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  • Writer's pictureFemi Abodunde

Electricity Access in Sub Sahara Africa

[Africa at night] The Sahara of northern Africa and the jungles of south-central Africa are largely void of illuminated cities. One of the most striking features on this image is the high concentration of cities on the Nile River, downstream from the Aswan Dam. @NASA Image.

Africa and it's potential tend to get overhyped at times, and this hype causes a lot of problems for Africans themselves. For example, the whole economic output of all of Sub saharan Africa is no larger than say Chicago or Belgium, yet when you read or hear news about Africa and it's economy, many would have you look at the continent as though it would be ready to compete with the United States in the next decade. The United States has been on her economic journey for almost 300 years.

Another issue in Africa is electricity, not a day goes by that we don't hear that Africa is going through a digital revolution, that the internet is changing Africa, that great things lay ahead in technology for Africa, but nobody talks about the fact that without steady electricity in Africa, tech dreams will only turn to nightmares.

We have to pay dues.... plant seeds. We essentially plant seeds that won't really yield fruits until long after we are dead..... until we understand that, all talk of progress is bullshit, or ponzi scheme which political capitalists, fraudulent entrepreneurs and ideological fanatics use to get rich in short term, while destroying our children's hopes in long term.

Access to electricity is #opportunity. It’s the connection that’s needed to plug #Africa into the global economy. To have access, governments need to build the infrastructure and then a consumer base needs to to have jobs or entrepreneurial opportunity to earn a living through which they can pay for electricity. Socialists have been promising free everything in Africa for over 50 years, and for over 50 years the situation deteriorated because nothing is free. Instead of providing the type of governance that creates opportunities which empower and enable individuals, corruption from local and foreign kleptomaniacs in business and government has denied hundreds of millions of Africans the opportunities they need to become self sufficient.

Access, The Heart of the Matter

Earlier in 2019, the World Bank released its Electricity Access in sub-Saharan Africa report. The report measures the status quo of access to electricity, compares the nuances of regional and country variations in access to electricity, and identifies some root impediments to increasing access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa.

Figure 1. Access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa

The lack of access to electricity primarily constrains modern economic activities, provision of public services, and quality of life. In addition, it severely limits adoption of emerging technologies in sectors such as banking, education, agriculture, and finance that could otherwise alleviate some of the core challenges facing Africans, such as low productive employment opportunities and limited healthcare.

The report gives an idea of how far Africa is lagging compared to the world and the variation within the continent. Its current average 43 percent access rate to electricity is half of the global access rate of 87 percent. The report also warns that the current number of people without electricity will continue with Africa’s population boom.

Figure 2. Price of powering up a refrigerator for one year as a% of income.

Source: World Bank World Development Indicators; Demographic and Health Surveys; Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys; national surveys.

One of the constraints the report emphasizes is the cost of electricity provision. In particular, Figure 2 from the report uniquely shows the cost constraint by benchmarking how much it would cost to power a refrigerator for a year. While the cost is negligent for all advanced economies, for most African economies it is substantial and far more burdensome than for the rest of the world. With this, the report highlights expensive utility service cost as a barrier to electricity access.

Figure 3. Effects of electricity outages on employment

Another impediment the report investigates is how electricity outages influence employment, as seen in Figure 3. The strong negative relationship between more outages and employment reduces the probability of employment by approximately 35 percent in a community. This impact is even more pronounced for the non-farm sector (55 percent), but surprisingly slightly less impactful (27 percent) for high-skilled employment, given many high-skilled jobs require electricity. The findings suggest improving electricity reliability merits attention, not just access to electricity.

Sources: Mensah 2018, Nirav Patel, Former Research Analyst - Global Economy and Development

Note: The reported coefficients are of outages in a community using the instrumental variable regression approach.*** p < 0.01.


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