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Africa poverty

Powering up Africa’s Renewable Energy Revolution

Makhtar Diop's picture
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As African Presidents, Prime Ministers, and business leaders arrive in Washington to attend the first US-Africa Summit, one topic that will be paramount in their discussions with President Obama and his Cabinet is: how governments and families can access affordable electricity across the African continent.

Consider the facts: one in three Africans, that’s 600 million people, has no access to electricity. Neither do some 10 million small and medium-sized enterprises. Those homes and businesses fortunate enough to have power pay three times as much as those in the United States and Europe; furthermore, they routinely endure power outages that cost their countries from one to four percent in lost GDP every year.

Akosombo Dam in Ghana, June 18, 2006. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst)Despite the fact that Africa is blessed with some of the world’s largest hydropower and geothermal resources (10-15 GW of geothermal potential in the Rift Valley alone), bountiful solar and wind resources, as well as significant natural gas reserves, total power generation capacity in Africa is about 80,000 megawatts (MW) (including South Africa), roughly the same as that of Spain or South Korea.

As Africa enters its 20th consecutive year of economic expansion, with the World Bank forecasting that Africa’s GDP growth will remain steady at 4.7 percent in 2014, and strengthening to 5.1 percent in each of 2015 and 2016, the continent needs more electric power. Specifically, Africa needs to add 7,000 MW of generation capacity each year to meet the projected growth in demand, yet it has achieved only 1,000 MW of additional power generation annually.

Over the last week I visited Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, two of Africa’s so-called ‘fountain states.’  The resources in these two countries – along with Guinea, Ethiopia, and Uganda – can generate enough hydroelectricity to satisfy the growing demand in Africa. I saw the range of applications for which this power is needed, and I saw clear solutions.

In Eastern Cameroon I visited the construction site for the Lom Pangar hydropower project. Once construction is complete and the reservoir is filled in the next couple of years, this new dam on the Sanaga River will improve the reliability of power supply and lower the cost for up to five million Cameroonians. The Lom Pangar project will also pave the way for developing the full 6,000 MW of hydropower potential of the Sanaga River by regulating the flow of the river.      
 
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, last week, I visited the Inga hydropower site on the mighty Congo River. DRC’s overall hydropower potential is estimated at 100,000 MW, the third largest in the world behind China and Russia, yet only 2.5% of this key resource has been developed. With 40,000 MW of generation potential, Inga is the world’s largest hydropower site. Its proper development can make Inga the African continent’s most cost-effective, renewable source of energy with an estimated generation cost of US$ 0.03 per kilowatt hour with little or no carbon footprint--a significant added virtue.

Securing Africa’s Land for Shared Prosperity

How Africa Can Transform Land Tenure, Revolutionize Agriculture, and End Poverty


The greatest development challenge facing Sub-Saharan Africa today is lifting 400 million of its people out of extreme poverty. The continent has abundant land and mineral resources to meet the challenge, but only if land governance can be improved.  A new study, Securing Africa’s Land for Shared Prosperity, offers a ten-point program to improve land governance by accelerating policy reforms and boosting investments at a cost of US $4.5 billion over 10 years.

Fragile states, an opportunity to deliver lasting security and development

Makhtar Diop's picture

Freetown, Sierra Leone
Next week, I will be joining World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on an historic joint visit to Africa's Great Lakes Region. The aim of the trip is to brainstorm with African leaders solutions to helping the people of the Great Lakes prosper.

This visit is important for two reasons - it highlights a new era of global institutions working together to promote stability, and it signals to the citizens of fragile and conflict affected nations our commitment: we will not leave you behind.

Many countries in today’s world have struggled, or are struggling, through war or political conflict to rebuild themselves and lift their people out of poverty. They are called fragile states, nations with poor health and education, little or no electricity, disorganized or weakened institutions, and in many cases no functioning governments. In Africa, 18 of the 48 countries in the sub Region are considered fragile, six of them so much so that UN, NATO or African Union forces are on the ground helping to keep peace.

Has the African Growth Miracle Already Happened?

Shanta Devarajan's picture

Most of the literature about Africa’s growth, “Africa Rising”, “Lions on the Move”, etc., refer to the present or the future.  An oft-quoted World Bank report said, “Africa could be on the brink of an economic takeoff, much like China was 30 years ago and India 20 years ago.” 

Meanwhile, Alwyn Young has recently published a paper that claims that per-capita consumption on the continent has been growing at 3.4-3.7 percent a year for the last two decades—about three to four times the growth rates documented in other studies. Instead of using national accounts data (which, as we know, suffer from several deficiencies), Alwyn adopts the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), which calculate the households’ ownership of assets and other indicators of well-being (ownership of a car or bicycle; material of the house floor; birth, death or illness of a child, etc.). 

What will it take to end poverty in Africa?

Shanta Devarajan's picture

My colleague Jim Kim has launched a social media campaign on what it will take to end global poverty (please send your solutions via twitter to #ittakes.) I was reminded of a blog post I did about four years ago entitled “Ending poverty in Africa and elsewhere”. 

My answer then and now is:  Overcome government failure.  By “government failure,” I don’t mean that governments are evil or even that they are incompetent or ill-intentioned.  Analogous to “market failure,” government failure refers to a situation where the particular incentives in government lead to a situation that is worse than what was intended with the intervention.  

For instance, governments finance and provide primary education so that poor children can have access to learning.  But if teachers are paid regardless of whether they show up for work, and politicians rely on teachers to run their political campaigns, the result is absentee teachers and poor children who don’t know how to read or write—precisely the opposite of what was intended.  We see similar government failures in health care, water supply, sanitation, electricity, transport, labor markets and trade policy.

Africa is rising - is poverty falling?

Shanta Devarajan's picture

Several people, from The Economist to this blog, have been highlighting Africa's accelerated GDP growth of about 5 percent a year for the decade before the 2008-9 global economic crisis, and the two years since the crisis. But has this growth served to reduce poverty?

The latest globally consistent estimate of poverty rates has an answer: Yes. 

Using the measure of people living on $1.25 a day or less, the World Bank's poverty measurement team, led by my colleague Martin Ravallion, estimates that the percentage of poor Africans fell from 58 percent in 1999 to 47.5 percent in 2008.  This rate of decline of about one percentage point a year is a welcome change from the previous decade when growth was much slower and the poverty rate increased. 

Using knowledge to empower poor people

Shanta Devarajan's picture

I felt privileged to speak to the freshman class of Princeton University, my alma mater, at the annual “Reflections on Service”  event organized by the Pace Center.  In my speech, I drew on my work on the 2004 World Development Report, Making Service Work for Poor People and since then in South Asia and Africa, as well as my village immersion experience living and working with a woman in Gujarat, India who earns $1.25 a day. 

Both sets of experiences taught me how government programs—in health, education, water, sanitation, agriculture, infrastructure—that are intended to benefit the poor often fail to do so because they are captured by the non-poor who are politically more powerful.  I suggested to the students that, in addition to getting a good education and undertaking volunteer activities, they consider using their education to inform poor people, so that they can bring pressure to bear on politicians for pro-poor reforms.  The two examples I used to illustrate—citizen report cards in Bangalore and public expenditure tracking surveys in Uganda—were from the 1990s; with the penetration of cell phones in Africa and South Asia, getting knowledge to poor people in 2011 should be easier.

Africa on the brink of a take off

Shanta Devarajan's picture

Dear friends,

Today we are trying something new.

I wanted to share with you the reasons why I think we can be optimistic about Africa's development prospects, but rather than writing something up, I thought of using video.

Please, share your feedback, not only on whether you agree that Africa is on the right track, but on the video itself. If you like it, I would like to do more of this short video "Development Talks" with the readers of this blog.

Let me know what you think.

 

Are Fragile States "Too Poor to Grow?"

Shanta Devarajan's picture

Boy plays with tireA recent paper by my colleagues Humberto Lopez and Luis Serven entitled “Too Poor to Grow” asks whether, controlling for other factors, countries with higher poverty rates grow more slowly.  Their answer is “yes”.  The implication is that countries with high poverty may be caught in a poverty trap—they grow more slowly, so poverty rates stay high or even increase, which means they grow even more slowly, and so on. 

The idea echoes the one in Martin Ravallion’s post on this blog about why poverty rates are not converging. 

The two papers got me thinking about the large number (20) of fragile states in Africa.   These states have lower per-capita incomes and growth rates than non-fragile states.  More importantly, many of them have remained fragile states for a long time. 

Could it be that these countries are caught in a low-level equilibrium trap?  And if so, should aid policy—which treats them as worse-performing versions of non-fragile states—be adjusted to take into account the possibility that these countries are “stuck” in low growth, high poverty and poor governance?
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UPDATE: August 27, 2009:

Thanks to all who are taking the time to share their views on this post. Many of you seem to think that education can offer a way out of this vicious cycle. Some don't see hope for Africa until corruption can be successfully tackled. A few others advocate for more individual responsibility.  I was particularly impressed by the story David Kamulegeya shared with us (see the comment titled "it is about the attitude that people have about themselves") in which he describes his own experience navigating out of poverty.