Bringing the renewable energy scene up to date: this month we look at a survey of the new technologies; and we review two books on capitalism and socialism emerging in Africa.
Editor: Anuradha Vittachi
Africa: left or wrong
The Emergence of African Capitalism
by John Iliffe
Macmillan (pbk) £5.95
The Struggle for Africa
ed by Mai Palmberg
Zed Press (pbk) £5.95
It is not easy to become a capitalist in Africa. At least it is not easy to become an African capitalist in Africa. For Dr Iliffe in
The Emergence of African Capitalism is writing not about multinationals, but the true indigenous article - Africans owning the means of production and paying others to produce with them.
To begin with, there has been too much land around. No-one is going to work on your farm for money if s/he can start his or her own farm next door. Colonial rule encouraged cash-cropping up to a point, but natives employing too many others was seen as getting above their station. And when modem factories arrived allowing ‘proper’ capitalism, independence came too, and the nations’ new leaders took the keenest interest in controlling them for reasons of their own - whether philosophic or personal. The quickest route to wealth was often through ministerial office rather than business.
Dr Iliffe shows past and present capitalists influenced by, and in tum influencing, tradition and religion. Their future he consigns to the politicians, declining in a scholarly manner to make any moral judgements about the matter. Africa’s capitalists may be a privileged elite or a persecuted minority - he leaves it to the reader to decide how to react to the -news that they are only just beginning their operations.
In this he differs considerably from Mai Palmberg. She permits no doubt about what we ought to feel. The photograph on the cover of The Struggle for Africa is a moral judgement in itself. It shows a man dangling a baby on his knee. He has a resolute smile on his face and an automatic rifle on his shoulder. His smile tells us all we need to know - he is off to join the fight for liberty and justice against racism and exploitation. I do not know whether he belongs to FRELIMO or SWAPO or PAIGC or MPLA, all organisations whose achievements are chronicled inside. He could not wear such a smile if he belonged
to UNITA or ZAPU or FNLA because those bodies are ideologically unsound - revisionist or lacking a true class analysis or supported by South Africa, or probably all three. They were also losers in the struggle for power.
I know this because the book says so. What it does not say, which is odd in a book specifically celebrating armed struggle, is that the nice man with the gun is going to use it to shoot someone - probably one of his own countrymen, though of a different ethnic group (and, of course,ideologically unsound). To be fair, that someone is probably also trying to shoot him.
Of course we are all on his side in the struggle for liberty and dignity. The trouble is that Ms Palmberg describes his fight in language that has been used before, and in more questionable circumstances. For example:
‘A broad "Correction Campaign" was set in motion as a means of spreading the Congress’ decisions, of removing petty bourgeois thoughts, and selecting suitable candidates for Party membership.’
That could refer to Stalin’s purges or Orwell’s thought-police. It is actually about
Angola, a ‘liberated’ country very different from Gulag or Airstrip One. At least I assume it is different; but from language like that how can I tell? And to read that the Party is intended for workers (ten per cent of the population) rather than farmers (the other 90 per cent) only strengthens suspicion that one tyranny has been replaced by another. There is, after all, more than one way of removing petty bourgeois thought.
I do not know whether Angola is a workers’ paradise or a police state.
Unfortunately from Ms Palmberg’s book I cannot find out.
A whiff of reality runs through Dr Iliffe’s analysis. If you disagree with him you can profitably argue the point. You cannot argue with dogma - you can only accept or reject it. By using dubious language Ms Palmberg only encourages doubt about her message - which is a pity, because there is an awful lot of exploitation for that man on the cover to fight against.
The power to choose
Renewable Energy: the Power to Choose
by Daniel Deudney and Christopher Flavin
W.W. Norton (hbk) $23/£15.60
Three-quarters of India’s 116 million households depend wholly on kerosene for lighting. To protect the poor, the price of kerosene is held down - but that helps lorry owners also, discourages fuel economy in transport and pushes up oil imports. More urgently, many of the world’s poor face a daily scramble for firewood to cook the family meal,carrying it increasing distances or paying escalating prices.
These are two aspects of energy poverty in the modem world. And any book which discusses them as sensitively as this one does should be welcomed. One might be tempted to say that the firewood problem is
dealt with more briefly than its urgency demands and to criticize the authors’ failure to mention animals as a power source. However, the book is not intended to be solely about energy poverty, in the Third World or elsewhere.
The book’s main focus is, in fact, on new technologies for using renewable energy. And on this topic it has a fully global scope. It is based on detailed documentation, which can be followed up through extensive notes, but the text is remarkably clear and readable. It will be useful both for the lay reader who wants a general survey of the renewable energy scene as well as for the specialist who needs a broader perspective. For both, it is full of stimulating material.
The disadvantage of so easy a style is that initially it gives an impression of complacency in the Readers’ Digest mode. That impression is reinforced when one
finds no clear definition of ‘renewable’ energy, with the result that some limitations on renewability are not recognised. There is a grudging admission, for example, that timber is not always a renewable resource, notably in environments where tree growth is very slow. But if the firewood and forestry issue is to be squarely faced, we need a much clearer understanding of the rather stringent conditions under which resources can truly be considered renewable.
On most issues, however, the book is not complacent. In 1980 renewable energy (including firewood in the Third World and hydro-electricity) accounted for 18 percent of total world energy consumption. By the year 2000, this proportion could be substantially greater - although,as the authors admit, supplies from coal and nuclear sources may also still be expanding: a realistic conclusion in view of the institutional obstacles and political resistance which have yet to be overcome.