When the Ghanaian government agreed to coordinate with Shenzen Energy Group, a Chinese energy company, to build a 7,000-megawatt coal power plant in the country’s Ekumfi district, Chibeze Ezekiel was concerned.
He knew the proposed plant’s wastewater, ash pit and mercury emissions posed serious health and environmental risks to the local fishing and farming communities. Access to clean drinking water was under threat from the plant’s sulfur dioxide emissions and associated acid rain, and there would have been a clear impact on the regional climate.
Ezekiel, who is from the capital, Accra, was already the founder of an NGO focused on good environmental governance and started what became a successful grassroots youth movement to stop the construction of the $1.5 billion plant, which included a shipping port to bring in coal.
He ran a social media campaign emphasizing the threats of the proposed plans to the environment and local communities, detailing the possible long-term job creation that might come with a shift to renewable energy.
The Ghanaian government canceled the project in 2016. The president, Nana Akufo-Addo, has since said new power policies will be based on renewable generation technologies such as wind and solar, as Ghana attempts to meet its carbon reduction commitments under the Paris Agreement.
“If the world is trying to move away from environmental destruction because of the fossil fuel, then Africa shouldn’t be seen as perpetuating that era,” said Ezekiel over a webcall.
He was awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for Africa on November 30, which honors the achievements and leadership of grassroots environmental activists.
Ezekiel’s victory is but one of many battles raging across the continent between activists, Chinese companies and African governments.
Despite the reputational risk, Chinese companies have continued to finance the construction of coal plants, drawing ire from environmental activists, while African leaders are choosing quick fix solutions to electrify their countries.