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Africa is facing significant fuel shortages


Global energy prices have soared this year in several. African countries, the squeeze on consumers is tight. Across the continent, not only is fuel getting more expensive, it's also becoming increasingly difficult to find. Joining us now to talk about these widespread fuel shortages is Kinley Salmon. He is a correspondent for The Economist based in Senegal. Thanks for being with us.

KINLEY SALMON: Thanks for having me.

RASCOE: Can we put this in perspective? Just how widespread are these fuel shortages across Africa?

SALMON: We're really seeing shortages of different kinds of fuel - diesel, petrol, sometimes jet fuel for airplanes - everywhere from Senegal and Nigeria right over in West Africa to Kenya and Ethiopia in the east and then right down to South Africa, with jet fuel, in particular, in the far south. So really, it's touching all corners of sub-Saharan Africa.

RASCOE: Obviously, that's going to affect travel, right?

SALMON: Yeah, absolutely. We're seeing, you know, flights having to make extra stops to refuel because they simply can't get enough jet fuel in - where they're beginning. Flights from Dakar, the capital of Senegal, have been having to stop in the Canary Islands to refuel just to get up to Paris and Europe. But in Africa, there's a second really important disruption from fuel, and particularly from shortages of diesel, and that's because many millions of households and businesses in sub-Saharan Africa rely on diesel to fuel generators to provide the electricity just for daily life, to run factories, to keep the power on.

RASCOE: Are people just going without power if they can't find enough right now or...

SALMON: Yeah. I mean, unfortunately, you know, when people can't find diesel for their generator, if they're not connected to the - you know, to the grid for the country, then they just won't have any power. Others use generators, you know, as a backup if there are outages, which unfortunately are quite common. And now, without any fuel, they'll just be in the dark.

RASCOE: I mean, so is the reason for the shortage - is it because the Russian invasion of Ukraine? Like, it certainly has driven up fuel prices.

SALMON: That's certainly one of the factors behind this. It's not the only factor, though. And it's striking that in most of the rest of the world, what we're seeing is higher fuel prices for the most part. There are a few places where it's - there have been shortages, but it's in Africa where we're seeing really significant shortages. I was told by one of the world's biggest oil traders that this is the worst supply crisis in 40 years. And so it's coming from the Russian invasion, but also there is a real crunch coming out of the COVID recovery when suddenly there's been a big recovery in demand for fuel globally. And actually, we've seen refining capacity - the refining of oil into fuel - it fell for the first time in 30 years last year.

RASCOE: So what is it about, you know, sub-Saharan Africa that makes it especially vulnerable when demand for oil is high and yet their production is still trying to catch up to that demand?

SALMON: In a way, the most obvious is just that in sub-Saharan Africa, there's pretty limited refining capacity to turn oil - which a number of sub-Saharan African countries produce - into fuel. They import about 3/4 of their refined fuel products on average. So that automatically makes them more exposed, if you like, to some of these global shocks we were talking about. Another factor is that, you know, many countries, many rich countries - in particular, the United States - certainly has some strategic stockpiles of fuel. Those sort of strategic reserves in sub-Saharan Africa of fuel or of oil, indeed, are very, very limited.

RASCOE: Does it look like this is going to get better any time soon, or is this something that's going to be around for the long haul?

SALMON: So it may actually get worse in the short term. One of the reasons for that is that there are more and more sanctions coming in against the purchasing of Russian oil, and that also restricts the ability of refineries to turn that Russian oil into fuel that could go to Africa. And we can probably expect that to get more severe rather than less severe, at least in the short term.

RASCOE: Kinley Salmon, Africa correspondent for The Economist, thanks so much for being with us.

SALMON: Thanks for inviting me on.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.