Ministry opens door to renewable energy training in region

Cameroon has opened its doors for higher education training in renewable energy with the creation of departments in that field at all 11 state universities, a move aimed at creating jobs and accelerating the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the fight against climate change.

A press release signed by Jacques Fame Ndongo, the minister of higher education, on 14 August 2023, confirmed the step. Studies in renewable energy begin in the 2023-24 academic year, which starts in October, the release states.

According to Ndongo, the move is in line with a decision by higher education officials in the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC) zone to ensure the region has the required manpower to cope with envisaged investments to accelerate growth and speed up integration. One such targeted investment area is in renewable energy, he noted.

CEMAC consists of Cameroon, Chad, the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and the Republic of Congo.

To foster regional integration, Cameroon long ago opened its doors to all CEMAC countries for higher education training in different professional fields. “We are glad to offer this opportunity in renewable energy training and hope this will help accelerate investments and economic growth in the region,” Ndongo said in a briefing on state radio shortly after the news statement was released.

CEMAC leaders renew commitment

At the 15th ordinary session of the Conference of Heads of State in Yaounde, Cameroon, on 17 March 2023 presided over by Cameroonian President Paul Biya, the leaders renewed their commitment to accelerate sub-regional integration and foster growth in investments in different sectors, including energy.

Cameroon, like other countries in the region, faces urgent problems of energy shortages, rural poverty and climate change, which require investment in people and infrastructure development, Ndongo said. As climate change challenges such as drought and floods worsen entrenched poverty, countries in Africa are multiplying efforts to meet the SDGs.

According to a 2021 World Health Organization report, sustainable solutions to SDGs must target African countries left behind in the quest for global energy access.

“Unless efforts are scaled up significantly in countries with the largest deficits, the world will still fall short of ensuring universal access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy by 2030,” according to the report.

Energy experts say the growing demand for off-grid, decentralised renewable energy solutions in the CEMAC zone is challenged by a shortage of skilled professionals to design, finance, sell, install, operate, and maintain systems, thus the need for training.

Imported labour no longer viable

“We need advanced training to tackle renewable energy solutions in Africa. We can no longer rely on imported labour when our youths are in dire need of employment,” Dr Augustine Njamnshi, executive director of the African Coalition for Sustainable Energy and Access and chair of political and technical affairs with the Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance told University World News.

Higher education officials in Cameroon say such training will not only encourage self-employment with skills in the entire renewable ecosystem but also lead to reduced cost and greater access to energy by the local population.

“The problem of persistent blackouts and rise in hydro-energy costs is making access difficult and stalling business in our communities. The training in alternative energy will encourage local investments and improve affordability,” Professor Maurice Aurelien Sosso, rector of the University of Yaounde I, told University World News.

CEMAC is one of the oldest regional groupings in Africa, yet it is lagging behind in the energy sector amid enormous resource potential, experts say.

They, however, acknowledge that the CEMAC countries have made progress in the transition to renewable energy over the past decade, and increased efforts to improve renewable energy capacity in recent years.

Policy should back training

“The need to embrace renewable energy as an enabler to a sustainable energy future in Africa in general, and CEMAC in particular, is progressing and this is imperative. To achieve this, the different countries need to have the right manpower and the enabling environment to attract investors in the sector,” Njamnshi said.

Experts in the sector say the training should also be followed by a visible policy to attract investments and create job opportunities to bridge the energy efficiency gap. “We need to encourage more investors in the renewable energy sector to facilitate the rendering of basic services, especially in the health sector, and the creation of more jobs,” Dr Hilary Ewang Ngide, executive director of the Centre for Community Regeneration and Development in Cameroon, said.

Much of the rural population across Sub-Saharan Africa where local clinics are frequently unable to provide adequate diagnostic and treatment services due to unreliable power supply, face this climate change-induced predicament, he said.

Environmental experts, however, caution the population and other stakeholders to not relent in their drive to protect the environment and achieve sustainable energy production.

“The energy crisis is linked partly to the depletion of our natural resources, especially trees. When persistently felling our trees, we encourage drought and, without water, the energy supply is at risk,” said Martin Etone, a coordinator at the Cameroon-based environment protection NGO Community Action for Development.

Linus Mofor, a senior environmental affairs officer at the African Climate Policy Centre in the Technology, Climate Change & Natural Resource Management Division of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, applauded the training initiative at university level. He, however, said the training in renewable energy may not be as impactful as integrating sustainable development in all university courses.