Businessman sorry for ‘insensitive’ comments about Africa

Eddie O’Connor accused of using ‘antiquated stereotypes’ during climate conference

Businessman Dr Eddie O’Connor has apologised for ‘insensitive’ comments he made regarding investing in Africa at a climate change event. File photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times.

Businessman Dr Eddie O’Connor has apologised for ‘insensitive’ comments he made regarding investing in Africa at a climate change event. File photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times.

 

Businessman Dr Eddie O’Connor has apologised after being criticised for using “antiquated stereotypes” in comments he made regarding perceived difficulties with investing in Africa.

Dr O’Connor made the observations at last week’s Dublin Climate Dialogues series, and was said by a fellow speaker to have engaged in climate colonialism when commenting on the continent.

“In the west we have the administrations by and large to be able to handle these type of investments,” he said when asked by Prof John FitzGerald about green investment by developed economies over the coming years.

“The great problem that we found trying to electrify Africa with renewable energy has been the lack of capability. When you go and talk to the ministers and the prime ministers and the ministers for finance, they do not have that tradition of democracy.

“They are largely tribal societies; they don’t have the educated cadres who are going to be able to do this. I see if we get our policies right in the west we certainly could do it but we have the big problem and that problem is the lack of profitability.”

Dr O’Connor and Mainstream Renewable Power, which he set up in 2008 after the sale of his first green energy business, Airtricity, issued statements regarding his comments on Monday.

Harmful generalisations

“My remarks at the Dublin Climate Dialogues were entirely inappropriate and insensitive,” he said.

“I made inaccurate and harmful generalisations about the continent of Africa that do not reflect reality, and instead serve only to perpetuate stereotypes. I take personal responsibility for my comments and recognise the hurt I have caused in making them.”

He said he wished to apologise to his colleagues at Mainstream, its partners and communities with whom the company works in Africa, and to the organisers of the Dublin Climate Dialogues for detracting from the event.

“We will need the immense talents of people around the world - particularly in Africa - to combat climate change and to make the energy transition a reality. I am sorry for my words that detract from the importance and significance of this mission.”

Mainstream Renewable Power said it noted “the inappropriate comments” made by Dr O’Connor, which were personal to him. It said his “generalisations” about Africa “neither reflect reality nor do they, in any way, represent Mainstream’s views, values, and experience working with our local partners and communities in Africa”.

Among those to comment on his remarks was a fellow conference speaker Damilola Ogunbiyi, a special representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All and co-chair of UN-Energy.

Positive platform

In an observation posted on Twitter along with a clip of Dr O’Connor’s remarks, Ms Ogunbiyi, who is from Nigeria, noted that the global stage could be used as a positive platform from which to address climate change solutions.

“Sadly, it can also be used to lock billions of people in antiquated stereotypes that deny their humanity, talents and opportunities,” she said.

“And we must recognise the talented African people around the world who continue to do amazing things, in spite of the challenges put in front of them. These statements must always be challenged and called out for what they are. #ClimteColonialism.”

At the event, Dr O’Connor was part of a panel brought in to discuss the costs of investment in the large-scale adoption of renewable energy. Other speakers at the conference included US special envoy for climate John Kerry, former Italian prime minister Enrico Letta, and former Irish president Mary Robinson.