Satellite image of Africa at night / ESRI
Many of us are staunch advocates of the positive role ICTs can play in human development. But with this statement comes a whole load of assumptions. For example, access to an affordable communications infrastructure does not happen without electricity.
On this score, Africa fails abysmally. A recent article in The Economist states that “power shortages have become one of the biggest brakes on development [in Africa]”. The continent is home to over a sixth of the world’s population, but generates only four per cent of its electricity.
In response to this energy deficit, the World Bank recently set up the Lighting Africa initiative. This aims to provide “up to 250 million people in sub-Saharan Africa with access to non-fossil fuel based, low cost, safe, and reliable lighting products with associated basic energy services by the year 2030”. We must wait and see whether it succeeds.
But it’s not just lighting that relies on electricity. Open politics, freedom of expression, equitable health and education – none of these can be achieved without the development of adequate infrastructure, including electricity.
And as Panos London highlighted three years ago in our report, Completing the Revolution: the challenge of rural telephony in Africa: “The lack of electricity is excluding much of Africa from the communications revolution”.
Yet current policy debates on access to ICTs barely touch on infrastructure issues, such as electricity. It’s all very well to roll out connectivity – to telephones or the internet, say. But without adequate investment on basic infrastructure, those in rural areas don’t stand a chance of benefiting from Africa’s communications revolution.