Solar Power isn't Feasible!

Solar Power isn't Feasible!
This cartoon was on the cover of the book "SolarGas" by David Hoye. It echoes the Sharp Solar slogan "Last time I checked nobody owned the sun!"

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Building the "Nigeria of our Dreams"

In 2007 at the first international Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation (NIDO) conference, held in Toronto, Canada, the Nigerian Minister for Information and Communications, Mr. Frank Nweke Jr. called on all Nigerians to join hands and work together to "build a Nigeria of their dreams". The conference was themed around "Awakening The Tiger in the Heart of Africa - The Role of the Diaspora in Socio-Economic Development of Nigeria", and it attracted Nigerian professionals from all over the world. According to news reports,

"The conference enjoyed the support of Nigerian, United States and Canadian Governments, Ministries, parastatals and Agencies, Universities, private and public corporations in Nigeria, USA, Canada and elsewhere, as well as private individuals."

While we were staying with His Excellency former President Obasanjo (who served his country from 1999 through 2007) during the last week of August, building renewable energy capacity and biodigestors in Abeokuta (including one connected to an Insinkerator in the President's own kitchen) we discussed with the esteemed Nigerian leader the Solar CITIES concept for awakening another tiger of human potential to help the motherland: involving German government agencies, businesses and citizens to help us support, train and mobilize the vast pool of German-Nigerian workers who are currently underemployed or inefficiently deployed in their new country of residence.

Obasanjo, who in his post-political era supports himself through his visionary poultry, ostrich, emu, forest snail, tilapia and catfish farms, as well as afforestation projects with commercial plantations of teak, oil palm and many other valuable but underutilized African plant and animal species (including the delicious grass cutter rodent,Thryonomys, "the other white meat") informed us after we toured his agro-business holdings that he had pioneered the concept of NIDO and its sister organization, the Nigerian National Volunteer Service (NNVS, dedicated to harnessing "the services of Nigerian experts, both retirees and active agents at home and abroad, for the development of the nation") during the early years of his tenure as President, dedicating himself to turning what had been a "brain drain" into a "brain gain". He said, "In fact that is how I got my former minister of finance, a Nigerian who had been living in the U.S.".

According to the article, Nigeria: Turning the ‘Brain Drain’ into ‘Brain Gain’, Looking to the Diaspora for help in national development. by Obi. O. Akwani

"In July 2005, the first of an annual Science and Technology Conference between Nigerians in the Diaspora and those at home designed to map out the modalities of the ‘brain gain’ project, took place in Abuja. President Obasanjo described the conference as a “first step toward a national objective [of harnessing the talents of Nigerians in the Diaspora] as the engine of change and accelerated development in Nigeria.” During that conference, Obasanjo declared July 25 to be Diaspora Day in Nigeria. It is a day for all Nigerians to remember and appreciate the contributions of their expatriate nationals in the country’s development. The first Diaspora Day anniversary was celebrated on July 25, 2006 in conjunction with the three-day Science and Technology Conference for that year. The 200 registered Nigerian expatriates who attended the 2006 conference was more than double the 76 Nigerians from the Diaspora that attended the first conference in 2005. The emphasis on science and technology is a recognition of the need for Nigeria to begin now to “revolutionize its science and technology infrastructure [as the key] to the future.” "

But where NIDO has focused on bringing Nigeria's educational high achievers and/or their ideas back home (in the U.S. alone there are estimated to be about 20,000 Nigerian expatriot doctors), the vast majority of the nearly 17 million Nigerians living abroad (including the Nigerian majority of the estimated 300,000 Africans living in Germany) are not able to fully participate in returning gains to either their host country or their country of origin. This is particularly due to a lack of high-value skill building opportunities for the underemployed in the countries where many Nigerians live as immigrants, and a lack of articulation between emerging sectors of the new global economy and the available labor pool.

For example, Germany is a worldwide leader in renewable energy technologies and the green economy. But on the NIDO-Germany e.V. website the German-Nigerian community addresses the problem of bringing reliable alternative energy to Nigeria, where it is so desperately needed, stating in the article "Problems with implementing alternative energy projects in Nigeria" that the major reason for the disconnect is a lack of trained workers who can assist with implementation.

Given that there is a dearth of "green collar workers" throughout the world it is not surprising that there is a lack of people with renewable energy or sustainable development experience in any subset of a population. But the shortage is particularly acute among immigrants, usually because they have little or no access to the few privileged centers of education and businesses that are forging new paths toward sustainability.

And yet these are the very people who need this training most, because most of the immigrants to Europe and the United States come from southern regions that are simultaneously blessed with the greatest potential for using solar, wind, groundsource, geothermal and biomass energy supplies and yet cursed with the greatest environmental challenges.

Curiously there are very few, if any, mechanisms for tapping the human potential of the immigrant populations of the world to address environmental problems, often the very problems (resource scarcity, service disruptions, air, water and food poisoning and pollution, economic difficulties) that exacerbated the conflicts that lead to the diasporas in the first place. And yet immigrants from countries in the Middle East, Africa, Central America and Asia understand the need for environmental technologies and solutions like no other.

When the German Job Center trains unemployed immigrants to use the internet to search for work, they coach them in the use of "" the Bundesagentur fur Arbeit, but in my research I discovered that they either don't introduce them to or even actively discourage them from looking into the field of "Entwicklungsherfer/in", claiming that to be a development worker one needs to have completed the standard University Ausbildung, which is not available to immigrants.

Yet a look at the real qualifications listed on the website reveals a profile that is much more suited to, say, an immigrant from Africa than a German national born and raised in Europe. Here is what the website reveals:


Die Arbeitssituation von Entwicklungshelfern und -helferinnen ist sehr unterschiedlich. Die eigentliche Arbeit führen sie im Rahmen allgemeiner Vorgaben weitgehend selbstständig durch, wobei sie einen großen Gestaltungsspielraum haben. Neben fundiertem Fachwissen sollten Entwicklungshelfer/innen über Sprachkenntnisse z.B. in Englisch, Französisch, Spanisch oder Portugiesisch verfügen. Toleranz und Offenheit gegenüber anderen Kulturen, Einfühlungsvermögen und die Bereitschaft, sich auf andere Kulturen, Sitten und Gebräuche einzulassen, sind für diesen Beruf ein absolutes Muss. Notwendig sind auch körperliche wie seelische Belastbarkeit sowie ein hohes Maß an Flexibilität.
Die Arbeitsgegenstände und -mittel von Entwicklungshelfern und -helferinnen hängen von den konkreten Berufen ab, welche sie im Entwicklungsland ausüben. Jedoch ist die technische Ausrüstung meist nicht mit dem im Heimatland üblichen Standard zu vergleichen.
Entwicklungshelfer/innen arbeiten bei ihren eigentlichen Tätigkeiten allein oder im Team. Während ihres Einsatzes im Entwicklungsland haben sie zahlreiche Kontakte zu den Mitarbeitern und Mitarbeiterinnen der jeweiligen einheimischen Träger sowie zur dortigen Bevölkerung. Die Arbeitszeiten von Entwicklungshelfern und -helferinnen entsprechen in den meisten Gastländern denen in Europa. Je nach Arbeitsplatz ist jedoch die Bereitschaft zur flexiblen Anwendung der Vorschriften vonnöten.

Aufgaben und Tätigkeiten

Entwicklungshelfer/innen kommen aus unterschiedlichen Ausgangsberufen, beispielsweise aus der Land- oder Forstwirtschaft, aus dem Gesundheitswesen oder aus technisch-handwerklichen Berufen. Die Projekte, in denen Entwicklungshelfer/innen tätig sind, sind so unterschiedlich wie die Probleme der Entwicklungsländer selbst. So schulen sie etwa einheimische Handwerker im Bau von Solaröfen oder hinsichtlich einer effizienten Abwasserreinigung. Sie beraten beim Aufbau von Kleinbetrieben, vermitteln Kenntnisse zur Gewinnung und Verarbeitung lokaler Materialen oder schulen Verwaltungskräfte. Auch in der Stadt- und Raumplanung oder in der Frauenförderung können sie tätig sein. Bei ihren Projekten übernehmen Entwicklungshelfer/innen auch Verwaltungsarbeiten. Die Mittelabrechnung, das Schreiben von Berichten und Maßnahmeanträgen gehört ebenfalls zu ihren Aufgaben.

Arbeitsbedingungen im Einzelnen

  • Arbeit mit technischen Geräten, Maschinen und Anlagen (abhängig vom ausgeübten Beruf; technische Ausrüstung jedoch meist nicht mit dem in der Bundesrepublik üblichen Stand zu vergleichen)

  • Handarbeit (je nach Tätigkeit und Einsatzgebiet)

  • Arbeit auf Baustellen (je nach Tätigkeit und Einsatzgebiet)

  • Arbeit im Freien (je nach Tätigkeit und Einsatzgebiet)

  • Arbeit in Büroräumen (z.B. selbst Verwaltungsarbeiten übernehmen)

  • Arbeit in Unterrichts-/Schulungsräumen (z.B. Verwaltungskräfte schulen)

  • Arbeit in Werkstätten, Werk-/Produktionshallen (je nach Einsatzart)

  • Arbeit bei Kälte, Hitze, Nässe, Feuchtigkeit, Zugluft (In den meisten tropischen Ländern herrscht z.B. ein für Deutsche ungewohntes Klima.)

  • Gruppen-, Teamarbeit (z.B. im Team mit einheimischen Handwerkern zusammenarbeiten)

  • Kundenkontakt (und enger Kontakt mit der einheimischen Bevölkerung, z.B. einheimische Handwerker im Bau von Solaröfen schulen)

  • häufige Abwesenheit vom Wohnort (Tätigkeit im Ausland)

  • unregelmäßige Arbeitszeiten (abhängig vom Einsatz vor Ort)

(Here is the English translation:

Working Conditions
The work situation of aid workers and assistants is quite varied. The actual work they do in the framework of general guidelines is largely autonomous, and provide a lot of room for creativity. In addition, aid workers should have a sound knowledge of foreign languages and be able to function well in English, French, Spanish or Portuguese. Tolerance and openness towards other cultures, empathy and a willingness to engage with other cultures, customs and traditions are, for this occupation, an absolute must. It is also necessary to have physical and mental strength and a high degree of flexibility.

The work specifications and the skills needed by development workers and helpers depend on the specific tasks which are being undertaken in the developing country. However, the technical equipment one will be using should not be compared with the usual standards in the home country.

Development workers work on their activities alone or in teams. During their deployment in developing countries, they must engage in very close contact with the staff and employees of each local institution and with the local people of the country. The work of aid workers and helpers may also be to meet immigrants from the developing countries in their host countries, such as Europe. Depending on the willingness to work flexible application of rules is needed.

Tasks and activities

Development workers come from different starting professions, such as from agriculture or forestry, the health services or from technical and craft occupations. The projects in which development workers are active in are as different as the problems of the developing countries themselves. For example, they might train some local artisans in the construction of solar ovens or i. They might advise in setting up small businesses, provide knowledge to extract and process local materials, or assist local school administrators. They can also be active in the urban and country planning or in women's issues. In their projects, Development workers take an active role in administrative support.. They help raise funds, and the writing of reports and requests for action can also be part of their duties.

Working conditions in detail

* Working with technical equipment, machinery and equipment (depending on the type of professional, technical equipment, however, can not be compared with the most common found in the Federal Republic of Germany)

* Supplies (depending on activity and application)

* Work on construction sites (depending on activity and application)

*Work outdoors (depending on activity and application)

* Work in offices (eg take even administrative work)

* Work in Education-/Schoolrooms (eg administrative staff training)

* Work in workshops, Work-/Productionhalls(depending on the application)

* Work in the cold, heat, moisture, humidity, drafts (in most tropical countries, these are very unusual climates for Germans.)

* Groups, team work (eg team work with local craftsmen)

* Close contact with customers (train close to the local population, such as local craftsmen in the construction of solar ovens)
* frequent absences from home (working abroad)

* irregular hours (depending on site use)
All of us who work in so-called "third world" regions have had the experience of having to come to the aid of some well-intentioned but ill-equipped American or European "aid worker" suffering from an averse reaction to the local climate, food, or working conditions, and we have all watched in dismay as the higher salaried development specialists trundle about in their air-conditioned SUV's, make the briefest of site visits and then retire to their comfortable climate controlled offices with their backup generators, constant supplies of water, and even servant staffs.

We wonder about the ineffective use of most development funds, the lack of sustained commitment by many in our field, and the prodigious losses in time and energy dealing with miscommunication as the local languages are painstakingly mastered and cultural nuances slowly (often far too slowly) appreciated.

And we marvel and the sheer waste of resources in times of great human calamity, resources that could be better spent if development aid project heads and businesses trying to bring "green technologies" recruited not those individuals with the greatest formal education (who invariably spent most of their time getting used to -- and addicted to? -- privileged circumstances) but those individuals who have long direct and lived empathic experience with the challenges faced by their brothers and sisters in developing countries (If you think I'm being uncharacteristically harsh, check out Ivan Illich's speech "To Hell with Good Intentions").

The responses I got when I queried instructors and administrators in Germany's "Weststadt Academy" and "Haus Der Teknik" (where jobless immigrants are sent to learn the German language and culture and prepare for work skills development) were, "These people would not be suited for Development work. For one thing they lack the proper education and interest, and for another they came here to get away (one said "escape") from their countries of origin and don't want to go back."

But when I asked my unemployed and immigrant friends from the Middle East and Africa about their feelings, and showed them the pages from Berufnet most of them said, "This would be perfect for me -- I speak not only German and English but several local languages or dialects, I know my home culture, I'm comfortable working in my former homeland, and I'm enthusiastic about helping my relatives and my people. All I lack is the training in how to work with energy, water, food and waste improvement technologies."

Several said, "we would be better representatives of Germany, German companies and German science and technology, because we are part of both worlds and can build bridges of understanding. This would improve German business relations with our homelands."

In the particular case of Nigeria, there are clear benefits to training members of the German-Nigerian "working class", whether currently employed or not, in Germany's Green Tech and Clean Tech expertise. According to the Auswartiges Amt (Gerrmany's Foreign Office),

Nigeria is Germany’s second most important trading partner in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2009, Germany exported to Nigeria goods worth more than EUR 1 billion, a decline of just under 15 per cent compared with the previous year. The value of Nigerian goods imported by Germany shrank by 34 per cent, to nearly EUR 1.2 billion, after increasing by 96 per cent in 2008. The decline in exports is mainly due to Nigeria’s reduced imports of final products and finished goods, while the slump in imports is largely the result of the lower price of petroleum.
The main German exports to Nigeria are machinery, vehicles, chemical products and electrical goods.
In 2008, Germany ranked fourth as a supplier of goods to Nigeria and was the fourteenth-largest importer of Nigerian products. In Germany’s foreign trade, Nigeria ranks 61st for exports and 53rd for imports (2009).
German direct investment in Nigeria has been declining since 2001, amounting to EUR 96 million at the end of 2007 (2001: EUR 298 million).
Some 50 German companies operate in Nigeria, some with production plants, some with offices. The agreement on reciprocal investment protection and promotion, which was signed in 2000, entered into force in September 2007.
Nigeria is one of Germany’s partner countries in development cooperation. The new priority here (in Technical Cooperation) is the employment-oriented promotion of micro-, small- and medium-sized businesses in the federal states of Niger, Nasarawa and Plateau.

Since development cooperation began, Germany has pledged funds worth more than EUR 360 million to Nigeria, two-thirds of which was earmarked for Financial Cooperation and one-third for Technical Cooperation.

In cognizance of these facts, Solar CITIES is now working with our Nigerian-German colleague and friend, Paul "Chido" Iwunna, a man who, like me, is married to a German national and has a beautiful daughter who is a living embodiment of the bi-cultural benefits of globalization. Chido, like many of us, thus has powerful reasons to support the economies and people of both his country of origin and his country of residence. To support his family, Chido has worked in a factory in Bochum for the past 13 years. The job involves production and assembly of wheelchairs and hospital beds, and while the products are very important, he doesn't feel he is making the best use of his talents and time on the assembly line. Chido approached Solar CITIES after a presentation we made at a Development Aid Project Fundraiser for the NGO "Chance For Growth" founded by his wife's college friend, Sven Volkmuth MD.

Since "Chance for Growth" works primarily on development projects in the Philippines, Chido asked if we couldn't do something for his home country of Nigeria, particularly since there are so many Nigerian immigrants in the NRW area of Germany. Out of this conversation came our idea of training Chido in the creation of home-scale biogas reactors, treadle pumps and solar hot water, solar electric and small wind and micro-hydro systems and visiting Nigeria to reify our connection with His Excellency Obasanjo.

German-Nigerian Solar CITIES representative Paul Chido Iwunna, married to a German, is now, after 13 years working in a medical equipment factory in Bochum, on a mission to return to his country of origin to share ideas and technologies and foster bilateral cooperation between the two parts of the world that form the heritage of his 8 year old binational daughter .

Paul Chido Iwunna (right) shares ideas with American Dr. Charisma Acey, Professor of Urban Planning at Ohio State University, who is married to a Nigerian, and Bunmi Idowu, manager of Obasanjo Farms, Ibogun. Bunmi was showing how Obasanjo has used the required quarantine space between chicken houses to grow teak trees, part of Obasanjo's plan to reforest Nigeria while reducing the incidence of disease transmission. "We've never had a worry about avian flu here" he told us.

Paul poses with Obasanjo's relatives in the humble village where the former President grew up.

After seeing the kerosene stoves that the villagers use to cook and heat water, and noting the thick black soot on the walls, Paul explains the benefits of biogas and our experience with it in Germany, and promises to bring simple and cost-effective versions of this technology to the materially poor areas of Nigeria.

Paul poses with Mrs. Obasanjo and Dr. Acey in the Obasanjo garden where Nigeria's first lady shows the edible and medicinal landscaping she has planted there.

After we shared our technical expertise with members from different communities in Nigeria and Chido demonstrated his commitment as a Solar CITIES Greentech development worker, we asked President Obasanjo if he thought we could launch an initiative similar to (or under the auspices of) NIDO and NNVS that can find ways to train Nigerian Germans in Environmental Technologies, (particularly those in need of gainful employment or who are seeking more meaningful career choices), and bring them to Nigeria to train others. His Excellency said that "providing accomodation and food would not be a problem on our end." On the other end we are proposing that the same unemployment money and training money currently paid out to underemployed Nigerians through the Job Center be used to subsidize Green Collar Job Training and then, for successful graduates of the training program, the airfare for two one month long implementation trips to Nigeria, spread out over a year. Families of the trainees would continue to receive their unemployment benefits, but rather than working at the famous but hardly edifying "1 Euro job" available to the unemployed so that they don't waste time idle while looking for better employment (usually some kind of manual labor), the trainees would be active on the ground in Nigerian slums and villages, making improvements and acting as liaisons between Germany and Nigeria.

Paul and the Solar CITIES team, T.H. and Charisma, present His Excellency and Mrs. Obasanjo with an Insinkerator Food-waste-Biofuel-feedstock converter, describing how it can be used to eliminate Nigeria's organic solid waste problem and empower families to participate in clean energy solutions and greenhouse gas reductions to stop climate change, following Germany's example of turning garbage into gas. And you thought it was just a food waste disposal?

Upon their completion of the implementation course in bilateral green technology, these Nigerian-Germans could continue working with the professional Nigerian-German Community would receive credentials and could better enter the job-pool, applying for meaningful jobs as Development Aid Specialists and representing German companies involved in bettering the Nigerian economy and environment.

Paul poses with Dr. T.H. Culhane, Dr. Charisma Acey, Balogun Olowasegun and Emmanuel Thonda of Naijatomo Holistic Waste Management Company and the students of Obasanjo's Bells School after training them in domestic biogas technology.

In this way we could waken the tigers not only in the heart of Africa but in the heart of Europe, and build not just the Nigeria of our Dreams, but the sustainable globalized world civilization of our Dreams that grants equal opportunity and liberty, and environmental justice, for all.


Unknown said...

This really makess sense, hadn't thought about it before, but dead right.
Simon Mulholland

itrix said...

Building an entire nation and improving the living condition of its people is a daunting tasks. But you have so start somewhere one city at a time. Good Luck