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Key findings
  • Access: Defined as having an electric grid within reach, access exists for two-thirds (66%) of Africans but varies widely across the continent. Only 17% of Burundians and Copyright © Afrobarometer 2016 3 Photograph by Tharish [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons 25% of Burkinabé live in zones with an electric grid, compared to 100% of Mauritians and Egyptians. Access is most limited in rural areas.
  • Connection: Six in 10 Africans (60%) are actually connected to an electric grid, ranging from less than one in seven citizens in Burundi (11%), Malawi (12%), and Burkina Faso (14%) to universal coverage in Mauritius and Tunisia.
  • Reliability: Neither access nor connection guarantees lights, as even in some countries where most households are connected, very few have electricity that works “most of the time” or “always.” The most striking example is Nigeria, where 96% of respondents are connected, but only 18% of those connections work more than about half the time.
  • Government performance in providing reliable electricity: On average, only four in 10 Africans (41%) say their government is performing “fairly well” or “very well” in ensuring power. Approval rates range from just 7% in Madagascar to 91% in Mauritius. In twothirds of surveyed countries, majorities describe the government’s performance as “fairly bad” or “very bad.”

Rolling blackouts may make headlines; a complete lack of electricity infrastructure usually doesn’t. Both are part of Africa’s electricity deficit, a major obstacle to human and socioeconomic development with pernicious effects on health (think of clinics without lifesaving equipment and refrigerated drugs and vaccines), education, security, and business growth.

They are also targets of high-profile development initiatives, from the U.S.-led Power Africa initiative and Electrify Africa Act to the African Development Bank’s New Deal on Energy for Africa, the United Nations’ Sustainable Energy for All partnership, and national strategies for helping meet the seventh Sustainable Development Goal. As U.S. President Barack Obama said in launching Power Africa (U.S. Agency for International Development, 2013),

Access to electricity is fundamental to opportunity in this age. It‘s the light that children study by; the energy that allows an idea to be transformed into a real business. It’s the lifeline for families to meet their most basic needs. And it’s the connection that’s needed to plug Africa into the grid of the global economy. You’ve got to have power.

Millions of Africans don’t. Many others do, then don’t, then might – all in the same day. In its 2014/2015 surveys, Afrobarometer has documented the reach and quality of electrical connections through nearly 54,000 interviews in 36 African countries as well as direct observations in thousands of communities across the continent. Providing an experiential baseline for international and national efforts to develop adequate electricity infrastructure, survey findings suggest that such initiatives will need long-term commitments and deep pockets.

On average across the 36 countries, only four in 10 Africans enjoy a reliable power supply. While about two-thirds of Africans live in areas with access to an electric grid, in some countries seven in 10 citizens – and as many as nine in 10 in rural areas – do not. Actual household connections to the grid are somewhat lower (60% on average), and equally variable across countries.

Even households connected to the grid don’t necessarily have lights: On average, only 69% of connected households actually have electricity that works most or all of the time. In Nigeria, while 96% of households are connected, only 18% of these connections function more than about half the time. In Ghana, where “dumsor” (Akan for “off-on”) has become a household word, 87% of households are connected, but only 42% of those connections provide reliable power. Yet that’s still three times the rate of well-functioning connections in Guinea (12%).

Abel Oyuke

Abel previously served as the surveys manager for East Africa

Peter Halley Penar

Peter Halley Penar previously served as a research assistant for Afrobarometer.

Brian Howard

Brian is the head of publications at Afrobarometer