COVER STORY-DECEMBER/JAN 2005
Dying for Electricity
The world over, an estimated 928 million people live in slums. Most of these are in developing nations. The challenges are immense, as the slum world brings with it massive poverty, unemployment and degradation. The figure is expected to grow at an accelerated rate over the next few years, thanks to the rapid climb in urbanisation and rural-urban migration. But there’s another problem facing
city managers in Africa: it is providing electricity to the poor to aid development. But there seems to be no coherent plan in the works, writes Amina Accram
Electrifi cation is one of the fundamental challenges facing governments in developing nations. In Sub-Saharan Africa, urbanisation is moving at a faster pace than any other region. By 2010, the region is expected have at
least 33 cities of more than one million inhabitants. Lagos in Nigeria is leading
the pack - it is expected to 13 million
inhabitants by 2010.
In 2001, only the Democratic
Congo, Djibouti, Gabon,
Mauritania and South Africa had
urban majorities. Today, urban poor
households in most cities of the region
make up more than 50% of the total
households. The trend is not unique to
Sub-Saharan Africa. Globally, citizens
tend to migrate to a single city that is
often the nation’s economic capital.
What seems to be lacking in Africa is a
comprehensive urban planning strategy
that includes electrifi cation.
A report by the African Energy
Policy Research Network (AFREPREN)
suggests that 80% of Africans live in
urban poverty and slums. Of the estimated
one-third of Africa’s population who live in urban areas, only about 25%
have access to electricity. Urban household electrification levels are generally
below 30%. Between 1970 and 1990, the
number of urban inhabitants that were
not electrifi ed increased from slightly
fewer than 40 million to close to 100 million. The report suggests that this is the equivalent of
having the whole of Nigeria, the most populous country in
Africa, not being electrified.
In addition, poverty in urban cities
across the continent has been growing
at an alarming annual average rate
of 4.49 %, about 2% more than the
total population growth. This rapid
growth has placed a huge strain on
urban energy consumption, which has
increased rapidly in many countries. In
Malawi, Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau,
Mali and Niger, where the majority of
the population live in slum conditions,
the governments are facing a huge infrastructure
and sanitation challenge.
Hence electricity is expensive and
hard to come by for a poor urban dweller
in those countries. A study of 45 cities
in 12 developing countries quoted
in the Afrepren report shows that the
lowest earners (US$ 7-11 per person
per month) spend about 22% of their
income on energy, while the highest
(US$ 107-216 per person per month)
used a paltry 9% of their income.
This is despite
the fact that energy
demand patterns of the urban poor
are largely confi ned to household use.
The trend is disturbing when one considers
that low-income households are
usually within proximity to major electricity
transmissions and switching
Leaders attending this year’s Eskom
African Business Leadership Forum, in
Johannesburg, argued that the shortage
of power is stifling growth and development
in Africa. Energy supply has
been cited as one of the key development
priorities in the NEPAD initiative.
In Ghana, the Electricity Company of
Ghana (ECG) made a net loss of 470bn
Cedis last year alone, due mainly to
power thefts and illegal service connections.
Customers of ECG in the
Central Region owe about 30bn Cedis
in unpaid electricity bills.
In South Africa, power utility Eskom is sitting
on over ZAR2,2bn in unpaid electricity
In Lagos, the National Electric
Power Authority (NEPA) says it is being
in unpaid electricity bills
and the level of illegal connections has
risen. In 1999, Kenya arrested over 600
people for illegally connecting electricity.
Now the country has put in place
legislation for higher penalties against
Siles Zimu, vice-president at
Johannesburg’s City Power, said it has
introduced new services to deal with the
never-ending problem of illegal power
connections in the peripheral townships
In a paper delivered at the Power
Africa Conference earlier this year,
he said: “We have created awareness
of customer responsibility and shred
general information about electricity.
We are also trying to get pre-paid electrifi
cation into the households to solve
the demand problem.”
But that could seem like a shortterm
solution. AFREPREN says there
is evidence suggesting that a larger portion
of government financing subsidies
and international development aid is
aimed at propping up modern energy
infrastructure. But this is largely serving
the needs of the urban-based formal,
commercial and industrial sectors in
medium and high-income urban households.
An energy service for the urban
poor is not yet on the social and political
agenda of African leaders.
Recently, the Kasoa District of the
Central Region in Ghana recorded fresh
illegal connections. But David Alhassan
Jangu, Central Regional Director of
ECG, says in the fi rst quarter of this
year they recovered a total unit of 38
150 KW/h valued at 30bn Cedis.
The government has since been
coaxed into action. About 3.8bn Cedis
has been spent on expansion and quality
supply of power. 753m Cedis was spent
on maintenance of equipment, clearing
of bush along overhead lines and mending
of cut wires, all aimed at ensuring
reduction in power interruptions.
Recently, John Kufuor, the President
of Ghana, called for new investment in
electricity generation to boost industrial
warned that unless
pumps money into power generation, it
would lag behind in industrial development.
In August 2002, the government
mandated the Public Utilities Regulatory
Commission (PURC) to come up with
new tariffs for electricity. The aim was
to bail out the government from its everincreasing
expenses on power supply to
the population. The tariffs were again
upped in 2003.
ECG offi cers frequently organise
educational programmes for the
country’s the urban poor on energy
conservation and demand side management.
But the results are yet to be
Joseph Coleman, divisional manager
of operations at ECG, explains says
there is enough power to service entire
communities, but most of it is being
negated by illegal power connections.
Now, the government wants to take
a tough stance against those illegally
connecting electricity. “Those who fall
foul to these illegal electric connections
will be given a fi ne not exceeding
Cedi or could face imprisonment, and
in the case of a continuing offence, to
a further fine.”
He reveals that because of this package,
people are reporting to their offices
and giving information on those involved
in illegal electric connections.
It appears that African governments
need to catch up quickly that their
main challenge over the next 20 years
is manage the development of human
settlements, such that they satisfy the
social, economic and environmental
goals of sustainable development.
This will all begin when the continent’s major
cities are lit up at minimum costs to the
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