12 years after the development of the biogas backpack I am still working without aid, not a cent accepted from GIZ & Co, still working only with local partners. What is wrong with my eyes that see right through the shiny facades of aid projects, program outlines, fundraising campaigns and never-failing-project reports. Why does the approach of Western aid feel so wrong to me? A question that I am yet to find a short answer to. Or am I wrong?
A start-up needs time. Rule of thumb 5 years. I started (B)energy in 2014, this makes it 8 years now. We have organically grown the number of partners, the network of distributors, it is a common effort and it is all paid by people in Africa. They have chosen to buy it and they pay for it. But of course, it could have been so much easier. If I had just done what everybody else does. The money is literally lying on the street. The number of aid projects, grants, funds, climate compensation is enormous and you just have to accept it, accept that Africans can’t do this without it. (B)energy would be one of the big players, just another one.
I am not an economist, but I am a person with a sense of moral. If I as European get all these privileges on African markets while this makes it harder for locals to compete, how can I pretend I am doing something to reduce poverty? You have to be an expert, though, to see behind the scene, to understand that biogas systems in thousands in Afrcian households do not address the fundamental problem. However, it’s a feast, one that I struggle to join while the competition is filling up their plates – again and again.
For (B)energy it does not matter. Whether we exist in the long-run is not a question of money. It is a question of dignity. If enough Africans with the sense of responsibility and dignity join this movement to tackle their countries' energy situations with their own approaches, then we can make biogas the most important and profitable household energy on the continent. And then we can influence policies, develop markets, work on a higher level towards ending energy poverty and reversing climate change. My only hope are African entrepreneurs. Aid will not fix it, no matter how much money is pumped into the system, in whichever way.
Patience! It is not exactly my talent to sit and wait, but some patience was required, to be exact 12 years until the time was right. Together with biogas entrepreneurs from the continent I have founded the initiative #BiogasUnite in late 2021. This private sector based, Pan-African lobby-group has one vision: a fair biogas market where aid of all sorts is strictly limited, centrally coordinated and organizations are made 100% accountable for their project outcomes. Only then can African governments take the lead, can entrepreneurs take the risk and can people afford to trust in biogas as a solution.
I am taking a break to think about all this. (B)energy’s approach and technology are more than ever in demand. The wind is turning, aid is seriously questioned by many people in Africa and my motivation is as high as on the first day to set an end to this disrespectful treatment of people in Africa. To achieve this, I need to change the strategy. Anybody, who feels the same, please connect or be loud and join BiogasUnite!
Thank you for reading this.