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Why I presented the World Bank with a piece of charcoal

If you prepare a meal in Africa, you will probably need to burn charcoal. This results in disease, deaths and deforestation. RePlanet Africa wants 100% electrification of the continent through clean, low-carbon energy sources. To achieve this, we will need everyone’s support. 

By Patricia Nanteza

As women throughout Africa prepare their meals on charcoal, Patricia Nanteza and Myrto Tripathi offered a piece of it to representatives of the World Bank. (Photo left: Kwameghana)

December 5 was Energy Day at COP28 in Dubai, and I had a special gift for the World Bank. Its pavilion was just a stone’s throw from the Ugandan one. With the gift in hand, a colleague from RePlanet France – Les Ecohumanistes and I set off from the Uganda pavilion to deliver it. 

The gift? A piece of charcoal, wrapped in a white napkin, symbolising the weight of an entire continent’s struggle. 

With this simple offering, we aimed to spotlight a profound injustice, which fuels our ‘Switch On Africa’ campaign. Our mission is to achieve 100% electrification of Africa through clean, low-carbon energy sources. 

We had uncovered some disheartening truths: according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), firewood and charcoal represents 90% of all wood harvested from African forests. Every year, 697,000 people die prematurely from indoor air pollution in Africa. Many, mostly women and children, succumb to diseases linked to inhaling smoke from kerosene, wood and charcoal fires, which are commonly used in the developing world for cooking. 

If Africa must feed herself, she must destroy her rainforests! If we choose to protect the forests, we must contend with hunger. What injustice is this?! 

A piece of charcoal, wrapped in a white napkin, symbolises the weight of an entire continent’s struggle

Fuelled by a sense of duty and justice, I decided to confront this paradox head-on. As we entered the World Bank pavilion in Dubai, we chose three gentlemen as the fortunate recipients of our message.  

In my hand, the piece of charcoal became a tangible representation of Africa’s unsustainable reliance on biomass – a poignant form of protest, of pleading with the multilateral bank to help Africa break free from the chains of energy poverty. This symbolic act was more than a gesture; it was a call to action, urging a more responsible, pragmatic and ethical approach to green energy.

I handed the charcoal to Nicolas Peltier-Thiberge, the Global Director of Transport, who promised to deliver it to Demetrios Papathanasiou, the Global Director of Energy. This act signified a chapter in the larger narrative of the Switch On Africa campaign – a story of resilience, advocacy and a commitment to real change through increased investment in clean energies on the continent.

Let's foster a future where progress doesn’t come at the expense of human rights or environmental preservation

How can you be part of this change?

World Bank: Fulfil your promise of universal clean energy coverage in Africa by 2030. Increase investments to accelerate progress.

Global North citizens: Please donate to our campaign (select ‘Africa’ in the appropriate field) and save lives from indoor air pollution. Reach out to the World Bank and ask if their Global Director of Transport has already ensured the delivery of the charcoal and our message to the Global Director of Energy. We eagerly await their response. 

Global South citizens: Sign the Reduce Charcoal Use Pledge and transition to natural gas or electricity. Give cookers and gas cylinders to your relatives in the village and remember to regularly refill them.

Everyone: Follow @RePlanetAfrica on social media and YouTube. Watch our campaign video and share it widely.

Let us collectively contribute to the Switch On Africa campaign, fostering a future where progress doesn’t come at the expense of human rights or environmental preservation.


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