Guinea has one of Africa's lowest electrification rates, even in the capital most of Conakry is in darkness. Children often congregate in the evenings to study in places where there are street lights; in the capital's airport car park and in petrol stations. (Photo/ Flickr/ Julien Harneis)

Electricity Consumption In Africa: Some Countries Are Roaring Ahead, Others Slipping Into Darkness

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AFRICA’S energy poverty has been well-articulated: one oft-repeated statistic is that excluding South Africa, the entire installed generation capacity of sub-Saharan Africa is only 68 Gigawatts, equivalent to that of Spain.

In the past few years there has been much quiet progress in expanding electricity consumption in some countries in Africa. In others, there has been a stagnation; a few countries are actually experiencing reversals or ‘de-electrification’.

The countries with the biggest relative progress are Ethiopia and the Republic of Congo. Both have doubled their electricity consumption since 2007.

Rwanda, Burkina Faso, Niger and Ghana have also rapidly expanded their electricity consumption, increasing by between 50% and 85%.

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Granted, most of these are starting from a low base. Ethiopia, for example, has a national electrification rate of 23%, much lower than the African average of 43%. But the progress is impressive none the less.

In absolute terms, Egypt has had the largest growth in electricity consumption, expanding by 32.9 billion kWh from 2007 to 2012.


A correlation analysis shows a moderate correlation (coefficient 0.53) between GDP growth and expansion in electricity consumption. Countries that have posted robust GDP growth figures often – but not always – also have growth in electricity consumption.

The converse is also true: countries that are slowing down have a corresponding decrease in electricity consumption.

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At least 11 countries have seen expansion rates of less than 10%, and for seven of them, there has actually been a contraction in kilowatt hours consumed. The curious thing is that these countries slipping into darkness are a mixed bag – wealthy and poor, peaceful and in conflict, large and small in size.

The biggest drop has been in Guinea, which has seen a -20% drop in electricity consumption, from 819 million kWh in 2007 to 652 million kWh five years later. For a country that has not experienced outright war or systematic destruction of infrastructure, a contraction of this scale is surprising.


It suggests the country has experienced a chronic dysfunction that finally reached breaking point. ‘De-electrification’ has also been experienced in Malawi, Libya, Comoros and Equatorial Guinea.

Libya’s situation might be explained by the conflict that has raged there since 2011. But for the other three, it may be the Guinea case – poor performance and neglect that has became untenable. Equatorial Guinea, despite being Africa’s richest country per capita, has seen its electricity consumption shrink -3%.

Wealthy South Africa finds itself in this territory too, experiencing a -1% in electricity consumption. In absolute terms, however, it is South Africa that has had the largest drop in consumption, with 2.77 billion kWh less consumed within the five-year period.

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