades. Yet the continent still struggles to cope with the growing populations and the deteriorating environment because satellite data are difficult to scale up, to compute and to analyse. DE Africa proposes the Open Data Cube for all Africa which allows information-seekers to have access not only to simple facts but also to growing trends.

To accelerate the growth of the African Earth observation industry, additional $500 million need to be invested in the sector by 2024 according to DE Africa. In the best-case scenario, DE Africa would contribute additional $117 million a year to the African Earth observation revenues.

Earth observation and the African agriculture

40 percent of African make a living out of agriculture, and the sector weighs around 10 percent of the GDP. However, agricultural productivity remains lower than anywhere else because farmers run out of information about water availability and crop development. DE Africa reports that 86 percent of water withdrawals in Africa are used for agricultural purposes. This is a huge waste of water due to evaporation caused by heat and inadequate techniques. With relevant meteorological data and hydrological modelling, it would be easier for farmers to adopt optimal water allocation. 175 trillion litres of water could be saved every year, according to DE Africa.

Poor irrigation plans, combined with the lack of knowledge of up-to-date technologies and practices and low use of chemically improved and hybrid seeds, keep African productivity at a lower level than the international average. At this pace, Africa’s imports of food would reach $150 billion by 2030, but the situation is not irreversible. Let us take the case of wheat production: if Africa manages to optimize sowing dates by using satellite data, DE Africa predicts that wheat production could go up by 136,000 tonnes a year.

Earth observation data, if used appropriately, will contribute to the reduction of insurance costs borne by African farmers and to a significant reduction of pesticide usage as well.

“We must seize this moment to harness the potential of Earth Observation data to make data-driven decisions for more efficient, inclusive and equitable outcomes.” To drive this change, big moves need to be made, and that calls for the integration of geospatial data into business models and their translation into political systems. Matters are now in the hands of industry sectors and government institutions!

Source: “Unlocking the potential of earth observation to address Africa’s critical challenges”, insight report by World Economic Forum, in collaboration with Digital Earth Africa, January 2021.

The United States has officially rejoined the Paris Agreement this year. 190 countries have now agreed to limit global warming to well below two degrees Celsius. As an attempt to contain climate change and to stick with the Paris plan, countries are rushing to curb the use of fossil fuels and turn to cleaner energy. The energy system changes, so will those countries’ economies and energy politics.

History has taught us that there is a strong tie between energy economics and geopolitical power. Oil had the power to create alliances and to trigger war. Now that the shift to clean energy has become the focus of attention, we can assume that the winning players will be those who will master clean technology and be able to export green energy. Things are evolving very fast, much faster than expected. A 2019 report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) even mentioned than “a new class of energy exporters may emerge on the global scene.”

In its simplest form, the energy transition can be defined as a shift from oil and gas to electricity, or “from carbon to electrons”. The use of electricity continues to climb, and electricity is expected to provide 50 percent of all energy needs by 2050 according to the IRENA if no country deviates from what they committed to. There is evidence that countries like Norway – which has already managed to cut down electricity prices, Bhutan and France are in an early lead. However, at this stage, it is still too early to predict which country will end up ahead in the long run.

According to the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA), while the energy demand in general followed a downward trend amid the pandemic, the demand for clean energy was the only component of the sector that had growth last year.

Renewables set to outperform coal by 2025.

Renewables were “immune to COVID-19,” IEA expert says. The era of coal and fossil-fuel domination will come to an end by 2025. This will be a hard hit to countries such as the Middle East whose economies rely on oil and gas exports, and a significant blow to oil and gas companies.

Unlike oil and gas, renewable power – wind, solar, biomass, hydropower, ocean energy, geothermal – is available in most countries, and those who are resource-rich will make the most of the energy transition. The IRENA report found that to come out winner in this new game, countries will need either to export electricity or green fuels, or to control the raw materials used in clean energy, or to make progress in technology. In this race, Chinese companies did a great job, and the result is a foregone conclusion: “China wins” – which seems awkward when the country is still the world’s leading emitter of greenhouse gases and electricity production largely depends on coal. China is “the” supplier of solar panels, batteries, and critical minerals that rich countries need in order to meet their net-zero goals.

However, it is no secret that trade disputes persist between China and the US and EU. The US does not seek to depend solely on Chinese suppliers to support its energy transition. The US still serves as the “mastermind”, but China intervenes in the large-scale production, at least in the short term. Another awkward situation: countries like the US, Japan and those of the EU highly invest to reach the net-zero goals and all the economic benefit goes to China!

What is going on in Europe? The UK aspires to become “the Saudi Arabia of wind” by exploiting the “windy” North Sea with Norway. The European Union has set up plans for green recovery to support the development of clean energy technologies and is now about to adopt a carbon border adjustment tax. In the meantime, many bilateral trade relationships are being forged across Europe.

Can clean energy be as powerful as oil and gas were in geopolitics? Opinion is divided! Some are convinced that countries will not depend on their peers in terms of oil-producing, and that will significantly reduce the risk of conflicts. The world would be heading towards peace. Others argue that the race to power and control will persist, but the stakes are not as high as before for the winners.

Fossil fuels producers are expected to show signs of resistance. Obviously, oil and gas will not be banished from the energy sector before long. However, the cost of oil and gas will progressively decline. Clean energy is set to follow the same path as coal and oil. The world is in the energy transition, and the cards in this market are being reshuffled!

Source: Financial Times - Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

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This website was funded by a grant from the United States Department of State. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of State.