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Eastern Africa's Move to Alternative Energy Sources

Autor:   •  May 18, 2016  •  Research Paper  •  2,096 Words (9 Pages)  •  556 Views

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Why sub-Saharan Africa has struggled to develop sufficient electrical grid and what is the future energy outlook of the region?


Developed countries forgot what is it like to be “in the dark”. Sub-Saharan Africa has not come to the light yet and it seems that there are still large numbers of people without electricity. International Energy Agency (2015) states, that around 550 million people in the world will remain without access electricity in 2040, and majority of them will be in sub-Saharan Africa. These numbers are staggering and in this essay I will cover Africa’s off grid problem and possible solutions. Mostly I will analyse the potential impact of solar power in the near and distant future and how it might change the energy outlook of sub-Saharan Africa.

Post-colonial sub-Saharan Africa

What we know from history of Africa, their development started much later as many of the countries in the sub-Saharan region gained freedom during the 20th century. We have to look into 1960’s and see how newly formed countries have coped with development and what are the limitations. That will explain why electrical grid has not developed as it should have, as Southeast Asian is a prime example. Franz Heidhues (2009) has outlined main issues and problems this region has comparing the sub-Saharan to Southeast Asian countries. After the independence in 1960’s all the countries were very perspective in terms of growth potential. And after an initial investment of $500 million and a plan in place from World Bank everyone expected high growth. Although in the late 1970s all economic indicators started to decline and following a global crisis those indicators stagnated and fell down considerably. As Heidhues (2009) outlines, there was a vast number of institutions that were eager to help sub-Saharan Africa to meet world’s agreed development agreements and pull it out of the crisis. Most notable ones, IMF (International Monetary Fund), The World Bank, OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) and others created many initiatives mainly to drag out the region from economic and social decline and stagnation. Firstly, funds started on the premise that private sector is very limited, state has to own and develop everything. Therefore, all development was directed to the governments. Later, after negative outcomes IMF argued that they need to change the approach and move to private sector development. Although focus only on private sector negatively impacted health and safety, which is usually controlled by governments, especially the people in poverty. Again, the funds had to shift their strategy to balance between state institution development and private sector development, with emphasis on poverty.

All these initiatives in the 20th century have not reached the planned growth and did not meet set goals. As the same author concludes, the development of sub-Saharan countries has failed due to geographical and institutional problems (Heidhues, 2009). Tropical climate conditions (wet, hot all year) has impact on agriculture – low soil fertility, etc. Labour capacity is affected by tropical climate diseases such as malaria or AIDS. Unstable weather conditions (floods, droughts) also negatively impact agriculture. Furthermore, sub-Saharan countries are land-locked, with poor infrastructure, poor river logistics and thinly populated areas, which increase transport costs for agricultural yield and eliminate them from competing globally. Also, these specific countries have a so called “resource curse”, whereas they are very reliant on their natural resources. Which often leads (and have led in this example) to resource exploitation that facilitated corruption, clan formation and neglecting on economic, institutional development focusing investments for private interests. Institutional problems come up from the regions history of being a heavily colonised region. All policies the colonial governments formed were dedicated to their interest – exploitation of resources, not establishing a heaven for European migrants to come and live. The author concludes that structures were formed that enable efficient taxation and exploitation of resources by a few – a structure that post-colonial elites adopted after 1960’s. The last institutional factor was lack of nationalism, as outlined by (Heidhues, 2009). African people are more tied to their ethnic groups rather than nations. Given the lack of strong institutional mechanism from the nations after gaining independence, leads to fragmentation and ethnically divided nations. Both geographical and institutional factors with lack of successful strategy from world’s leading funds and institutions led to poor development results in the 20th century. That said, electrical grid of sub-Saharan Africa has suffered the same way. Governments should have invested in electric grid formation fairly, but that has not happened because of institutional reasons outlined above. That is why in 2015 it is estimated by World Bank (2015) that only 25% of the population in the region have access to the electrical grid.


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