Solar Cooking
Solar Cooking

The gigantic African continent hosts the world's largest number of countries, some of which are large, others very small. The continent stretches from around 36 degrees north of the equator for over 5,000 miles to, at its southern tip, almost 35 degrees south. The continent is historically critical in human history, as on this continent, records of our earliest ancestors are found, dating back millions of years. Between one and two million years ago, those ancestors, early humans, began to disperse to all other areas of the world.

Africa is second only to Asia in size, and has historically high rates of population growth. Its population of nearly 800 million makes it the second continent in terms of population, though considerably less densely occupied than Asia. Africa is roughly two- thirds rural, although steady movement from countryside to city changes that figure regularly. Large areas in the interior are less populated than coastal areas; the Sahara alone covers almost one fourth of the continent. Other smaller desert zones exist also, along with dense forests, savannah plains of grass, enormous riverine systems, and mountains. Geographical variety is matched by an amazing diversity of ethnic, linguistic, and religious groups. The continent has considerable wealth in natural resources of gold, diamonds, precious minerals, but has been hampered in its economic development by problems of governance, fragmentation by language and nationality, many catastrophes, some natural (droughts, floods) and others man-made (poverty, disease, wars, famine). Size and diversity mean that the continent also has rich and colorful histories.

Those of northern countries are tied intimately to the Mediterranean Sea and the history of Roman and Greek conquests. Africa had great indigenous kingdoms as well, in Great Zimbabwe, Uganda, the Niger Delta, and Benin. From around the seventh century, substantial contact with the Arab world began through trade. In the colonial era, various European states established colonies and came to rule much of the continent, searching for riches to extract. One tragic outcome was establishment of the inhuman trade in slaves that flourished for two centuries. At roughly the same time, others were introducing European religions to Africans - few seem to have noted the incongruity of those two "exports" to the African continent from Europe.

With European encroaching from virtually all sides, the continent was mapped and ultimately cut into colonies from afar by the close of the 19th century. Limited consideration was given to cultural or ethnic traditional boundaries in the dividing process. Haif a century later, in mid-century, the process of gaining independence from the colonial powers began in a rush, following the Second World War, with its dawning recognition of the inherent human rights of all human beings. The second half of the last century has been largely the history ofnewly independent nations, struggling to establish themselves and to survive in the fast changing global society. Africa continues to face that challenge in the young 21st century.

Against that brief background, a look at the history of solar cooking on this huge continent is provided, country-by-country. For the reader's convenience, the information is presented by nation, in alphabetical order. Considering the continent from a regional perspective may ultimately prove to be more useful for purposes of future planning, however. A later section of this study will look at groupings of nations, considering existing political and cultural ties, as a possible means of moving forward in the promotion of solar cooking on this and other continents.

All Africa

Based on information currently located, there is nothing like an all-African effort to promote solar cooking. The closest indication of interest in the topic is found in the existence, within the former Organization of African Unity (now renamed the African Union) of a Scientific, Technical and Research Commission, with a sub-committee on New, Renewable, and Solar Technologies. Discussion on the possibility of a plan for Promoting the Role of Renewable Energy Amongst Governments in Africa has been reported. A plan was to be developed to accomplish this promotion, but inquiries made failed to reveal the current status of this initiative.

Similarly, the European Community has created a "framework programme" on the topics of energy, environment and sustainable development. The activity focuses on research, technological development and demonstration. It is the main instrument of European nations for cooperation with the world of science, economics, and politics. Driving forces for this activity include climate change, the need to address potential, strong demand for clean and affordable energy, and the liberalization of energy markets associated with globalization of the economy. The organization's targets include: meeting the goals specified in the Kyoto objectives, doubling the share of energy produced by renewable energy, improving energy efficiency, and maintaining the security of energy supplies. Within those goals, some specific actions include: integration of new and renewable energy sources into current systems, cost-efficient abatement technologies to reduce energy usage, development and demonstration of new energy sources such as biomass, wind, and solar and fuel cell technologies. The amoitious goals are noteworthy, and global in their implications.

More directly relevant to Africa (as well as to Asia and the Caribbean) the European Commission (EC) has also created a unique framework of co-operation, known as the Lome Convention, between its members and the 71 ACP (African, Caribbean, and Pacific) countries,. The EC created a special instrument, the [[European Development Fund, to finance programs in the energy area. It was clear that enormous investments in infrastructure]] were required to meet the needs of the ACP countries. Speaking at the world meetings in Varese, Italy, a representative of the EC demonstrated good understanding of the problems faced by householders, and collectively by nations, and called for efforts of many sorts, including solar cooking, to facilitate a shift to renewable energy sources (Varese, p. 39).

One non-governmental organization, Trans-World Radio (TWR), serves an all- Africa audience by means of short-and medium-wave radio transmission. The content of the radio programs has multiple purposes; some is straight news, some is evangelism, some is educational for varying age groups and audiences. The organization might best be called a missionary one, conducted largely electronically across the continent and in fact, world, but one with strong social programming. Its programs are delivered in over 100 languages, 27 of them African. It has 30 offices around the world, 7 in Africa.

In addition to the broadcasts, the Kenya office of Trans-World Radio has had a program to promote solar cookers in East Africa for over a decade. Supported by grant funding from various sources, the organization has had an active'program of making wooden box cookers and training household cooks in their use. In the first 3 years, over 360 cookers were made and sold. TWR principally worked, in their on-site program, in the areas around Nairobi, but also had reached out to persons from other countries who were living in Kenyan refugee camps. In addition, TWR promoted solar cookjng on its radio programs, in the division on social development, and reached in this manner persons from across the continent, although the only specific help provided was written instructions on how to make and use a solar cooker.

Through a series of staff changes, the TWR program continues. Boxes are constructed in a course at a Nairobi Village Polytechnic, and sold at cost to potential customers, or in some cases, to a group of customers who pool resources to "buy a cooker to share. (TWR has been particularly active in Kakuma Refugee Camp.

Other projects known are more or less limited to one nation. One exception, noted below, is the creation of the Solar Cookers International East Africa Office in Nairobi, Kenya, intended to provide consultant services and technical assistance on solar cooking to the entire East African Region. (See Rwanda, Somalia, and Tanzania).