HomeFeatures/AnalysisAfrican false dawn, or the real thing?

African false dawn, or the real thing?

Antonio Ruffini,
Editor, ESI Africa
By Antonio Ruffini, Editor, ESI Africa magazine

About two to three years ago reports started to appear that pointed out the potential of Africa, the benefits of a young demographic bulge, an incipient emerging middle class in parts of the continent, the progress made in various countries toward better governance and accountability. Africa was no longer to be viewed as a perennial basket case. The continent had begun to reap the benefits of the drying up of many of the long running conflicts that had plagued it during and in the aftermath of the Cold War, in which it had been a pawn.

Multilateral finance institutions have learned from previous mistakes in Africa. The colonial era has receded into the distance and decades have passed, during which little if any infrastructure progress occurred.

Is the slumbering continent awaking? To provide an assessment, the supply of electricity, a development so dramatic that it can’t help but change world views of those it touches, is a good place to look.

The raw statistics are not promising. As Eddy Njoroge CEO of Kenyan electricity utility KenGen sums it up, Africa has a population of 1.05 billion people and an installed power generation capacity of 123,000 MW. Canada has a population of 37 million people and an installed capacity of 127,000 MW. It gets worse if you take South Africa with its 50 million people and 44,000 or so MW out of the frame, as well as the north African countries on the Mediterranean rim with their 170 million inhabitants and 48,000 MW. It leaves 31,000 MW to supply 750 million people.

According to a recent study by the World Bank’s African Energy Unit (AFTEG), of the 54 African countries, 25 face an energy crisis and experts estimate that unless stronger commitments are put in place to reverse current trends, half of the population of sub-Saharan Africa will remain without electricity by 2030. Some of the issues facing sub-Saharan Africa, cited by AFTEG, are poor reliability of the system with power outages estimated on average at 56 days a year.

Not exactly the signs of a continent about to emerge from beneath its banner of darkness. And yet, and yet… there are signs of very significant and real progress. There are a number of examples, often associated with the increase in GDP growth some countries in Africa have experienced.

In the north-east, the number of electrified towns and rural villages across Ethiopia has increased to over 6,000, a national coverage of 47%. The rapidness of this progress is demonstrated by the fact that the number of electrified towns and villages numbered well under 1,000 as recently as 2006.

In the central-east, Kenya, which currently has a generation capacity of 1,700 MW, expects to have a peak demand of over 15,000 MW and a total capacity requirement of some 17,750 MW in 2030, calling for a tenfold increase in generation capacity in less than two decades. To achieve this vision Kenya will also have to fulfil an electricity penetration rate of at least 30% to 35%, and the country that is trying to position itself as a regional investment hub has plans in place. Many other countries across the continent have similar plans and are talking about similar percentage scale increases in generation capacity.

In the north-west, Morocco is often talked about because of its ambitious renewable energy plans. This is instead of a genuinely dramatic development in Morocco’s electricity sector over the past 15 years: the increase in access to electricity from 18% in 1995 to 97.4% in 2011. Over the past 15 years, Morocco has invested US$2.8 billion in a massive electrification programme that has benefited 12 million people and created 100,000 jobs. It has seen the number of villages in the country connected to the grid increase from a mere 557 in 1996 to 34,070 in 2011 with an additional 3,663 villages electrified using photovoltaics (PV).

In the south-east, Mozambique’s energy sector is very much on the move. There is the new global coal province of Tete and the off-shore gas finds that have been reported, as well as tangible plans being implemented to forward the development of a transmission backbone to link generation in the north with load centres in the south.

In the west, Nigeria has a president and a minister of power who are trying to achieve progress in Africa’s most populous country, which currently has about 4,400 MW – 4,500 MW to supply 160 million people. Nigeria is making genuine efforts to reform its power sector and rectify a situation which hinders the development of its vast economic potential. It is applying cost-reflective tariffs and a privatisation programme is underway.

In the south, South Africa, the continent’s largest electricity producer, is building major new power stations, albeit late and over budget, that will add a non-trivial 25% to its electricity generation capacity.

These are samples. With major international project companies less inclined to avoid the continent, an increased willingness by Chinese and other investors, decent investment policies by multilateral funding institutions, and work underway to create and strengthen regional power pools, the growth of electricity supply infrastructure appears to be gaining genuine momentum across Africa. If that is true, this dawn is not false.

To read further articles from ESI Africa magazine, edition 3, click here.