By Lori Pottinger
This article is part of a special issue on water and water privatisation in Africa produced as a joint initiative of the Transnational Institute, Ritimo and Pambazuka News. This special issue is also being published in French.
Hydropower dams are ‘well-suited for facilitating industrialisation and exploitation of natural resources, but not for reducing Africa’s energy poverty’, writes Lori Pottinger. And given the water-security problems posed by climate change, ‘the proposed frenzy of African dam building could be literally disastrous.’
Africa is the least electrified place in the world. An estimated 550 million Africans have no access to electricity. Nearly half of African countries have a power crisis. Solving this huge problem is made more difficult by widespread poverty, and because most Africans live far from the grid, greatly adding to the cost of bringing electricity to them.
Under these challenging conditions, there are no second chances for electrifying Africa: It must be done right the first time. Yet many of the continent’s energy planners are pinning their hopes for African electrification on something as ephemeral as the rain, by pushing for a grid of large hydro dams across the continent. The World Bank has joined the fray, with its latest World Development Report calling for a major hydropower rollout for the continent. This model is well-suited for facilitating industrialisation and exploitation of natural resources, but not for reducing Africa’s energy poverty.