Sustainability is for everyone. Etumuka’s story

“Etumuka, you cannot be an engineer, Engineering is a man’s job”.

This is what, back in the days, a school teacher told Etumuka Amamize. Such an advice comes as no surprise: after all, the engineering and energy sector are characterised by a clear prevalence of male workers.

However, the young protagonist of this month story openly challenges these crystallised habits: to stop her from fulfilling her dreams and potential, it would take way more than a manifestation of gender roles.

Old habits and new inspirations

Etumuka is a 27-year-old from Nigeria, and her passion for energy is long-lasting, almost primordial: “[When I was young], every Friday, I would accompany my uncle to his office, where he worked as a mechanical engineer […] I was fascinated by the various facilities used in crude oil exploration and production”.

This mention of fossil fuels shouldn’t surprise us: in the recent past, the world “energy” pretty much corresponded to gas and oil, and those advocating for renewables were seen as a bunch of bizarre visionaries. What matters, however, is how deeply Etumuka was raptured by the energy world, whose power and impact over people's existence gave life, in her, to "An unwavering determination […] to solve the energy challenges in my country”.

Public authorities and sectorial stakeholders, however, too often tend to disregard the power of renewables, when it comes to tackling Africa's energy issues. Etumuka, instead, chose to set focus on them: during her university years, she “Decided to equip [herself] with relevant competencies, and got to know more about the potentials of renewable energy in addressing the energy deficit in Nigeria”.

The wheels were already spinning, and they would take her far away.

Bright ambitions, but feet on the ground

“Firstly, I volunteered with organisations in Nigeria offering clean energy solutions in remote areas in the country […] secondly, while researching, I got to know about the SDG7 Youth Constituency and applied to be part of the coordination team”.

From words to deeds. Etumuka was fully conscious that renewable energy is in dire need of fresh forces, especially in a country, Nigeria, where the industry of fossil fuels is powerful and ever-growing, and where the terrific economic and demographic growth isn't able to fully depict the life hazards still faced by millions of people.

That's why Etumuka didn't just sit and watch: first she got her hands dirty on the field, in the rural, remote areas which suffer the most from insufficient access to clean and reliable energy. As she tells us, she has been working "with a team of volunteers […] to deploy solar mini-grids to marginalized off-grid communities in Nigeria". The result of her efforts? More than 50 young women in Nigeria with the skills and knowledge to contribute to the energy transition.

After seeing first-hand the consequences of energy poverty, she decided to step up, by giving voice to those who, in the race towards a prosperous and sustainable future, are at risk of being left behind: African women and youth.

As a matter of fact, Africa's energy transition isn't just a matter of investments, construction of power plants, and maintenance of grids and infrastructures.It requires representation, dialogue and advocacy at all the layersof the decision-making institutions, especially when it comes to the population segments who suffer the most from marginalisation and misrepresentation.

Etumuka, on her part, chose once again to challenge this unacceptable status quo: "As a young female advocate, my inclinations have been to advocate for empowerment and involvement of young people and women in decision-making on clean, reliable and affordable energy to positively impact Africa".

However, a doubt still loomed over her pledge: how to gather the voice of African women and youth, bringing it where it can actually be heard and make a difference?

The answer is simple and complex at the same time: working restlessly, cultivating meaningful networks, and entering the right circles. After becoming part of the SDG7 Youth Constituency, Etumuka seized another unique opportunity, by joining RES4Africa's Youth Task Force. It is a privileged space for advocacy and institutional dialogue, where she can "Advocate for RES4Africa’s increased and deepened presence in West and Central African renewable energy markets […] and for advanced renewable energy penetration and capacity building opportunities for young Africans. It also provides […] exposure for young Africans, and (the possibility) to engage in high-level political forum on sustainable development goals".

This milestone, for Etumuka, represents much more than another cool experience to include in her CV: it's the perfect synthesis between operative efforts and representational duties.

No one must be left behind

“All my deliberate actions and experiences are geared towards building my capacity, to be more competent in pro-offering solutions to energy and climate changes, while advocating for more youth African voices at the highest multilateral level”.

Etumuka’s vision comprises action and advocacy, giving life to a solid attempt of contributing to an inclusive and balanced energy transition for Nigeria.

An attempt that perfectly spouses Etumuka’s ambitious career goals: as a matter of fact, she would like to “become the Director General of the Energy Commission of Nigeria, in order to represent Nigeria in negotiations for large-scale sustainable energy projects […] and to carry out overall energy sector planning and policy implementation”.

An inspiring objective, defying all the unwritten rules of the institutional environment, and boldly challenging her professor’s words. However, as Etumuka explains, it is not a mere matter of justice or gender equality: Africa’s youth can bring an impactful added value not only in the operational segments of the workstreams characterizing renewable energy, but it must also “play an active role in planning, designing, implementing and executing clean energy projects”. In other words, excluding African young people from governance and planning would mean to reckon without one's host, creating a further dangerous representation gap, and ultimately failing to put in place the energy transition the way young Africans (and us) want to see it.

Come what may, Etumuka's daily efforts taught us a valable lesson: If we keep on empowering youth and women, Africa's energy transition will be in good hands.

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Africa is a continent in continuous transformation, with a sustained economic and population growth, a fast-paced urbanization and a young generation of talents who is leading its business revolution. This transformation requires energy and will require it even more in the next decades.
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