Electricity and power are among the socio-economic issues least discoursed at the peak of political campaigns in most African countries. This is not because electricity and power are non-issues to Africans nor can it be said that African countries have sufficient electricity to power their domestic industries and light up households. Rather, according to the African Center for Economic Transformations, “more than half of Africa’s population lacks access to basic electricity and clean cooking facilities, and the numbers are rising with population growth and urbanization.”
This is confirmed by World Bank 2014 data estimating access to electricity as a percentage of total population in Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Zambia and Ghana at 15.5, 19.2, 21.22, 27.9 and 78.3 percent respectively; indicating that only Ghana, among these five countries, has electricity coverage for more than half of her population.
The low access can be attributed to the fact that for most of sub-Saharan Africa, electricity generation is limited and often relies on a single source, which in most cases is non-renewable. This is also a contributing factor to the high cost of power in Africa.
It is worth pointing out that high cost of power, low access and an unsustainable energy environment are inimical to economic transformation, innovation and productivity. The Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research (ISSER), in a 2015 report, stated that Ghana lost about 1 billion dollars in 2014 alone because of dumsor. Furthermore, many SMEs folded up their operations due to unstable power supply leading to layoffs.
In the past few days, the issue about the cost of electricity has gained front page space in major Ghanaian newspapers and online news portals. This was due to government’s promise to reduce electricity tariffs. The Business & Financial Times print edition of 15th November, indicated that Ghanaian industries pay in excess of 21 cents/kwh compared to the regional average of 14-17 cents/kwh and a global industrial hub range of 3–5 cents/kwh. We cannot expect any serious industrialization when our industries are cloaked by high energy cost. It is time we begin talking and acting on electricity and power issues.
John Osei is a Communications Officer at the African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET).