Africa is facing summit fatigue, here is how to beat it

Saturday September 02 2023

President of Kenya William Ruto speaks during a climate change summit at the Pan African Parliament in Midrand, South Africa on May 17, 2023. PHOTO | IHSAAN HAFFEJEE | ANADOLU AGENCY via AFP


Summits are the mortal enemy of a leader’s diary. African heads of state could attend a summit– regional, continental, global – every week if they were so minded. Preparation, travel and attendance take bites out of schedules, reducing time to focus on pressing domestic concerns.

It can sometimes be hard to connect the time invested in summits to tangible outcomes. As a result, there’s no doubt summit fatigue has set in among African leaders and their advisers in recent years.

The Africa Climate Summit, taking place in Nairobi next week, needs to buck that trend. It is being hosted and organised by the Kenyan government in collaboration with the African Union in parallel with the Africa Climate Week.

Led by President William Ruto’s office, the aims of the Summit are to converge on common priorities for global discussions, including at UNGA, the G20, COP28 and beyond, for Africa; and to design and catalyse actions and solutions for climate change in Africa by providing a platform to discuss the nexus between climate change, development and the need for increased investment in climate action.

Read: ‘Common agenda’ calls intensify ahead of Africa Climate Summit

These aims come with an awareness of the need todeliver results on the ground. All too often in recent years, major gatherings affecting the continent have ended up delivering little more for Africa than rousing calls to global action in the form of closing communiques – and sometimes less than that. Furthermore, ‘summit fever’ has not abated. In fact, the number of Africa-focused summits has proliferated.


Africa’s increasing geopolitical importance means every few months, there is a gathering focused on the continent that often ends with platitudes and headline commitments that rarely translate to “shovels hitting the ground.”

As a result of this lack of action and delivery, clean energy investment in Africa represents only two percent of the global total, less than 10 percent of the $120 billion annually the continent needs by 2030. This constitutes a huge, missed opportunity for a continent rich in hydro, solar and geothermal power resources, which could be harnessed to decarbonize and diversity global supply chains for energy intensive commodities and products like steel and aluminium.  It also global efforts to stop climate change at risk as, lacking cleaner alternatives and needing to industrialise rapidly, African leaders turn to fossil fuels to achieve legitimate developmental goals. 

Paradoxically, Africa holds a significant amount of critical resource minerals needed for highly industrialised nations to meet their net-zero targets - Africa's voice is not one of a continent looking for sympathy but an active player that has earned its place at the table.

The increase in initiatives and promises of investment over the years has not been matched by investment in projects on the ground.

Read:Experts urge strong climate change action in Africa

More finance for investment is required but too often, country-level governance issues such as dysfunctional utilities, tariffs that do not cover costs, unclear policies and regulations or a lack of clear investment plans pose risks to financiers that cannot be overcome by the private sector and financiers.

These issues can only be solved at a national level through Government addressing fundamental political, institutional, and commercial constraints. There are recent pockets of success - such as Nigeria’s Power Sector recovery programme which slashed subsidies by more than $600 million in 2021, and the competitive process to advance the 1.5 GW Mphanda Nkuwa hydro project in Mozambique. Both bring together clear presidential priorities, plans and government commitment. Kenya has completed several renewable energy projects in the past decade, including Ngong Hills Wind Farm, Lake Turkana Wind Power Project and Garissa Solar Power Station.

The focus in Nairobi will be on establishing mechanisms to turn presidential priorities, including those which have stalled, into plans and then projects which can attract investment. The organisers are bringing together leaders, financiers, technical experts and external partners, such as the UAE, a major investor in renewable energy projects and host of COP28.

Read:Kenya to work with UAE amid calls to have COP28 president removed

A summit’s success can only be measured in hindsight. But the omens look promising. At least 30 Heads of State are expected to attend, a recognition not only of the vital importance of seeing African priorities recognised at COP28 but also a vote of confidence in the concept of the Summit, as well as in the leadership of President Ruto and his team.  They’ll be hoping to break the pattern of global summits on climate and beyond, by meeting potential investors and advisers at the summit and afterwards to make progress on their climate-positive green growth and resilience agendas.

The outcome of this Summit will be studied for pointers about the direction of travel for COP28. But it could also provide a model for a promising new phase in African statecraft - where African leaders take the initiative to not only seek common positions and advance African arguments rhetorically, but also engage with external partners to deliver tangible outcomes in global forums.

Rishon Chimboza is the Managing Director, Africa Advisory at the Tony Blair Institute