Interview: Dr Amani Abou-Zeid, African Union Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy

On her first day in office in Addis Ababa, we spoke to Dr Amani Abou-Zeid, the new African Union Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy, about her vision for the coming years and the challenges and opportunities for renewable energy development in Africa. Amani Abou-Zeid, who joined the African Union Commission (AUC) in March, describes herself as an “implementer” who wants to deliver results for the people of Africa, and explains why infrastructure goes well beyond engineering and construction.

Amani Abou-Zeid

What have you found most striking since joining the African Union Commission and what are you looking forward to doing over the next four years?

Energy and infrastructure have been at the heart of my work for a number of years, so while I may be new to the job at AUC, I’m not new to the sector. I have made significant achievements in the sector throughout my career, and I’m particularly proud of my work on renewable energy in Africa. I have led, financed and implemented some of the largest renewable energy initiatives in Africa and globally.

What stands out to me since joining the AUC is the team’s dedication and the wealth of skills at the commission. Perhaps less surprisingly given my extensive experience in the sector, I have been struck by the sheer volume of initiatives across the continent. You can look at this from two angles: on the one hand, it’s extremely positive that renewable energy, and energy in general, is at the top of the agenda for Africa. On the other hand, it puts considerable strain on coordination and forces us to identify synergies.

Over the next four years, what is going to make a difference? What is the one thing you want to focus on?

Results. We have a guiding strategy, the Agenda 2063, set by the people of Africa. So we know what we’re meant to deliver, but what matters now is that these initiatives bear fruit and produce results on the ground. I have been an implementer through my career, so what I want is to see these plans and intentions realised, and ensure they are properly delivered and meet people’s expectations.

At the AUC can’t do everything immediately: huge gaps remain, both in terms of infrastructure and technical and financial resources. However, I do believe we can do a lot, and after meeting the team here at the commission I am confident we can make a difference over the next four years.

In terms of energy and infrastructure, what in your experience has worked well in Africa and what could be improved?

I am a firm believer that infrastructure is more than just something physical, than just engineering. It is at the heart of regional integration across the continent, and has an impact on the lives of everyone. Infrastructure is social by essence and an important enabler for private sector development, and regional integration.

Africa is seriously impacted by climate change. Everyone needs to be around the table to come up with appropriate solutions."

We need to focus on both physical and soft infrastructure to break down barriers between countries and improve the social and business environment in our countries and realise its full potential.

Africa has come a long way, first by setting the Agenda 2063 and adopting a common vision, and by establishing the PIDA (Programme for Infrastructure Development for Africa), which identifies and quantifies specific projects. We should be extremely proud of the number of projects and programmes that have been implemented in Africa. For example, we have the largest solar power plant in the world in Morocco. We also have a huge hydropower development programmes.

So major progress is being made, however, it isn’t easy and we still have bottlenecks to solve and challenges to overcome.

Amani Abou-Zeid

What is the biggest challenge facing hydropower?

I think climate change is Africa’s biggest challenge, not just for hydropower but for infrastructure in general. How do we develop climate-resilient infrastructure, and how can we engage the population in its conceptualisation and implementation?

These are the key questions, not just for Africa but for the whole world. Africa is seriously impacted by climate change. Everyone needs to be around the table to come up with appropriate solutions. And we also must involve the population, to ensure their needs and aspirations are reflected.

The AUC is an organising partner of the 2017 World Hydropower Congress. Why do you think it is important to have such gatherings?

What the congress is doing is gathering the whole hydropower community in one place. It’s not just the AUC, or Africa, or the engineering community, it takes all parties and stakeholders sharing expertise and speaking openly to better implement and advance our work.

I think the congress is an excellent opportunity to engage with others on how to move forward and it is the perfect chance to showcase what we’ve achieved so far. It will also be a place to strengthen or strike new technical and financial partnerships, and engage the private sector and the population through civil society organisations.

This is our opportunity to get everyone in the same room to tackle the issue together and from all sides, fill the gaps and set out priority actions for the way ahead.

Dr Amani Abou-Zeid will speak at the 2017 World Hydropower Congress, which takes place on 9–11 May in Addis Ababa. You can view the full agenda for the congress here.

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