Shango Unchained? State In(Capacity), Urban Bias, and the Power Africa Initiative

Tom Brower


In the midst of an energy crisis, sub-Saharan Africa is a global outlier with respect to power infrastructure and is literally without power. Nearly 600 million Africans—roughly two-thirds of the region—currently lack access to consistent, reliable, and affordable electricity, constituting a significant barrier to economic and social development, the deprivation of a number of socio-economic rights, and a cause of environmental degradation. The Power Africa Initiative, announced in June 2013, seeks to double access to power in sub-Saharan Africa over the next five years through an innovative public-private partnership between United States governmental agencies, private sector energy and infrastructure firms, and six African governments. This paper fills a gap in both the legal and policy literatures by identifying the implementation challenges to Power Africa and the broader theoretical question of the institutional and regulatory obstacles to power sector reform and development in sub-Saharan Africa. Drawing on the political economy and international development literatures, this paper contends that low state capacity and the presence of urban bias in African states represent significant implementation challenges to Power Africa. Specifically, weak and incapacitated state apparatuses and a lack of state autonomy vis-à-vis urban elites have created centralized hybrid power markets and regulatory frameworks that are systematically biased against the extension of electricity into rural areas and have marginalized independent power producers (IPPs) and potential rural consumers. Ultimately, without additional institutional and regulatory reforms, the core goal of Power Africa—rural electrification—will be significantly limited by a lack of commercial sustainability for independent power projects and a lack of consumer affordability to access power.

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ISSN 2179-8338 (impresso) - ISSN 2236-1677 (on-line)

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