Place of women in energy transition

OGUTU OKUDO, founder Africa 2100 and Kenya country manager for SpringRock Group. FILE PHOTO | NMG

What you need to know:

  • Few subjects are as sacred to Ogutu as energy transition, which she talks about with an overspill of zeal.

To call Ogutu Okudo a trailblazer is to understate her accomplishments. Hers is an exclusive perch in what’s considered a highly exclusive sector: oil and gas. At 30, Ogutu is one of only a handful of Kenyan women executives in this space.

Founder of Africa 2100, director at National Oil Company and Kenya country manager for SpringRock Group are some of her stripes.

Few subjects are as sacred to Ogutu as energy transition, which she talks about with an overspill of zeal.

She had a chat with James Kahongeh.

What kind of energy do you project to people around you?

My energy is vibrant and futuristic. Anything I do and the conversations I have with people are always about the future. I believe in an Africa of the future. I like to look at things through a prism of long-term ambition.

Is this why you set up Africa 2100?


What vision did you have?

We’re an advisory firm that supports leaders, institutions and governments to strategically align their brands with future needs through utilisation of data and research.

My vision was to assist companies through processes such as stakeholder engagement, project due diligence and strategic communication, with sustainability at the core of it.

So, what fires you up about energy in Africa?

Energy is a force that makes things become. Without it, businesses and enterprise can’t work. It’s sad that about 600 million people in Africa have no access to electricity. This limits the ability of this population to harness their potential.

If tapped into, energy has the potential to drive African economies and to set the continent apart even as we join the rest of the world in energy generation, consumption and transition.

Energy transition. What does it really mean?

From a global context, it’s the shift from fossil-based energy production and consumption to renewable energy sources. That said, the phrase is geographically specific.

Kenya, for instance, is going through energy transitions of its own. We’re moving from using firewood to clean cooking. It’s important to define this transition based on where a country is and what it’s trying to achieve.

So, why is this important to Kenya and Africa?

How energy is consumed elsewhere in the world has direct implications on Africa. For a continent whose majority of the population relies on agriculture for sustenance, the effects of global warming are already being felt through recurrent droughts and desertification.

Just like other blocs such as EU have done, it’s important for Africa to set and define its own energy transition agenda and to address misconceptions surrounding it.

Misconceptions? Let’s talk about that…

A transition is a moving target. When you move from, say, point A to point C, you must pass through point B. By shifting to clean energy sources, it doesn’t mean we’ll ground our vehicles because of lack of fuel.

It’s about setting a roadmap with viable options that we’re able to adopt as a country to realise net zero carbon emissions.

And women are an integral component of this journey…

When you talk of energy poverty, the rural woman in Africa easily comes to mind. It’s she who collects firewood to cook for her family and to keep them warm.

To reduce carbon emissions, deforestation and desertification, we must speak to her, by demonstrating to her how these factors impact her family’s lives. Most importantly, we must provide her with clean fuel options.

Do you think the continent has the right structures to facilitate this transition?

One of the resolutions at COP26 (Climate Change Conference) in Glasgow last year was to see countries have at least 50 percent of their annual power generation coming from renewable energy sources.

Countries that have been able to successfully hit this target are mostly Africa, namely Kenya, Ethiopia, Mali, Uganda and Mozambique. We did this even without the resolutions. At 73 percent, Kenya is setting the pace globally.

You’re involved in oil and gas and also the renewable energy sector. Isn’t this a contradiction?

Products such as plastics and fertilisers are actually by-products of oil and gas. We cannot vilify this sector, because to eradicate energy poverty, there has to be a balance on how we generate and consume different forms of energy. It’s important to recognise that we’re in a transition.

Things that we must do as a matter of urgency?

Foremost, we spend less than one percent of our national budget on research and development. We must do better. Research, capacity building and development are key in this journey.

Most of Africa is currently carrying out major, capital-intensive infrastructural projects. Governments and the private sector must develop innovative ways of financing these projects through use of green and clean energy bonds, for instance.

Tell me about your social life. Do you have a family?

(Chuckling) Are you going to write about that?

I’d like to.

In my work, I meet and interact with many remarkable people across the country drawn from different demographics, from across the country, especially women and girls. I enjoy speaking to them as a way of empowering them. These are my family. I don’t have a family of my own.

But you have pastimes, don’t you?

Of course. I love to cook. I’m from the lakeside region, so fish features in my kitchen a lot. And chicken. I’m also an avid but budding golfer. That and travelling and hiking.

You want to be remembered for something…

I do. As one of the pioneers who harnessed Kenya’s energy sources and to end poverty.

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