Academic journal article Eastern Africa Social Science Research Review

Sub-Saharan Africa Electricity Supply Inadequacy: Implications

Academic journal article Eastern Africa Social Science Research Review

Sub-Saharan Africa Electricity Supply Inadequacy: Implications

Article excerpt


Africa has many electricity supply problems with major causes being natural causes (drought), oil price shock, system disruption by conflict, and low investment in electricity generation. To solve the problem, many countries adopted several reforms. However, the reforms failed to bring solutions. Electricity sector privatisation has received great criticism. Individual firms and households resorted to own private power generation due to electricity supply inadequacy from the public grid supply, as is the feature of many African countries. This paper focuses on sub-Saran Africa's electricity supply inadequacy. It provides the economic implications of power outages.

Key words: Electricity outage, electricity supply interruption, private electricity supply, power sector reforms.


The impact of electricity supply inadequacy reached new heights in 2008 when the mining companies of Anglo Gold Ashanti Ltd., Harmony Gold Mining Co. Ltd. and Gold Fields Ltd. suspended all but emergency operations on some of the world's largest gold mines out of fear that power outages could trap workers underground. The stoppage caused hundreds of millions of Rand in losses for one of South Africa's most important industries and fractured investor confidence (Schussler 2008). Not only mines were affected. Parts of south-western South Africa as well as its largest city, Johannesburg, were hit by power failures in 2008, disrupting households and bringing trains to a halt (Zulu 2008). The same also happened in Zimbabwe.

Power outages also shut down basic services across Zambia. Households, farmers and industries were forced to resort to other energy sources. A nation-wide power blackout hit copper and cobalt output in Zambia and briefly trapped workers underground. The same power outage also caused partial flooding at Chililabombwe Copper Mine as water could not be pumped out. The company lost a day's production (75 tonnes of copper and 89 tonnes of cobalt). The net loss was estimated at US$2 million because also the switch and associated electrical equipment were damaged at the mine (The Times 2008).

Electricity outages have attracted interest from various scholars over the last three decades (Ukpong 1973; Ontario Hydro 1980; Bernstein and Heganazy 1988; Lee and Anas 1992; Tierney 1997; Beenstock, Goldin, and Haitovsky 1998; Primen 2001; Eto, Divan and Brumsickle 2004; Rose, Oladosu, and Salvino 2004; Adenikinju 2005; Bose et al. 2006). The general conclusion has been that power outages cause significant direct and indirect costs. Empirical evidence links the scale of these costs to variables such as electricity consumption per capita and the number of hours with or without electricity per day.

Improved energy supply reliability after the 1950s coincided with rising global economic growth (World Bank 2004a, 72). This paper surveys the global and African literature relevant to electricity outages. It intends to highlight several causes of the problems and reforms implemented by some African countries in order to solve the electricity supply crisis.


Energy is a prerequisite for economic growth and development (Ebohon 1996; Rosenberg 1998; Templet 1999; Boston Institute for Development Economics 2006; Foster and Steinbuks 2008; Calderon 2008). Energy has been shown to be as important in production as other factors such as labour, land and capital (European Commission 1993). The relationship between economic growth and electrical power demand has been found to be close (European Commission 1993; Rosenberg 1998; Andrews-Speed and Dow 2000; Ferguson, Wilkinson and Hill 2000). Energy consumption is positively correlated to economic growth (Akinlo 2008).

A study by Ferguson, Wilkinson and Hill (2000) that compared correlations between electricity consumption per capita with those between total primary energy supply per capita and GDP per capita showed that there is a stronger correlation between electricity use and wealth creation than there is between total energy use and wealth. …

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