TIME Behind the Photos

Belgian Mayor Says Award-Winning Photos of His City ‘Distort Reality’

World Press Photo jury
Bas de Meijer Members of the specialized and general jury for the 2015 World Press Photo Contest.

Images of Charleroi by Italian photographer Giovanni Troilo "profoundly dishonest," says city's mayor

The mayor of Charleroi, Belgium, has asked World Press Photo to withdraw an award given to Italian photographer Giovanni Troilo for a series of images that he says “undermines” his city and its inhabitants.

The move, first revealed by French photography website Our Age is 13, comes three weeks after the World Press Photo jury awarded Troilo the first prize in the Contemporary Issues Stories category.

In his work, Troilo says that the city of Charleroi “has experienced the collapse of industrial manufacturing, rising unemployment, increasing immigration and outbreak of micro-criminality. The roads, once fresh and neat, appear today desolated and abandoned, industries are closing down, and vegetation grows in the old industrial districts.”

In an extended description, published on his website, the Italian photographer, which calls Charleroi the “dark heart of Europe,” adds: “A perverse and sick sex, race hate, neurotic obesity and the abuse of psychiatric drugs seem to be the only cures being able to make this endemic uneasiness acceptable.”

In a letter, seen by TIME LightBox and sent to World Press Photo and Michele McNally, chair of this year’s jury and director of photography at the New York Times, Charleroi’s mayor Paul Magnette expresses his surprise and dismay, claiming that “the photographer’s constructed photographic subject is regarded by [Charleroi] as a serious distortion of reality that undermines the city and its inhabitants, as well as the profession of photojournalist.” Troilo has yet to return a request for comment on the claims.

Magnette continues: “Indeed, this work uses essentially staging technique that adds to the drama of the images through an artificial lighting. If this was a private artwork, it would not be a problem. Unfortunately, the photographer does not seem to present his work as such. He claims to be doing investigative journalism; a photo essay reflecting a simple reality. But this is far from being the case: the falsified and misleading captions, the travesty of reality, the construction of striking images staged by the photographer are all profoundly dishonest and fail to respect the codes of journalistic ethics. In our opinion, this work does not comply with the objective of the competition.”

The mayor’s letter goes on to analyze Troilo’s photographs and captions, including one that purports to show a couple having sex in a car. Troilo submitted the image to World Press Photo with the caption: “Locals know of parking lots popular for couples seeking sexual liaisons.” On his website, however, the photographer reveals that the image was set up: “My cousin accepted to be portrayed while fornicating with a girl in his friend’s car. For them it was not strange.”

Troilo’s work should be reevaluated, the mayor concluded. “Charleroi is not, on any account, the black heart of Europe,” Magnette writes. “You will not find one single inhabitant who will recognize his city in these pictures, not to mention the captions that look more like a settling of scores than a reportage.”

World Press Photo has confirmed receiving the letter. “We are currently verifying the facts behind the photo story, as we do with all the prizewinning pictures, and we are in touch with the photographer Giovanni Troilo,” a spokeswoman tells TIME.

The controversy comes after World Press Photo and various international photography organizations have been debating the use of post-processing techniques, which led to the disqualification of 20% of entries in the competition’s penultimate round.

TIME Belgium

Belgian Troops Take to Streets to Guard Against Possible Terrorist Attacks

Belgian soldiers guard outside the U.S. Embassy in Brussels near the Belgian Parliament on Jan. 17, 2015.
Eric Vidal—Reuters Belgian soldiers guard outside the U.S. Embassy in Brussels near the Belgian Parliament on Jan. 17, 2015.

Soldiers reinforced police in Belgium after a raid on an Islamist cell Thursday

Belgium’s defense ministry said Saturday said that the country is deploying hundreds of troops to guard possible terrorism targets, including Jewish sites and diplomatic missions after deadly raids on an Islamist cell.

As many as 300 military will be stationed at locations like the U.S. and Israeli embassies in Brussels and NATO and European Union institutions, Reuters reports. They will be supporting regular police.

“It’s very important to say that this wasn’t a simple decision, but it was necessary, at a time when police are overly engaged, for the army to enter in a supporting role,” Defense Minister Steven Vandeput told reporters.

The government raised the threat level to 3 on a scale of 4 this week, after a raid Thursday in the east Belgian town of Verviers, in which police fatally shot two gunmen, who authorities said were preparing an attack on police.

Troops with machine guns stood guard outside Jewish schools in Antwerp, where there is a large Jewish population. In Brussels, soldiers stood outside EU institutions.

The Brussels Jewish Museum was the site of an Islamist attack last May that killed four people.

[Reuters]

TIME Morning Must Reads

Morning Must Reads: January 16

Capitol
Mark Wilson—Getty Images The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC.

Europe On High Alert

Authorities launched a wave of counter-terrorism raids across Europe overnight and into Friday morning, resulting in two deaths and 23 arrests, as the continent steps up security measures in the wake of last week’s attack on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo

Coke Fights the Soda Slump

Soda sales are in decline, but one sliver of the soft drink market—the segment that comes in smaller-than-usual sizes—is booming

Google Decides Glass Half Empty

The company said it will stop selling the smart glasses to individual customers through its Explorer program after Jan. 19

Early Picks for Oscar Night

Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel (pictured) led the way in nominations for the 87th Academy Awards with nine nods each, while Selma received only two.

Muhammad Ali Back in Hospital for ‘Follow-up Care’

Boxing icon Muhammad Ali was checked back into a hospital on Thursday for follow-up care, after suffering from a severe urinary-tract infection in December. Ali is hoping to recover soon and plans to celebrate his 73rd birthday on Saturday at home, said a family spokesman

Nebraska Bill Would Abolish Closing Time for Bars

A Nebraska state senator introduced legislation Thursday that would allow bars in the state to stay open all night, if they wished. State and local laws generally require the Cornhusker state’s bars to stop serving alcohol at 1 a.m. or 2 a.m.

Flu Shot a Flub, CDC Says

People who got a flu shot this winter are only 23% less likely to get the flu than someone who didn’t get the vaccine, the CDC said in a new report. Since the health institute started tracking flu vaccine effectiveness in 2004, the rates have ranged from 10% to 60%

Oklahoma Resumes Executions After Nearly 9-Month Delay

Charles Warner was executed on Thursday night after the Supreme Court declined in a 5-4 ruling to intervene, making him the first death-row inmate to be put to death there since a botched lethal injection in April forced the state to reform its execution standards

28 Months Later Might Be in the Making

Alex Garland, the brain behind the cult zombie classics 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later, says another film in the franchise may be in the offing and is having serious talks with director Danny Boyle

Republicans Want to Give President Obama More Power

Congress may pass a bill that would give President Barack Obama greater authority to negotiate an agreement known as the Trans Pacific Partnership, which would affect about 40% of the world’s GDP and about a third of the world’s trade

African Papers Sorry for Charlie Hebdo Reprint

Kenya’s the Star and South Africa’s Citizen issued apologies this week for reprinting the controversial new cover of Charlie Hebdo, after the publication of the image triggered an uproar from Muslim readers

Judge Revokes Chris Brown Probation in Assault Case

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge revoked Chris Brown’s probation on Thursday but allowed him to remain free for now after the R&B singer traveled without approval for a concert and failed to complete community service on time

We will hold an #AskTIME subscriber Q&A today, January 16 at 1 p.m., with TIME’s Washington bureau chief, Michael Scherer. He has a story in this week’s TIME about the different kind of presidential campaign that Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee would run if he decides to seek that office a second time.

His other stories can be found here.

You can submit your questions beforehand on Twitter using the #AskTIME hashtag or in the comments of this post. We depend on smart, interesting questions from readers.

You will need to be a TIME subscriber to read the Q & A. ($30 a year or 8 cents a day for the magazine and all digital content.) Once you’re signed up, you can log in to the site with a username and password.

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TIME europe

Europe On High Alert Following Shootings and Arrests

A shootout in Belgium, a bomb threat in Paris and raids across the region have left European authorities on edge

Officials across Europe were on high alert for terror threats Friday after a chaotic night in Belgium on Thursday that saw a deadly shootout in Verviers, counterterrorism raids across the country, and the arrest of 13 suspected militants.

The shootout in Verviers took place during a raid of a former bakery, when suspects opened fire on police. Two gunmen were killed and another was wounded and arrested during the confrontation. All three of the suspects have recently returned from Syria and were thought to be planning an attack on the police. Four Kalashnikov rifles, bomb-making equipment and police clothing were found after the raid, reports the Guardian citing local media sources.

“This operation stopped a major terrorist attack from taking place. You could say a second potential Paris has been averted,” federal prosecutor, Eric Van Der Sypt, told the Guardian, while authorities in Belgium raised the national terror alert level from 2 to 3, the second-highest level. Van Der Sypt told the Associated Press, “I cannot confirm that we arrested everyone in this group.”

Meanwhile, Jewish schools in Brussels and Antwerp were closed on Friday after authorities revealed they were a “potential target” for Islamist militants, reports the Guardian. An Orthodox Jewish school in the Netherlands was also closed as a precautionary measure, though there was no direct threat made against it.

In Paris, the scene of last week’s terrorist attacks that left 17 dead, authorities shut down and evacuated the Gare de l’Est train station early on Friday, after a bomb threat was made. A French police official told the Associated Press that the station was closed “as a precaution.” (No bomb was found.)

Paris is at its highest terrorism alert level. The prosecutor’s office reported that 12 people had been arrested during raids throughout the region, which targeted associates of the gunman, Amedy Coulibaly, who killed four people in a kosher supermarket and a policewoman last week, and claimed ties to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Coulibaly was killed at the market after a standoff with police, but his suspected accomplice and common-law wife, Hayat Boumeddiene, is still being sought by authorities.

Turkish authorities have said Boumeddiene crossed from Turkey into Syria on Jan. 8. Spanish authorities have reported that Coulibaly drove Boumeddiene from France to Madrid on New Year’s Eve and was with her until she took a Jan. 2 flight to Istanbul. Spain is still investigating what the couple did and who they contacted while in the country, and whether they had links with a terrorist cell in Spain.

Belgian police are also looking at possible links between a suspected arms dealer arrested in the southern town of Charleroi on Wednesday and Coulibaly; the man claimed that he wanted to buy a car from the Coulibaly’s wife, Van der Sypt told the AP. “At this moment this is the only link between what happened in Paris,” he said.

In Berlin, police arrested two men on Friday on suspicion of recruiting fighters for ISIS. They were taken into custody after a series of raids across the capital, which saw the search of 11 residences by 250 police officers. However authorities have said the raids were part of a months-long, ongoing investigation and not related to the recent attacks in Paris.

TIME Belgium

Belgium Anti-Terrorism Raid Foils Imminent Attack

Shootout comes the week after 17 people were killed at the office of Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in Paris

The deaths of two terrorist suspects in a gun battle between Belgian police and members of a suspected jihadist cell on Thursday confirms mounting fears that the small European nation is facing a disproportionally high risk of attacks from Islamist extremists returning from Syria.

Police and special forces who conducted the early evening raid in Verviers, a town near the German border, were acting on information that a terrorist cell comprised of people who recently returned from the Syrian battlefield were plotting an imminent strike, said Eric Van der Sypt, a spokesman for the federal prosecutor, at a news conference.

The assault on the property, one of around a dozen raids across Belgium on Thursday night that targeted suspected jihadists, comes the week after 17 people were killed in attacks at the office of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in Paris. But Van der Sypt noted their investigation began prior to those attacks.

“During the investigation we found this group was about to commit terrorist attacks in Belgium,” Van der Sypt said, before describing how the suspects in Verviers immediately opened fire with automatic weapons for “several minutes” before two were shot dead and a third was arrested.

In light of the intelligence about potential attacks and the raid, authorities said the national terrorism threat alert would be raised to its second-highest level.

Belgium authorities have been aware of the extremist threat since reports emerged in 2012 of citizens heading to Syria to fight alongside Islamist militias. Last May, the nation become the first European country to experience an attack by a returning combatant when a Frenchman — Mehdi Nemmouche — opened fire in a Jewish museum in Brussels, killing four people.

Authorities have been struggling to tackle the phenomenon, with some municipalities stripping returning fighters of their residence rights, while other politicians and activists have urged a greater focus on rehabilitation and integration. Police, meanwhile, have been closely monitoring suspected extremist groups.

In April 2013, they raided 48 homes across Belgium in an operation to arrest people believed to be active in recruiting young people to fight in Syria. A few months later, a Belgian teenager posted a video on YouTube threatening a bomb attack on the Atomium, a structure built for the 1958 World’s Fair and one of Belgium’s biggest tourists attractions.

Belgian authorities estimate that around 300 of its citizens have been or are currently fighting in Syria, making up a large chunk of the 3,000 to 5,000 European fighters that Europol chief Rob Wainwright earlier this week estimated were in the country and at risk of radicalization.

“Clearly, we’re dealing with a large body of mainly young men who have the potential to come back and have the potential or the intent and capability to carry out attacks we have seen in Paris in the last week,” he told MPs in Britain.

With Belgium’s population of around 11 million, that gives the country one of Europe’s highest per capita rates of fighters in Syria, meaning a concentration of cells when they return home. Belgium’s border with France — which has also reported a large number of fighters in Syria — makes it vulnerable to extremists crossing over undetected, as was the case with Nemmouche, who is currently detained in Brussels and awaiting trial.

One of the shooters in the Paris attacks is believed to have bought his weapon in Brussels; prosecutors earlier Thursday confirmed they had detained a man on suspicion of selling weapons and were investigating whether there were any links to Amedy Coulibaly, the man accused in the killing of a French police officer and in the kosher-supermarket attack.

Belgium prides itself on being a multicultural society, but unemployment is high among the Muslim community and there have been reports of discrimination against Muslim women who choose to wear traditional clothing. A ban on the full-face veil came into force in 2011. Some far-right parties openly mock Islam, fueling alienation. Many of the Belgians believed to be fighting in Syria are, however, converts to the religion rather than from migrant communities.

Read next: The European Front

TIME Belgium

Suspects Arrested in Belgium Following Apartment Siege

Authorities said the incident was not linked to terrorism

Three people were arrested in Belgium on Monday after men burst into an apartment building and took a hostage in the western city of Ghent, authorities said.

The siege began early Monday and several hours later armed police entered the apartment, BBC reports. Federal police established a careful security cordon to keep bystanders away and three suspects gave themselves up without violence. The hostage was reportedly released unharmed.

“This isn’t the same sort of incident as the events in Sydney,” said federal police spokeswoman Annemie Serlippens.

It was unclear whether the police were still searching for more suspects.

[BBC]

TIME World War II

Battle of the Bulge: Rare Photos From Hitler’s Last Gamble

Photos -- many of which never ran in LIFE magazine -- from the final, failed German offensive on the Western Front in World War II.

From mid-December 1944 through the end of January 1945, in the heavily forested Ardennes Mountains of Belgium, thousands of American, British, Canadian, Belgian and French forces struggled to turn back the final major German offensive of World War II. While Allied forces ultimately triumphed, it was an absolutely vicious six weeks of fighting, with tens of thousands dead on both sides. Today, the conflict is known as the Battle of the Bulge.

Here, 70 years after the start of the Ardennes Counteroffensive (as the battle is sometimes known), LIFE.com presents a series of photographs made by LIFE photographers throughout the fighting. Many of these pictures never ran in LIFE magazine.

For its final offensive to succeed, Germany needed four factors to work in its favor: catching the Allies off-guard; poor weather that would neutralize air support for Allied troops; the dealing of early, devastating, demoralizing blows against the Allies; and capturing Allied fuel supplies intact. (Indeed, Germany originally intended to attack on November 27, but had to delay its initial assault due to fuel shortages). On December 16, 1944, the German attack began: the Wehrmacht (the Third Reich’s unified armed forces) struck with 250,000 soldiers along an 85-mile stretch of Allied front, stretching from southern Belgium to Luxembourg.

The attack proved stunningly effective, at first, as troops advanced some 50 miles into Allied territory, creating the “bulge” in the American lines that gave the battle its memorable name.

A Belgian woman surveys damage to her home caused by heavy fighting in the nearby Ardennes Forest, Battle of the Bulge.American forces had been feeling triumphant — Paris had just been liberated in August — and there was a sense among some American and other Allied leaders that Germany was all but defeated. The attack in December 1944, officially labeled the “Ardennes-Alsace Campaign” by the U.S. Army, showed that any complacency the Allies might have embraced regarding the Wehrmacht was dangerously misplaced.

Nevertheless, as effective as the initial German efforts were, they failed to achieve the complete and early knockout of Allied forces that German military brass had hoped for, and counted on. (Wehrmacht Field Marshal Walter Model had given the attack only a 10 percent chance of success to begin with. The German name for the operation: Wacht am Rhein, or “Watch on the Rhine.”)

(At right: A Belgian woman surveys damage to her home caused by heavy fighting during the Battle of the Bulge.)

One of the most difficult aspects of the Bulge was the weather, as extreme — indeed, historic — cold wreaked havoc and turned relatively simple logistics of travel, shelter, and meals into a daily struggle. January 1945 was the coldest January on record for that part of Europe, and over the course of the battle more than 15,000 Allied troops alone were treated for frostbite and other cold-related injuries.

Before the attack, some German troops who were able to speak English disguised themselves as Allied soldiers. They made a point of changing road signs and generally spreading misinformation. Germans captured engaging in the subterfuge were executed by firing squad. Images 25-30 in this gallery chronicle one such execution. The three Germans, LIFE magazine reported in June 1945 — when the U.S. War Department released the images — were German intelligence officers who were captured, tried and shot.

The Nazis were carefully groomed for their dangerous mission [LIFE wrote]. They spoke excellent English and their slang had been tuned up by close association with American prisoners of war in German camps… Under the rules of the Hague Convention these Germans were classifiable as spies and subject to an immediate court martial by a military tribunal. After brief deliberation American officers found them guilty, and ordered the usual penalty for spies: death by firing squad.

Other German efforts at sabotage, meanwhile, proved largely ineffective, including attempts to bribe port and railroad workers to impede Allied supply operations.

Perhaps the defining moment in the Battle of the Bulge came when the Germans demanded the surrender of American troops who were outnumbered and surrounded in the town of Bastogne. United States General Anthony McAuliffe replied to the ultimatum with a now-legendary one-word response — “Nuts!” — which is a milder way of saying, “F— you.” His men withstood several German attacks until they could be relieved by the 4th Armored Division.

“This is undoubtedly the greatest American battle of the war,” Winston Churchill said in the House of Commons following the Battle of the Bulge, “and will, I believe, be regarded as an ever-famous American victory.”

While the Allied forces triumphed, victory came at a heavy price, with nearly 20,000 Americans killed and tens of thousands more wounded, missing or captured. British troops suffered more than 1,000 casualties. For American forces, the Bulge was the bloodiest battle on the Western Front during the Second World War.

German losses were severe, with estimates ranging from 70,000 to 100,000 casualties (depending on the source).

With victory on January 25, 1945, the final triumph over Nazi Germany was in reach; Allied forces pressed their advantage and began the last push toward Berlin. On May 7, Germany agreed to an unconditional surrender. Less than five months after the Battle of the Bulge ended, the war in Europe was over.


Ben Cosgrove is the Editor of LIFE.com

Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizabethRonk.

TIME portfolio

A Cold Place, With No Curves: Life Inside Belgian Prisons

“My goal was to show the reality of these places, without the photographic clichés,” says Belgium photographer Sebastien Van Malleghem, who, for the past three years, has gained access to and photographed everyday life inside his own country’s prisons.

“These [penal] universes have been photographed many times before, but I was more interested in the psychological oppression created by these places,” Van Malleghem tells TIME. “Being locked up is a form of punishment, but once you’re inside you realize it’s just the beginning. There are many other forms of punishment—psychological and emotional ones. Once you’re in this box, they put you into another smaller box where your movements, your spirit and your ideas are confined.”

The 28-year-old photographer’s curiosity towards his country’s penal system came after four years spent following police officers for his Police project. “I wanted to start a story on justice and violence in Belgium, and I felt that the first step would be to follow the police.”

Van Malleghem readily admits that, as a younger man, he was attracted to this world of violence. It’s only after he finished that earlier project that he shifted his focus to another form of violence—namely, “a social violence; the one embodied in the relationship between a state, which is represented by these policemen and prison guards, and citizens. I wanted to see how a government sentences its own people.”

Gaining full access to these prisons, however, proved difficult. “It took me six to eight months to get permission from the Belgian government,” says Van Malleghem. “Once I received that general authorization, I still had to approach and convince prison directors to open their doors to me.”

Most prisons couldn’t afford to dedicate resources for Van Malleghem’s project beyond just a few hours. “I had to be followed by a guard,” he notes. But, in some cases, the photographer was able to spend up to three months in the same place. “For some directors, my work represented a way to raise awareness about the state of their prisons,” he adds. “With the economic and social crises, the Belgium government doesn’t really have the budget to help renovate these prisons, some of which were built in the 1800s.”

Once inside, Van Malleghem faced yet another hurdle: convincing inmates to let him photograph them. “In the beginning, it’s always a little bit tense,” he explains. “When you get in, people check you out. They try to define you. Are you working for the prison? Are you a psychological resource? What can you bring them? Are you a potential danger?”

All of these questions are asked with a stare. “They don’t say a word. It’s your role to come forward and explain the project, and when they realize that this work will really talk about them and the conditions they’re in, most of them welcome you. It’s like anywhere else: you have to break the ice once or twice, but when they realize that you keep on coming back, the ice has melted.”

At one point, Van Malleghem arranged to spend three days locked up in his own cell, in an attempt to understand how it really felt to be behind bars. “Everything is sanitized, everything is cold. You’re surrounded by grey concrete. It’s all straight lines and straight angles,” he tells TIME. “In fact, you never see something round. You never see curves. Everything is square. Everything is awful.”

For Van Malleghem, this environment is counter-productive to the process of rehabilitation. “I don’t think it helps reform these prisoners. On the contrary, I can understand, if you’re a young detainee, how this experience would foster a form of aggression toward an entire system.”


Sebastien Van Malleghem is a freelance photographer based in Belgium. His first photobook, Police, is available on his website.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent


TIME Belgium

A Belgian Rapist and Murderer Has Won the Right to Be Euthanized

His lawyers say he has not been able to get over his violent sexual impulses

In a groundbreaking ruling, a man who is serving a life sentence in Belgium is to be allowed to have doctors end his life, the BBC reports.

Fifty-year-old Frank Van Den Bleeken was convicted in the 1980s for rape and murder. His lawyers say he has not been able to get over his violent sexual impulses.

Belgium introduced an assisted-dying law in 2002, but the ruling is the first time involving a prisoner.

Van Den Bleeken says he cannot control his sexual urges, which have caused him “unbearable psychological anguish,” and argued because of this he had no prospect of release, says the BBC.

Van Den Bleeken first requested to be euthanized in 2011, but his plea was rejected by Belgium’s Federal Euthanasia Commission.

For the past three years he has been fighting the courts to allow doctors to end his life.

Van Den Bleeken will be taken to a hospital where doctors will perform the procedure, but it is not clear when it will be conducted.

[BBC]

TIME energy

Africa and Belgium Generate the Same Amount of Electricity – But That’s Changing

Laborers work at the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in Guba Woreda, Benishangul Gumuz region in Ethiopia, March 2014.
Tiksa Negeri—Reuters Laborers work at the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in Benishangul-Gumuz region of Ethiopia, March 2014.

Lack of power is holding Africa back

This article originally appeared on OilPrice.com

The statistics of the African Development Bank are terrifying: Africa’s total installed power generation capacity is 147 gigawatts. That’s about the same amount as Belgium’s total capacity, and the equivalent of what China installs every 12 to 24 months.

To turn this around by 2030 and ensure universal electricity access, the International Energy Agency assumes a $30 billion investment would be needed, at minimum.

It would be foolish to envision a future where Africa’s energy needs are to be met by expensive conventional fossil fuels. Sadly, few intercontinental efforts to boost installed renewable energy capacity seem to be gaining traction. However, a number of countries have come to this realization. Unfortunately, they are not necessarily Africa’s dominant power generators but represent those who have set achievable renewable energy plans in motion. In these countries, the sheer magnitude of investments being made shows how importantly African governments take the challenge of making the continent energy efficient and sustainable.

Certainly, some countries have advantages. Due to the presence of the Blue Nile – one of the two major tributaries of the Nile River — 96 percent of Ethiopia’s energy comes from hydropower, but authorities have not seen this as a reason to ignore the country’s potential from other renewable sources. Over the current decade, Ethiopia is seeking to increase its supply fivefold from 2,000 megawatts (MW) to 10,000MW through renewable energy. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam across the Nile, set to be the biggest dam in Africa when it launches in 2017, will provide the bulk of that with a capacity of 6,000MW. However, Addis-Ababa’s renewables plan is remarkably well rounded, and includes wind, solar and geothermal. This is no mere paper pledge either, as leading geothermal expert Reykjavik Geothermal is on the ground to build a 1,000MW power plant, the first stage of which will open in the Rift Valley in 2018.

Kenya is Africa’s second biggest renewable energy power producer, behind Ethiopia, and presents a similar model. Hydropower powers half of Kenya and it will likely remain the continent’s foremost geothermal producer until Ethiopia opens its Rift Valley plant. Kenya is also planning Africa’s largest wind farm — a 300MW project to be built by the Lake Turkana Wind Power Construction. Should the project come to fruition, it will be Kenya’s largest-ever foreign investment, no mean feat for one of Africa’s most investment-friendly economies. Kenya also struck out from the pack by understanding the role financial services must play in any steady renewable energy plan and launching Africa’s first carbon trading platform in 2011.

Algeria has chosen a different tack than its sub-Saharan colleagues. In setting its own renewables plan, Algeria is seeking to become an energy exporter off the back of its solar potential. In 2011, it announced plans to install 22GW by 2030 with the goal of keeping 12GW for internal consumption and exporting 10GW. Rather than focusing on one massive project like Ethiopia or Kenya are, Algeria envisioned this capacity being spread across a myriad of smaller plants. This would largely be done with Chinese involvement, including Yingli Solar, which won a bid in December 2013 for the first 400MW tranche of 1.2GW solar plant. With instability in the region rising, it remains to be seen whether Algeria’s medium-term plans come to fruition, but its energy export ambitions are a wonderful example of the continent’s potential.

These examples are positive, but not every African country has a major river or serious interest from foreign investors. Many of the continent’s smaller economies, even trusted democracies like Botswana, are dependent on importing most of their power. But this should not stop them from taking active steps to halt this dependence.

Botswana has imported 80 percent of its electricity on average in recent years, but this country of 2 million has a program devoted to electrifying rural areas through renewables, has implemented renewable energy feed-in tariffs to stimulate investment, and used funds from the World Bank to fully investigate its concentrated solar power potential.

Efforts like these will hopefully serve as a clarion call to other African nations to explore their options for developing renewable energy sources, and to foreign investors about opportunities in this sector. Africa’s smaller countries cannot wait indefinitely for outside help: their energy future is in their own hands.

 

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