Namibia wants to become one of the world's leading producers of green hydrogen. Germany is interested in the project, but not everyone is cheering in Namibia.
"Because of our national green hydrogen efforts, Namibia remains well-positioned to become a major supplier of clean and green energy to the world!" President Hage Geingob declared at the COP27 climate talks in Egypt. His government recently launched a new Green Hydrogen and Derivatives Strategy aimed at delivering up to 12 tons of Green Hydrogen annually by 2050.
The initiative is expected to create an additional 600,000 jobs by 2040 for a country with a population of around 2.5 million.
Berlin's interest in Namibia's hydrogen power
Germany has been Namibia's first international partner to invest in green hydrogen production. At first glance, this partnership seems to be a match made in heaven. The German government is considering green hydrogen as potential fuel for their energy transition.
In addition, Namibia has plenty of sunshine and more space to produce green hydrogen. Since Namibia needs international investments to establish a large-scale industry, both sides could benefit from this partnership.
The Namibian government estimates it will need up to $190 billion (€181 billion) by 2040 to implement its vision of becoming Africa's first green hydrogen provider.
The prospects are enormous. According to the government's strategic plan, the hydrogen industry could contribute up to $6 billion to the country's GDP.
Green hydrogen to bring development and jobs
Vanstaden Kamwi, a security guard at Oshetu Open Market in Katutura, told DW he has high expectations for the green hydrogen projects. He said he hopes to see "changes in our country," which should include "new jobs."
Rachel Nghimulitete, a presenter at a youth radio station, also felt optimistic about the production of green hydrogen in Namibia.
"I feel it will bring money into the country," Nghimulitete said. "Of course, we will also have clean energy in the country, which means maybe we will have cheaper energy in the country, maybe electricity will be cheaper for us, hopefully. But I also expect development from the project."
Concerns about hydrogen sale proceeds
However, she had some reservations. "There are concerns, of course, that the money will be used for the wrong purposes or go to corruption, but overall we are confident!"
Several street vendors said they knew very little about green hydrogen. Others expressed concerns about corruption, such as Pombili William, who feared the newly built industry around green hydrogen could become a second 'Fishrot.'
In 2019, the Fishrot Files exposed corruption in the distribution of fishing quotas. Samherji, one of Iceland's largest fishing companies, bribed high-level political and business officials in Namibia to gain priority access to fishing quotas in the country.
Fishrot is Namibia's biggest corruption case to date. Two former ministers have been in custody since the scandal was unveiled.
Opposition criticizes procurement process
Namibia's official opposition, the Popular Democratic Movement (PDM), is cautioning against high expectations. Large sums could benefit politically connected individuals, PDM President McHenry Venaani said.
"How [was] a six-month-old company with no track record able to achieve the best bid for the largest tender in the nation's history?" Venaani asked.
Hyphen Hydrogen Energy is a joint venture between Germany's Enertrag energy company and multinational investment firm Nicholas Holdings, specializing in sustainable energy in southern Africa.
The company was awarded the contract to develop a $9.4 billion green hydrogen project in a restricted area in the country's south. Namibia's government granted a permit to Hyphen Hydrogen Energy for 40 years, and an area of more than 4,000 km2 (988,421 acres) is available.
Local leaders decry a lack of transparency
Meanwhile, the south of Namibia feels left out. Joseph Isaacks, the chairperson of the regional council of the Kharas region, complained that he had been an outsider in the negotiations between Germany and Namibia.
"I have numerously spoken to the president through writing. I also spoke to the economic advisor of the president. But all these attempts proved futile," Isaacks told DW.
The local leader is part of the Landless People's Movement (LPM), an oppositional party that took control over the regional administrations in the country's south after the 2019 elections.
In his view, the exclusion of the regional administration is unconstitutional.
"Kharas regional council, although the project emanates from this region, is excluded from all discussions, from all various meetings and sessions that were held. We are not part and parcel of anything!"
Not informed of Habeck's visit
Issacks even claimed to have been left in the dark about the upcoming visit by the German Federal Minister of Economic Affairs, Robert Habeck. "If the [German] federal minister is coming and he is coming for this hydrogen, why are we not informed, why are we not invited, why are we not brought to the table, so that we can also partake and air our position?"
The Ministry of Energy, on the other hand, said in a press release that the government would guarantee the involvement of the local community and the support of regional stakeholders.
Robert Habeck is scheduled to travel to Namibia between December 4 and 5, 2022. There, he will meet with national decision-makers about green hydrogen and discuss the prospects of Namibia's green hydrogen production and Germany's cooperation.