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Clean versus fossil fuel: A tale of Sudan, Venezuela and Zimbabwe

Sunday February 10 2019

Zimbabwe protests

Angry protesters barricade the main route to Zimbabwe's capital Harare from Epworth township on January 14, 2019 after announced a more than hundred percent hike in fuel prices. PHOTO | JEKESAI NJIKIZANA | AFP 

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Sudan, Venezuela and Zimbabwe are in a state of anarchy, albeit in their own different ways. And the thread that weaves the fabric of the uprisings is the most eternal ingredient of life: Energy.

It is said that the next wars will be fought because of water, but we are witness to revolutions triggered by energy.

In Sudan, protests over the raising of the price of bread from one Sudanese pound to three (about Sh20-Sh60) a loaf and fuel gave birth to calls for the overthrow of long-time President Omar al-Bashir.

Remember “Let them eat cake”, supposedly by the 17th-Century out-of-touch pampered ‘slay queen’ wife of King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette? It became the rallying cry template for revolutions and genesis of a new world order of democratic institutions — the French Revolution.

Bread contains the quintessential energy source for human beings — carbohydrates, a source of glucose that powers our existence. Petroleum and coal are byproducts of plants that existed during the deep of times and were buried under intense heat and pressure to form the hydrocarbons that now power machinery (transport, electricity and industries) with the objective of processing food and other creature comforts.

Venezuela is in a whole different energy revolution, the so-called “resource curse”. With the biggest oil reserve and petrol going for a song at Sh1 per litre, it is a paradox of the modern economy that the country faces an existential threat by runaway inflation that has made it ditch its currency, the bolívar, for the US dollar.

But if petrol can be profitably sourced and sold at Sh1, why on earth is Zimbabwe in a mess of inverse proportionality with Venezuela (high cost of fuel) but in direct proportionality with Sudan (high cost of bread)?

Zimbabwe ditched its currency, Zimbabwean dollar, for the US dollar years ago.

Zimbabwe’s fuel protests began on January 14 over a 130 percent price increase, which seems to be the Dante’s Inferno to post-Mugabe era hopes.

Our strategies (Vision 2013, ‘Big Four’ agenda) are hinged on stable prices of petroleum and other forms of energy.

A good student of strategy will tell you that the more unknowns in an equation, the higher the chances of failure. If you have a key variable in your strategy that depends on geopolitical forces, it inherently makes your strategy an ineffective guide to achieving objectives. If the Iran-US tension escalates to the level of a war, and the former uses its time-tested threat of closing the Strait of Hormuz, through which 30 percent of oil exports pass, then your best-laid plans are not worth the paper they are written on. If the EU sanctions Saudi Arabia for the Jamal Khashoggi debacle, naturally the price of crude will rise, with global repercussions.

The sun has always been the primary source of energy, the biggest ‘nuclear reactor’ in our planetary system. The leaves of plants work just like solar panels; they convert sunlight into energy. Plants then pass this energy to herbivores and, ultimately, carnivores.

Since we are still reliant on fossil fuel, and we will be for quite a long time, we may start by making our energy mix weighted by more renewables than thermal sources. Energy sovereignty makes a country truly independent.

Ms Hassan is the Kisumu branch manager for Solarnow Kenya, a renewable energy company. [email protected]