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Grid Development in Africa Lags

image credit: ID 20096494 © Holger Karius |

Five years ago, I sat around a lopsided table with a group of Spaniards drinking cheap beer in a Madagascarian bar. The salon was dimly lit and Justin Bieber blasted out of a hodgepodge stereo setup—loose wires everywhere. Suddenly, without warning, the dim light turned to complete darkness and Bieber’s beautiful voice cut out. While my table went silent for a brief moment as we processed what had just happened, the locals continued chatting away, completely unperturbed by the blackout. Their reaction, or lack thereof, was telling—reliable electricity was something Madagascar’s middle class did not know. There were several more blackouts that night before decided to head back to the hotel. 

Since that trip, I’ve often wondered how long it would take Madagascar and other countries with comparable development indexes to reach an average standard of living most Westerners would recognize. 

With regards to reliable power, it turns out, not much progress has been made at all since 2015, or even since 2010 for that matter. Afrobarometer, a research group that studies access to electricity on the continent, recently published the findings of their latest report—and they’re not good. 

Carolyn Logan summarized the findings for an article on

“About four in 10 Africans (42%) lack an electricity connection in their homes. This is either because they are in zones not served by an electric grid or because they are not connected to an existing grid. In 16 countries, more than half of respondents had no electricity connection. This included more than three quarters of citizens in Burkina Faso (81%), Uganda (80%), Liberia (78%), and Madagascar (76%).

Nor does being connected guarantee power. Power cuts continued to plague some countries. About one in seven respondents (14%) had a connection but reported that their power worked half the time, or less. All in all, taking into account households with no access to a grid, no connection to an existing grid, or an unreliable supply, only 43% of Africans enjoyed a reliable supply of electricity. While the comparable figure was nine out of 10 in Mauritius (98%) and Morocco (91%), it barely exceeded one in 20 citizens in Malawi (5%) and Guinea (7%).

As far as recording progress was concerned, East Africa was the only region in which Afrobarometer found significant advances. The electricity grid had been extended by 7 percentage points since its 2011/2013 survey.

The largest decline in reliable electricity supply between 2014/2015 and 2016/2018 occurred in South Africa (-21 points), which has experienced power cuts as the utility Eskom battles to maintain its generating plants and keep pace with growing demand, followed by Cameroon (-19) and Côte d'Ivoire (-12).”

I realize most of the members here at Energy Central are based in North America, but I thought this news clip was worthy of mention nonetheless. The work utilities do, like so much of the luxuries we have in the west, is too often taken for granted.


Henry Craver's picture

Thank Henry for the Post!

Energy Central contributors share their experience and insights for the benefit of other Members (like you). Please show them your appreciation by leaving a comment, 'liking' this post, or following this Member.


Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 10, 2020 5:46 pm GMT

Obviously an important issue-- thanks for sharing your insight Henry, as well as your personal anecdote since that always helps brings stories to life more

Henry Craver's picture
Henry Craver on Jan 15, 2020 3:43 pm GMT

Thanks, Matt. 

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