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28 May 2024

Electrification: Central Africa remains the continent’s soft spot

Jean Marie Takouleu

Despite the efforts and investments made in recent years, access to electricity remains a challenge for the countries of Central Africa. From Chad to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Central African Republic (CAR), countries are stepping up initiatives to overcome this energy poverty.

On 13 March, the Cameroon government published a circular specifying the list of equipment that will be exempt from taxes and customs duties for a period of 24 months, starting on 1 January 2024. The provisional exemption mainly covers equipment for producing solar energy and small-scale hydroelectricity.

This policy, which has been in place for a number of years in other sub-Saharan countries, “is in line with government action to absorb the energy deficit by diversifying energy sources for rural populations and industry”, according to the Cameroon Ministry of Finance. The main aim of this measure is to accelerate rural electrification, the rate of which was estimated by the 2023 Energy Progress Report at 26.7%, just behind Gabon (27.76%).

According to the National Institute of Statistics (INS), Cameroon will have 70% access to electricity throughout the country by 2021. In terms of electrification, Cameroon is one of the top performers, behind Gabon (90%). The situation in neighbouring countries in the sub-region is hardly glowing. In fact, of the five worst performers in terms of electrification in Africa, two are in Central Africa.

Deadlock in Chad

Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR) have rates of 11% and 16% respectively, according to the 2023 Energy Progress Report published by the World Bank and the International Energy Agency (IEA). Extreme energy poverty also affects the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where the rate of access to electricity is 21%.

With one month to go before the Chadian presidential election scheduled for 6 May 2024, the transitional authorities, who are running for the supreme magistracy, have decided to provide free drinking water and electricity to the most disadvantaged households. An electoral measure that does little to conceal the energy situation in this country of some 18 million inhabitants. Chad’s 11% electrification rate is linked to its low electricity production capacity, estimated by Power Africa at just 125 MW by 2020.

The country remains dependent on fossil fuels for the production of its electricity. In recent years, Chad has attracted several investors interested in its solar potential, with an exceptional sunshine rate of between 2,000 and 2,600 hours per year. Solar energy production projects were announced more than three years ago. This is the case of the Djermaya wind farm, which has even received €36.6 million in financing from the African Development Bank (AfDB), Proparco and the Emerging Africa Infrastructure Fund (EAIF) in 2021.  Delivery of the first MW is still awaited.

Insufficient efforts in CAR

For its part, CAR has been able to inaugurate two solar power plants (Danzi and Sakaï) with a combined capacity of 40 MWp in 2023. But the electrification challenge remains immense in a country with a population of 5.5 million, where only 2% of the rural population has access to electricity, according to the World Bank.

For Central African President Faustin Archange Touadera, speaking at the inauguration ceremony for the 25 MWp Danzi solar power plant, “the recurring electricity problems can be partly explained by the lack of investment over the past 40 years in this sector, which is so vital to the national economy”. 

In response to this problem, his government has launched the Emergency Project for Access to Electricity (Puracell), financed to the tune of 37 billion CFA francs (just over 56 million euros) by the World Bank. In addition to the Danzi and Sakaï solar power plants, which are already operational, the Puracell focuses on improving the transmission and distribution (T&D) network, with the aim of absorbing production capacity, reducing T&D losses and improving access to electricity by extending the distribution network.

A more complicated equation in the DRC?

However, the DRC is stagnating, despite the liberalisation of the electricity sector in 2014, putting an end to the monopoly of the Société nationale d’électricité (SNEL). The second largest country on the continent, with a surface area of 2.345 million km2 (just over 8 times the size of Gabon), the DRC has one of the lowest electrification rates on the continent.

Less than 10% of the Congolese population has access to electricity, 35% in urban areas (50% in Kinshasa) and less than 1% in rural areas. Paradoxically, the country has a hydroelectric potential of 100,000 MW according to the African Development Bank (AfDB). The former DR-Congolese president tried to unblock the 11,050 MW Inga III megaproject (supported by South Africa and Angola), entrusting it to a consortium of Chinese and Spanish companies.

But the project has been dormant since 2020. In the meantime, investors have turned their attention to other sources of renewable energy, notably solar power. This is the case of Canada’s SkyPower, which announced a 1,000 MW project in 2020, before opening up its capital in 2024 to the Africa Financement Corporation (AFC), hoping to accelerate its implementation.

The impact of metro-grids

At the same time, Nuru has opted for metro-grids powered by hybrid solar energy. This solution has been successfully deployed in the city of Goma in North Kivu, with the aim of electrifying 10 million people by 2030, by replicating this model in the cities of Kindu (Maniema) and Bunia (Ituri).

However, the progress made in the east of the DRC could be delayed by fighting between the regular army and the M23 (March 23 Movement) rebels, although Nuru’s co-founder and commercial director is reassuring and optimistic. Interviewed by Afrik21, Archip Lobo says he has “seen a real willingness on the part of the government, both diplomatically and militarily, to improve the security situation. These efforts are starting to bear fruit. All this is helping to give our investors confidence, with open communication between Nuru, the group of investors and the authorities on a daily basis”.

The rest of Central Africa should be just as optimistic if it is to rise to the challenge of electrification. It is the least electrified sub-region, with a rate of 23% in 2017. In 2019, West Africa, which is facing the same economic and security challenges, had a rate of 53%, according to the World Bank.


This blog is authored by Jean Marie Takouleu, a writer with Afrik21. It is originally published on Afrik21

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