Macky Sall Has Excelled as an African Voice Speaking up for African Priorities

By NJ Ayuk*

President Macky Sall

When African Union Chairman Macky Sall addressed the United Nations General Assembly last September, he wasn’t shy about speaking up for his continent. The gist of his message? There is absolutely no excuse for failing to ensure consistent African representation in the world’s key decision-making bodies.

“It is time to overcome the reticence and deconstruct the narratives that persist in confining Africa to the margins of decision-making circles,” said Sall, who also is the president of Senegal.

Sall’s speech was about the need to give Africa permanent seats at the UN Security Council so, as he put it, “Africa can finally be represented where decisions that affect 1.4 billion Africans are being taken.”

But that was far from the first time he has called upon the global community to seek and consider African perspectives. From the beginning of his one-year term as the African Union’s chairman last February, Sall said he wanted to see fair, equitable international partnerships that welcomed African contributions instead of dismissing African priorities.

“Our continent cannot be a field which is the feast of others,” Sall said during his inaugural speech.

He also has spoken up for greater African representation in the G20, which as of yet only has one African member (South Africa). Multilateralism must “serve the interests of all,” Sall argued in October, or it will suffer “loss of legitimacy and authority.”

I commend Chairman Sall for his tireless work, not only to insist that the global community listens to and respects African issues, but also to build awareness of just what those issues are.

He has put African needs and priorities — including infrastructure development, greater access to COVID-19 vaccinations, food security, and an end to energy poverty — in front of world leaders ranging from Chinese President Xi Jinping to U.S. President Joe Biden. He has done the same at global events, including the 2022 G20 summit and the COP27 climate conference.

Sall has been particularly outspoken about Africa’s energy needs and the rights of African countries to continue extracting and capitalizing upon their oil and gas resources, even in the face of tremendous global pressure for Africa to make a rapid switch to renewable energy sources. Sall has firmly stated that, when it comes to the global march toward net zero emissions, Africa will not be in lockstep with the rest of the world at the expense of our countries’ well-being.

We are in an era when Africa needs fierce advocates. Nations and international partnerships are fighting for their respective priorities, and unless African leaders are willing to stand up for what our continent needs, our objectives will be pushed aside. Sall has, indeed, taken a stand.

An Unwavering Voice for a Just Energy Transition

African energy was not Sall’s only priority as chairman of the African Union, but he did, rightfully, use his platform to expand global awareness of Africa’s unique energy needs in 2022. He pointed out the hypocrisy of wealthy countries that harnessed fossil fuels to industrialize and grow their economies telling developing African countries that the world’s zero-emission goals trumped their right to do the same.

“We will not accept that polluting countries, responsible for the situation of the planet, tell us that we are no longer going to finance fossil fuels,” Sall said in September.

He made similar remarks when he opened the MSGBC Oil, Gas & Power 2022 conference and exhibition, held Sept. 1-2 this year in Dakar. The MSGBC region comprises Mauritania, Senegal, the Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, and Guinea-Conakry.

“In this new configuration of the world, energy resources are major assets for Africa. Therefore, we must not accept that our continent is an object of world geopolitics, but an actor, aware of its natural wealth of interests, which acts on the competition instead of suffering it,” Sall said, adding that made no sense for African countries to stop exploiting their oil and gas resources while more than 600 million Africans lacked electricity. “While remaining committed to the implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement, we must continue to defend the interests of our countries in the run-up to COP27 next November in Egypt.”

And that’s exactly what happened. Sall and other African leaders fiercely defended Africa’s energy interests before and during COP27. The result? As multiple news outlets reported, African natural gas took center stage at the conference.

A Strong Collaborator

As I tweeted in November, Africa was fortunate to have Sall at COP27. He understands both sides of the African energy transition debate: the need for Africa to set the timing for its shift to renewables and the world’s need to address climate change. Sall advocated for ongoing natural gas production in Africa, which allows us to minimize carbon dioxide emissions while providing much-needed gas to generate electricity domestically, build our economies, and move toward industrialization. Sall also has pushed for the international community to help fund the renewable energy infrastructure Africa needs for a just transition and to provide financial support for African climate adaptation.

Climate adaptation measures have particularly been a priority for Sall. In his capacity as president of Senegal, he and the CEO of the Global Center on Adaptation (GCA), Patrick Verkooijen, partnered in 2022 to unlock $1 billion in climate finance for Senegal under the Africa Adaptation Accelerator Program (AAAP). The AAAP, Africa-led and Africa-owned, is working to bolster adaptation in agriculture, digital services, infrastructure, entrepreneurship, and jobs for young people. It was developed by the Global Center on Adaptation (GCA) and the African Development Bank (AfDB) in collaboration with the African Union.

Sall was among the trailblazers to convene the Africa Adaptation Leaders’ Event during COP27. He also co-wrote, with French President Emmanuel Macron and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, an opinion piece for the Guardian about the AAAP. It emphasized the critical importance of increased funding from developed countries for climate adaptation initiatives in developing countries, particularly those in Africa.

What we’ve seen is a pragmatic approach from Sall, one that recognizes the need for Africa to continue harnessing its oil and gas reserves while working diligently to move toward the transition to renewables — and to build climate resiliency into Africa’s economy.

When Sall’s one-year term at the helm of the African Union concludes February 5, the many challenges facing Africa will hardly be behind us. Nevertheless, I firmly believe that Sall has been making a vital difference in his role. Sall has said, loudly and clearly, that African voices will not be silenced. Thanks to Sall, it appears that the global community is starting to hear that message. That is a step in the right direction.

*NJ Ayuk is Executive Chairman of the African Energy Chamber

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