Load Shedding is Not Made in SA: A Broader Perspective on Africa’s Energy Crisis

The energy crisis extends far beyond the boarders of Eskom’s grid inefficiency, and the temporary 3-6 hour load shedding disruptions. Africa’s energy crisis is not just a local one but a continental disaster resulting in slowed economic growth.

It is important to understand that load shedding is not endemically, a South African problem but a broader issue within the African context, affecting multiple countries.

30 African Countries Experience Energy Shortage

According to the African Development Bank, more than 30 African countries are now experiencing power shortages and regular interruptions in service.

Their research shows that these frequent power outages across the continent have led to the loss of 6% of turnover on average for formal enterprises, and as much as 16% of turnover for informal enterprises. Additionally, the economic cost of the power shortages can amount to more than 2% of gross domestic product.

A Crisis Beyond Technical Challenges

Furthermore, AfDB says that over 640 million out of 1.4 billion people living on the continent do not have access to electricity, corresponding to an electricity access rate for African countries as just over 40%, which is the lowest in the world.

At the recent Teach-in lecture series titled, “Energy is the Life-blood of Development” hosted by the Rhodes University Political and International Studies Department, in a response to the pressing matter of load-shedding in South Africa, and how it impacts the daily lives of individuals and academic endeavors,

he Rhodes University Political and International Studies Department successfully hosted its annual Teach-In lecture series, a significant event on the academic calendar since 2002. This year’s series,

“Energy is the Life-blood of Development: Perspectives on the South African Energy Crisis”, award-winning financial journalist and former deputy editor of Financial Mail, Sikonathi Manshantsha, provided a unique perspective on the energy crisis having previously served as Eskom’s spokesperson.

A Root of Systematic Governance Issues

A key insight drawn from his presentation was that the energy crisis is not merely a result of technical or infrastructural challenges but is rather deeply rooted in systematic governance issues. He highlighted that corruption and inefficiency in the energy sector have significantly contributed to the country’s electricity woes.

Nigeria faces a similarly dim reality, approximately 47% of Nigerians do not have access to grid electricity and those who do have access, face regular power cuts. The country experiences frequent, ‘total system collapses’ inducing widespread power outages across the country. In 2022, there were 4 system collapses recorded.

A Blow to Nigeria’s Economy

About 47% of Nigerians do not have access to grid electricity and those who do have access, face regular power cuts. In addition, the economic cost of power shortages in Nigeria is estimated at around $28 billion – equivalent to 2% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

It is in the light of this that Nigeria is turning to renewable energy resources, Mr Ayo Ademilua, the President of the Renewable Energy Association of Nigeria (REAN), says no fewer than 80 million dollars is available for energy projects in the country for its members through investors.

The power crisis in Nigeria, is one of the main contributing factors towards the high unemployment rate. Shubham Chaudhuri, World Bank Country Director for Nigeria states that, “The lack of reliable power has stifled economic activity and private investment and job creation, which is ultimately what is needed to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty.”

Small Businesses Affected Across Egypt

In Egypt that is heavily investing in moving towards a green economy with the development of major smart cities, renewable energy sources – power outages have no less effect.

As a part of the governments plan for renewable energy to meet 42% of total electricity production by 2035, Egypt is working on increasing the supply of electricity generated by renewable sources. Small businesses are feeling the pressure of Egypt’s power outages that are experienced for an hour, 3 times per day in cities across the country.

19- Hours of Load Shedding on Sunday’s

Malawi’s power sector is one of the most severely constrained in sub-Saharan Africa – less than 10% of the population of 18 million is connected to the electrical grid. Only 1% out of the 80% of people living in rural areas have access to electricity.  Currently, Malawians face up to 19 hours of load shedding per day on Sundays.

Broader Plan to Solve the Crisis

As part of broader efforts to light up the African continent, the African Development Bank (AfDB) says its goal is to finance energy programmes that aim to achieve universal access to electricity by 2025.

This places some perspective on  the broader picture of the African energy crisis as a whole, and the constraints that it places on the general population and its economy. The race towards a an energy-secure nation has only just started.