international development expert says the new president of the United States will have an
“unprecedented opportunity” to help Africa in its quest for “high and
sustainable” growth. Research done by Vijaya Ramachandran of the Center for Global
Development (CGD) in Washington, D.C., indicates that the lack of power and
adequate roads are the major obstacles to Africa’s prosperity. She’s urging the
next American administration to support a series of initiatives designed to
improve these sectors in Africa and thereby boost the continent’s growth,
arguing that it will benefit both Africa and the US.
shuts off for several hours during the day in the majority of countries we
surveyed in Africa. Power outages occur from anywhere from 50 to 150 days in
the year. This is a…chronic, ongoing problem that they all have to deal with in
terms of trying to keep their businesses running,” says Ramachandran, an expert
in foreign direct investment, entrepreneurship and private sector development,
who’s also worked on projects at the World Bank and the United Nations.
recently led a CGD study that surveyed the effect of poor power and roads on
11,000 businesses across Africa.
discovered that power emerges as a very major constraint in Africa. Over half
of the businesses we surveyed say that it’s their most serious constraint,”
Ramachandran told VOA.
says perhaps no country in Africa is more affected by lack of power than
has a very complicated mix of problems that has resulted in a very, very bad
problem in terms of power. Almost everybody (there) says they have power
outages every single day of the year; sometimes power is out for days on end,
particularly outside of the major cities.”
says the “root causes” of Nigeria’s power dilemma are similar to those
elsewhere in Africa.
just isn’t enough power generated to meet demand, but there’s also chronic
mismanagement of power delivery by the government power authorities. So it’s a
problem of weak governance – a regulatory problem – as well as a chronic
says Africa is home to a sixth of the world’s population, yet her investigation
shows that the continent generates only about four per cent of its electricity – three-quarters of which is used by South Africa and
In a recent CGD paper, she writes, “The need for
electricity (in Africa) is both enormous and unmet, with many cities and towns
experiencing blackouts several times a day.”
Africa has ‘worst’ power crises
The consequences of lack of power for Africa are
myriad, including environmental degradation, children unable to learn properly,
massive economic losses because of business and factory shutdowns, and the
large-scale waste of fuel used in emergency generators.
Ramachandran cites World
Bank data that 500 million Africans – or two-thirds of the continent’s total
population – don’t have access to “modern energy.”
“The Bank says…. about $17
billion is spent every year by the “energy poor” in Africa on fuel-based
lighting systems, such as kerosene lamps, that are expensive, provide poor
lighting, and create indoor air pollution.”
As a result of the fact that
many people don’t have power in Africa, they cut down vast areas of forest for
wood to burn so that they’re able to cook, light and heat their homes.
“Biomass – mostly firewood –
constitutes about 56 per cent of all energy use in sub-Saharan Africa…. Such
fuels also accelerate deforestation,” says Ramachandran.
Her study shows the “worst
cases” of power undersupply in Africa to be Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of
Congo, the Gambia, and Guinea. In each of these, she says, there are at least
170 days a year during which citizens experience significant power outages.
Next are Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, where power supply is interrupted 120
days a year. Most other African countries, says Ramachandran, endure outages on
more than 50 days in the year.
However, she writes in her
paper, six countries – Guinea-Bissau, Lesotho, Mali, Senegal, Swaziland and
Zambia – fare better, reporting outages on between 10 and 50 days.
“Only a handful of countries
– Botswana, Mauritius, Namibia – report outages on less than 10 days a year,”
Power cuts result in an
“overwhelmingly” negative impact on economies in Africa, she maintains.
businesses simply shut down and wait for the power to come back on…. It’s a
great burden, especially on small and medium-sized enterprises. Larger firms
are able to cope with the problem. Almost every large firm we surveyed in
Africa had a private generator, and they cope in that way,” Ramachandran explains.
she adds that the larger firms also suffer big financial losses running into
millions of dollars as a result of the situation.
cost of power generated using a private generator is anywhere from two to four
times the cost of power delivered from a good public grid.”
US must “drive down prices of
expensive power” in Africa
says energy in Africa is so expensive that, even when it’s available, many
can’t afford it.
study reveals that in China, the cost of energy is three per cent of total cost for
businesses, whereas only one country in Africa, South Africa, shows a
But even this is changing in Africa’s largest
economy, with cities in South Africa for the past year experiencing “rolling
blackouts. Even more troublesome is the fact that this situation will likely
deteriorate further before it improves,” says Ramachandran.
The result is that the cost of power in South Africa
is increasing at a rapid rate.
says part of the reason why energy’s so expensive in Africa is that it’s in
very short supply.
have seen probably three decades now of extreme underinvestment in power
projects in Africa. The international community has only woken up to this
problem in the last five or so years, and has now started to increase its
attention and investment in power plants. Also, I don’t want to underestimate
the regulatory problems, the governance problems, the corruption problems.
Those have also driven up prices.”
order to ease Africa’s energy crises, Ramachandran advises the next man in the
White House to help American businesses to invest on the continent, “both in
terms of renewable energy projects and larger power plant projects.”
says Africa needs “huge investments in regional power plants – hydroelectric
power systems or other types of systems that can supply multiple countries at
the same time. And there are a number of these projects that are on the drawing
board or that have great potential, and I think the US government can help get them
off the ground.”
American assistance doesn’t necessarily have to be in the form of direct
financial aid, Ramachandran asserts, but should “facilitate US investment in
Africa” in the near future.
could) provide investment guarantees, for example, to get American businesses
involved in investing in these power projects. And that will help address the
power problems in the major (African) cities; it will help South Africa, for
example, (to) alleviate its power problems. (That country) really is in a
situation now where it needs extra generation capacity in a very urgent
Clean Infrastructure Initiative
that the next US president should announce a “Clean Infrastructure Initiative”
to end Africa’s power and transportation problems.
“This initiative should have two main objectives:
harnessing innovations in clean energy for Africa, and financing the
construction and maintenance of infrastructure through multilateral
institutions,” she writes in her recent essay.
new American administration should help Africa to provide electricity that’s
“off the public grid,” Ramachandran states. “By that I mean solar projects,
small-scale wind energy projects, small-scale hydro projects, that will supply
electricity to small towns or a few villages or even a single village.”
says some of these small-scale technologies are focused on renewable energy and
are being developed in the US, and that there’s “great scope for the United
States to facilitate the transfer of those technologies to particularly smaller
cities and rural areas in Africa where there is no public grid.”
describes Africa’s potential to produce renewable energy, with US guidance and
support, as “enormous” – particularly with regard to large-scale hydroelectric
are large rivers in central Africa which can be harnessed to provide a massive
amount of power to multiple African countries,” the development expert
adds that there’s also “huge scope” for other power sources in Africa.
gets an enormous amount of solar radiation – perhaps the highest in the world.
None of that is tapped. There’s potential for geothermal energy along the Rift
Valley. There’s potential for wind energy, particularly on the north west coast
of Africa. So there’s huge potential, huge resources of untapped energy (in
To achieve the initiative
she’s suggesting, Ramachandran says the new occupant of the Oval Office must
support a $1
billion Clean Energy Fund for Africa. Such a fund, she continues, should be
facilitated by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation to enable the
transfer of clean technology, including renewable energy, from the US to
Africa. Washington, she writes in her paper, must “encourage the African
Development Bank to focus on regional clean infrastructure projects only, in
return for which the United States should increase its capital contribution to
the organization by 25 percent a year for each of the next four years.”
Africa’s roads in 'incredible
research shows that Africa has the worst roads in the world.
are in incredible disrepair and, again, a chronic undersupply and a lack of
attention (has been) paid to this problem for the last several decades,” she
says most countries in sub-Saharan Africa “lag far behind every other region in
the world in paved-road mileage and modern freight and passenger transportation
systems. This lack of adequate transportation affects the level of business
activity by lowering productivity and limiting the entry of new enterprises.”
points out that poor or even non-existent roads mean that many African
enterprises are forced to “either supply only to fragmented regional markets or
restrict themselves to market opportunities with profits large enough to cover
high transportation costs.”
says the negative effects of bad roads are difficult to reverse because, unlike
the power supply, which can improve or deteriorate rapidly, “transportation
bottlenecks are typically long-term – bad
roads and limited transnational links have kept markets and businesses highly
segmented for decades in Africa.”
she again sees opportunities for the next administration in America to ease
Africa’s roads crisis, stating, “US technology and US investment can play a
very significant role in increasing the supply of roads” on the continent.
advent of toll roads (in Africa) provides scope for private investment that the
US can underwrite or facilitate or help transfer,” she adds.
acknowledges that many good roads have been constructed around Africa in past
decades…. But they’ve deteriorated drastically because they haven’t been
says in the future Africa must make use of US expertise to ensure that roads
remain in good condition.
lots of advice available from international authorities on what’s needed to
ensure that well-built roads are kept in good shape and how to provide for the
recurring costs of road maintenance. These can be built into contracts for
infrastructure development. This is as true for power projects as it is for
road projects. There are mechanisms by which this can be done, how tax revenues
can be used, and toll money allocated, for the maintenance of these roads,”
She maintains that US businesses have the
technology and the knowledge and must be given the opportunity to compete on
bids to develop Africa’s power and roads.
Ramachandran says, “The expertise of
(American) power companies…. can be harnessed to address the shortage of
electricity in Africa. And construction companies can help to build roads,
using the best of US technology and human resources. These efforts will benefit
the African people as well as the (American) companies and employees who
provide infrastructure services.”