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Following hundreds of years of oppression under colonial rule and decades as a pawn in a bipolar world, Africa has been left a damaged continent. Here Kumi Naidoo explains this historical context in which a new pan-African civil society initiative is developing, of which he is the start-up director.

Over the past few years the global media has repeatedly referred to the phenomenon of "Africa Rising" to describe the ongoing looting of natural resources and illicit financial outflows from the continent. This confirms that the earlier models of colonization have not ended, but have merely been adjusted and refined and are now conducted and presented behind the veneer of liberation and democracy of African people.

I set out some key historical facts about colonization and what the current effects of colonization are and why, in this context, a discussion arose to establish a new initiative—a broad based African civil society platform. During the many discussions in relation to this new initiative, some consensus points have emerged which are presented here. These are not meant to be understood as fait accompli of the new platform. Instead they are key starting points to show how we are going about establishing such an initiative, what makes the process and outcomes different from previous attempts at civil society unity and how we are going to build consensus around such an initiative that will seek justice, peace and sustainable development on and for the African continent.

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The African continent draws its modern history from the Berlin Conference held between 1884 and 1885, which sought to legitimize control over the continent, its people and specifically its natural resources. No African was ever consulted in this process. By 1900, European states claimed almost 90 percent of the land mass, ignoring and abolishing local autonomy and self-governance of the African people. The decolonization period post World War II and then the Cold War, saw Africans being used as political and economic pawns by both sides of the ideological conflict.

The effects of having excluded Africans from decision making about their own countries and their continent are starkly manifested in an artificially divided continent, weak and often at war with itself. This was the prime impulse behind the idea of building a movement for a more united continent, starting with civil society as the vanguard of such a process.

Africans remain constrained by these major incidents of political and economic domination of the peoples (and resources) of Africa. Starkly summed up by the pan-Africanist Tajudeen Raheem (1961-2009), when he observed that "Africa is the richest continent underneath the ground and that is precisely why we are one of the poorest continents above the ground," this resource curse and its abhorrent effects remain the daily reality for the majority of Africans. Within this context (and unlike some of their South American and Asian counterparts) individual African countries are unable to stand firm on the global stage in terms of climate change or trade negotiations, despite having proxy representation through South Africa in platforms such as the G20. There is little evidence to show that South Africa has used this proxy role for any substantial continental benefit. Instead, its political leadership has mostly just accepted the negative compromises of these platforms, including the G20, leaving the continent inadequately represented amongst the global economic and political forces.

The imperative to work more urgently and diligently towards a united civil society across the continent is ever greater now that civil protests are more widespread and a frequent feature of life in most parts of the world. The people of the African continent have an opportunity to integrate their struggles into the larger global movements against rising inequality and climate change impacts, standing shoulder to shoulder with their governments on these global stages, while simultaneously pressurizing African governments to perform substantially better than they are doing currently.

Attempts at civil society unity on the continent are not new. Several initiatives have been spawned over the years, including the first Pan African Conference (ironically held outside the continent) as early as 1900, several civil society backed resolutions and the Organization of African Unity (OAU) process to establish more widespread cooperation between non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society organizations (CSOs) in 2003.

Within these broader attempts of unity there have also been several attempts to build civil society networks across the continent. Some were thematically focused, such as the African Association for Literacy and Adult Education (AALAE) and others where more generic such as the Harare Caucus, that sought to bring together regional civil society networks across the continent. A cursory assessment of these initiatives highlights some of the reasons for their limited success:

  • The impetus for setting them up was external to the continent and they were usually geared towards meeting short-term interests of particular (global civil society) organizations.
  • There was a lack of adequate resourcing for the initiatives, from human and financial capital to ideological robustness—a long-term strategy is critical to movement building.
  • Governance failings—the competing interests of individuals heading established and resourced NGOs sometimes goes against the needs of a continent wide movement. Those entrusted with leadership responsibilities of continental networks did not have the dedicated time to exercise proper governance of the management and secretariat.

Civil Society Under Attack

Africa's historical resistance to slavery, economic imperialism and political colonization finds focus in the current struggles by African people for democratic governance, justice, equality and a voice in the international policy arena.

Today we are told that Africa is rising. Yet, when we look closer, it seems that this is based solely on aggregated assessments of national Gross Domestic Product. In these rising African countries the few are becoming fantastically wealthy while the majority remain socially marginalized and economically excluded. In truth, the majority of Africans are not rising and continue to struggle with poverty and the denial of their most basic rights.

Underlying this state-of-affairs is the phenomenon of shrinking political and civic space. We have seen a drastic curtailment of the freedom of association, assembly and expression in far too many countries across the continent. This has been accompanied by heightened levels of corruption and growing levels of inequality. These rights violations have been met by new forms of social organization and leadership leading to partial victories and new forms of popular actions and movements. Civil society in Africa is under assault on many fronts. We are experiencing many restrictions on political space, the erosion of women's rights, increasing inequality and climate change that is already having significant negative human impacts across the continent.

Africa Rising

The current initiative to establish a continent wide social justice platform for civil society actions, solidarity, protection and advancement came about as a confluence of factors at a similar time and operating within the context set out above.

For some years now, Action Aid Denmark has been running the well-regarded Training Centre for Development Cooperation (TCDC) in Arusha, Tanzania. In 2015 Action Aid Denmark handed over the TCDC facility to an African institution in order to further establish the facility as a base of operations for a new Africa wide center for civil society.

In February 2016, I agreed to serve as the start-up director of the new initiative. Upon accepting the role I immediately set about engaging in dialogue with civil society across the continent to gain further insight into perspectives on a move to build greater unity within civil society on the continent. The process included numerous formal and informal consultations with civil society activists, regional and local networks, NGOs, international non-governmental organizations (INGOs), trade unions and faith-based groups across the continent.

This process of bottom-up consultations (which is ongoing) has shown that almost everyone who has participated agreed that African unity—reflected by greater social, political and economic integration—is critical for Africa and its peoples. Individual nation states are far too weak to fight for what they need; be it in negotiations about trade, climate or a host of other pertinent issues.

Secondly, most activists feel we are fighting on two fronts. On the one hand, we are fighting a global system that is unjust, inequitable and is leading us to climate catastrophe that fundamentally threatens our very ability to survive as a species. A system that serves the top 1 percent has to be vigorously opposed. On the other hand, we are facing national governments that have witnessed "state capture" by local and global elites and are often acting against the interests of their own citizens. This leads us to a situation where we need to both defend human rights and democracy at home and also ensure our governments are taking on the obscene injustices that prevail at the global level.

Thirdly, many on the continent feel that we need to have a fundamental rethink as to what constitutes civil society. There is a growing recognition that there is too much dependency on and too much influence of INGOs but also greater acceptance that even local and national NGOs are disconnected from the poorest and most marginalized. While there are, of course, inspirational exceptions to this, there is increasing agreement that the engine of resistance to injustice is not coming from formal and bureaucratized NGOs but is coming from looser, informal and social media driven activism. Some of the most inspiring challenges to power in Africa and globally, in the last decade have not seen the more formal NGOs playing any decisive role.

Lastly, the consultations were unanimous in their focus on a wider initiative as opposed to a specific center. Thus, while the Arusha TCDC facility is likely to be a key convening point for civil society (it already enjoys credibility and success as an NGO management training facility), for the purposes of building the vision of the potential future initiative we want it to be driven by a bottom-up process of consultation that is not focused on a single center but on a range of such convening spaces.

These key discussions were affirmed at a recent strategy workshop organized by the African Civil Society Initiative. Thirty activists, NGOs and networks aligned themselves with the inspirational Rustlers Valley Declaration (2014), thus taking up the challenge for civil society generally and NGOs specifically "to be the change we want to see in the world."

The key consensus points developed in the African Civil Society Initiative process to date represent some significant departures from previous attempts at civil society unity in Africa. Firstly, there is an acceptance that NGOs and INGOs cannot be the sole drivers of the process. The initiative must be much broader than any previous attempts and will make a special effort to be inclusive of social movements, NGOs, peoples and popular social justice movements, intellectuals, artists, sports people, cultural activists and others, across the continent and the African Diaspora. Secondly, a phased approach must continue to be employed, ensuring consensus at each step—no one must be left behind. Thirdly, the eventual organizational structure of the initiative must reflect the lean and agile nature of the initiative itself.

Based on the current feedback from the consultation process, it is likely that the initiative will focus on six key cross-cutting areas that have substantial significance and have gained general consensus, specifically:

  • Exposing corruption and opposing impunity;
  • Fighting for full gender equality;
  • Defending and deepening democratic space generally and civic space specifically;
  • Working for poverty eradication;
  • Opposing inequality; and
  • Assertively addressing the challenge of climate change.

These consensus points will most likely be implemented by the nascent initiative in the following ways:

  • Sparking a major conversation across the continent about the establishment of the initiative—what such an intervention would look like, who would participate, what participants' expectations are and what the objectives of such a platform would be?
  • Establishing internal and external communications functionality, making as much use of social media platforms to ensure widespread engagement of all who are interested in civil society;
  • Organizing a Validation Conference in Arusha, Tanzania—the final steps to establish the initiative must have broad public endorsement with people and organizations ready to stand up and be counted in the fight for justice. The conference will deliberate on how the initiative should be established and operate. Should the conference demonstrate the requisite level of support the initiative's operations will commence promptly thereafter.
  • And lastly, all of this work requires that most basic of needs, the resources to succeed and the current team is busy preparing for the Validation Conference, staff and other related costs.

It is time we speak together and decide what change we wish to see in our countries, across Africa and what we want Africa to be when we celebrate Africa Day in the future. For a long time now, others have been writing our story. Now is the time for us to take a brave step, a giant step for us and start writing (and telling) our own story—a story of a united Africa, at peace with prosperous and healthy people.

We need your voice, ideas, thoughts and action to keep working together to build this initiative. It is not complicated to do your part, tweet to us @helloacsi, write on our Facebook wall or send an email to [email protected].

Together for Africa, for justice, peace and sustainable development.

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Solar panels allow you to harness the sun's clean, renewable energy, potentially cutting your electric bills as well as your environmental footprint. But do solar panels work on cloudy days, or during seasons of less-than-optimal sun exposure? For homeowners who live outside of the Sun Belt, this is a critical question to consider before moving ahead with solar panel installation.

In this article, we'll go over how solar panels work on cloudy days, whether solar panels work at night, and how to ensure you always have accessible power — even when your panels aren't producing solar energy.

How Solar Panels Work on Cloudy Days

Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels can use both direct and indirect sunlight to generate electrical power. This means they can still be productive even when there is cloud coverage. With that said, solar panels are most efficient and productive when they are soaking up direct sunlight on sunny days.

While solar panels still work even when the light is reflected or partially obstructed by clouds, their energy production capacity will be diminished. On average, solar panels will generate 10 to 25% of their normal power output on days with heavy cloud coverage.

With clouds usually comes rain, and here's a fact that might surprise you: Rain actually helps solar panels work more effectively. That's because rain washes away any dirt or dust that has gathered on your panels so that they can more efficiently absorb sunlight.

Do Solar Panels Work at Night?

While solar panels can still function on cloudy days, they cannot work at night. The reason for this is simple: Solar panels work because of a scientific principle called the photovoltaic effect, wherein solar cells are activated by sunlight, generating electrical current. Without light, the photovoltaic effect cannot be triggered, and no electric power can be generated.

One way to tell if your panels are still producing energy is to look at public lights. As a general rule of thumb, if street lamps or other lights are turned off — whether on cloudy days or in the evening — your solar panels will be producing energy. If they're illuminated, it's likely too dark out for your solar panel system to work.

Storing Solar Energy to Use on Cloudy Days and at Night

During hours of peak sunlight, your solar panels may actually generate more power than you need. This surplus power can be used to provide extra electricity on cloudy days or at night.

But how do you store this energy for future use? There are a couple of options to consider:

You can store surplus energy in a solar battery.

When you add a solar battery to your residential solar installation, any excess electricity can be collected and used during hours of suboptimal sun exposure, including nighttime hours and during exceptionally cloudy weather.

Batteries may allow you to run your solar PV system all day long, though there are some drawbacks of battery storage to be aware of:

  • It's one more thing you need to install.
  • It adds to the total cost of your solar system.
  • Batteries will take up a bit of space.
  • You will likely need multiple batteries if you want electricity for more than a handful of hours. For example, Tesla solar installations require two Powerwall batteries if your system is over 13 kilowatts.

You can use a net metering program.

Net metering programs enable you to transmit any excess power your system produces into your municipal electric grid, receiving credits from your utility company. Those credits can be cashed in to offset any electrical costs you incur on overcast days or at night when you cannot power your home with solar energy alone.

Net metering can ultimately be a cost-effective option and can significantly lower your electricity bills, but there are a few drawbacks to consider, including:

  • You may not always break even.
  • In some cases, you may still owe some money to your utility provider.
  • Net metering programs are not offered in all areas and by all utility companies.

Is Residential Solar Right for You?

Now that you know solar panels can work even when the sun isn't directly shining and that there are ways to store your energy for times your panels aren't producing electricity, you may be more interested in installing your own system.

You can get started with a free, no-obligation quote from a top solar company in your area by filling out the 30-second form below.

FAQ: Do Solar Panels Work on Cloudy Days?

How efficient are solar panels on cloudy days?

It depends on the panels, but as a rule of thumb, you can expect your solar panels to work at 10 to 25% efficiency on cloudy days.

How do solar panels work when there is no sun?

If there is literally no sunlight (e.g., at night), then solar panels do not work. This is because the photovoltaic effect, which is the process through which panels convert sunlight into energy, requires there to be some light available to convert.

However, you can potentially use surplus solar power that you've stored in a battery. Also note that solar panels can work with indirect light, meaning they can function even when the sun is obscured by cloud coverage.

Do solar panels work on snowy days?

If there is cloud coverage and diminished sunlight, then solar panels will not work at their maximum efficiency level on snowy days. With that said, the snow itself is usually not a problem, particularly because a dusting of snow is easily whisked away by the wind.

Snow will only impede your solar panels if the snowfall is so extreme that the panels become completely buried, or if the weight of the snow compromises the integrity of your solar panel structures.

Will my solar panels generate electricity during cloudy, rainy or snowy days?

Cloudy days may limit your solar panel's efficiency, but you'll still be able to generate some electricity. Rainy days can actually help clean your panels, making them even more effective. And snowy days are only a problem if the snow is so extreme that the panels are totally submerged, without any part of them exposed to the sun.