Several countries grappling with a lack of electricity

Several factors within the African context have affected citizens’ access to electricity, among them the Covid-19 pandemic and the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, says the writer. Picture:Nokuthula Mbatha/Africa News Agency (ANA) Archives

Several factors within the African context have affected citizens’ access to electricity, among them the Covid-19 pandemic and the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, says the writer. Picture:Nokuthula Mbatha/Africa News Agency (ANA) Archives

Published Nov 12, 2022


By Gwinyai Taruvinga

Load shedding has been a prominent feature of South African citizens’ lives and has brought to the fore the challenges associated with electricity access on the African continent.

In a report published by the World Bank, it was noted that sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 75% of the world’s population without electricity. This is a worrying statistic especially when we take into consideration Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7, which alludes to the importance of having access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all citizens.

Several factors within the African context have affected citizens’ access to electricity, among them the Covid-19 pandemic and the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

The 2022 edition of the Tracking SDG 7: The Energy Progress Report shows that the Covid-19 pandemic, through government-implemented lockdowns, disruptions to global supply chains and the diversion of financial resources to keep food and fuel prices affordable, had a negative effect on ensuring SDG7 comes to fruition. As with many global cases, regions like Africa and Asia were left lagging in access to energy for their populations.

In Africa, the lack of electricity has huge ramifications for countries which include constraints on modern economic activities, the provision of public services, and the overall quality of life for citizens. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) in sub-Saharan Africa, the number of people without electricity increased in 2020 for the first time since 2013. Before the onset of the pandemic, access to electricity rose to 77% from 74%. In Asia, governments have made efforts to roll out grid connections to distribute electricity.

In India, for example, the government stated that more than 99% of the population gained access to electricity through the Saubhagya Scheme. The scheme was an initiative from the Indian government to provide electricity to all households. Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced this project in September 2017 and noted that the aim was to complete the process of electrification by December 2018. By June 2019, 91% of households in rural India had received electricity. Of course, there were drawbacks such as the failure of the project to address incessant power outages, but the project was ambitious in assisting Indian communities to gain access to electricity.

The African continent would benefit from such an initiative as seen in India. For some context, according to the World Bank, several African countries continue to grapple with electricity provision. In West and Central Africa, only three countries are on course to ensure that every citizen has access to electricity by 2030. The West African region is reported to have the lowest rates of electricity globally with 42% of the total population and 8% of the rural population having access to electricity.

Other African countries such as Seychelles have achieved 100% access to electricity for their population and this has been achieved through a people-centred energy transition. This transition is supported through the Seychelles Energy Commission, and it will support households in the country to have access to clean, emission-free solar energy by engaging and involving communities. Such an initiative would bear fruits for other African countries to provide electricity to citizens.

An important aspect to consider concerning electricity generation on the African continent is clean energy. While Seychelles has a 100% electrification rate, it relies strongly on oil and this makes it incompatible with future sustainable economic development. It is therefore important that in the quest to provide electricity, efforts must be made to ensure the environment is also taken into consideration.

Organisations such as the UN Development Programme (UNDP) have committed to assisting countries achieve a fair and fast energy transition by investing in technologies that will allow countries to substitute fossil fuels. The most important aspect as seen with the Seychelles’ case is the inclusion of citizens in adopting solutions that not only provide electricity but also ensure that the environment is protected at all costs.

In addition to an inclusive governance system, governments on the African continent must make financial commitments to electricity generation. In most African countries the infrastructure still resembles that of colonial governments and is now either ageing or completely dilapidated. This cripples the ability of countries to provide electricity and it is therefore important to invest in upgrading these systems or building modern systems.

There is a need for governments to work together. In regions such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) the countries, through regional integration, could find a lasting solution to the electricity generation challenge. For example, in the West and Central African region, affordable clean energy is abundant in countries like Guinea and Mali, which make use of hydro power and solar energy respectively. Regional integration, although highly ambitious, can provide an important vehicle in addressing the electricity challenge on the continent.

Political will and leadership are ultimately the key factors that will ensure that the African continent will achieve an improvement in electricity generation. Governments on the continent need sound policies that can attract high-quality investors who will lead the way in innovative methods.

There is less than a decade left for the continent to reach the 2030 SDG 7 goal of ensuring universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services. The statistics that see other countries having 100% electricity access for their citizens, like Seychelles, and countries like Burundi with a staggering 11% show that there is still some way to go in meeting the goals envisaged with SDG 7. There is a need for a holistic approach involving key stakeholders such as governments, the private sector and communities at large.

* Gwinyai Taruvinga is a post-doctoral researcher at Wits Humanities Graduate Centre