Tag Archives: Africa

Ghana’s US$498m Power Compact Deal with the United States

Dr Simon Bawakyillenuo of the University of Ghana ISSER recently blogged about the signing of the second Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact (MCC), the Ghana Power Compact, worth US$498 million, for the Institution of Development Studies Globalisation and Development Blog. The full article can be found at: http://www.globalisationanddevelopment.com/2014/08/will-ghanas-498-power-compact-deal-with.html



Why Should I Invest, It Doesn’t Produce Extra Income?

Simon Batchelor from Gamos offers his thoughts on energy investment and the concept of “temporariness”.

In his last blog, my colleague Mark Borchers from Sustainable Energy Africa (SEA), highlighted some points from a new book, Africa’s Urban Revolution

The point about attitude to living in a city and investment particular caught my eye.  He said:- “In many urban areas a significant proportion of the population regard their homes as elsewhere, and they subsist in the town or city and send remittances back to their homes, where their heart remains. So while they are present in the city, they are not investing in it. It is unclear what this does to the local economy and the tax base and service delivery demands on municipalities.”

It reminded me of a report I read on the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), created by the International Housing Coalition back in 2007.   MCC at that time was an initiative of US foreign Assistance, and was championing a new approach to development assistance.  They were (I have no idea whether they still are – perhaps someone could help me in the comments section), very focused on Economic Rate of Returns (ERRs) i.e. the increases in income or value added as a result of a project.  The report focused on housing projects and asked the question whether the benefit of improved housing in urban situations could truly be measured by increases in income?    In the same way that the extract from the book suggests that people may not invest in their housing and ‘situation’ because it doesn’t necessarily generate more income for them (preferring presumably to send home remittances that support schooling and agricultural production); so too in this report, the donors and development assistance might also question investment because it doesn’t give an  immediate ‘extra income’ return.

They note that “The ‘benefits’ of well-designed urban and shelter reforms can have repercussions not only on the incomes of the individuals served, but also on the larger economy. There are large positive externalities to improved shelter in terms of health and life expectancy.”  However, the report argued – these benefits may not be captured in traditionally calculated ERRs.  They say “Urban shelter and infrastructure investments may indeed have direct economic benefits such as an increase in the rental value of housing, significant improvements in health, or increases in the productive capacity of the household……investments in urban areas can make non-trivial contributions to economic growth from a macro-economic perspective by adding to productive capacity of the city as a whole. Such benefits are also virtually impossible to enter in an ERR calculation.” (My emphasis).

Isnt this the same calculation those families and households are making?  They know instinctively that if they improve their urban situation, they will have a better quality of life and maybe increase their productive capacity in the longer term – but they also calculate that it won’t directly increase their income, and any ‘investment’ in their housing (or energy demand) has such a long return life (and they might not be around that long), that it is better to send money home to invest in the family’s rural ‘shamba’ or plot.   Indeed, what is interesting to me is that the MCC came up with the same conclusion.  The report says that “in practice many of the projects that have been approved are rural projects. These projects have met MCC’s ERR criteria.”

Mark seems to have highlighted an important point about short term thinking or ‘temporariness’ – something we need to keep in mind as we explore energy investments in urban areas as a part of SAMSET.

SAMSET News – June 2014 – Second Network Meeting

Xavier Lemaire from UCL summarises the second SAMSET Network Meeting.

The second SAMSET network meeting took place in Ghana on the 14-16 May 2014. During this meeting, representatives from each municipality partner of the project have described the situation of their town and their expectations for this research-action project.

The six African municipalities – Cape Town and Polokwane (South Africa), Kasese and Jinja (Uganda), Ga East and Awutu Senya East (Ghana) – tend to face considerable difficulties to exert control on land use due to important internal and international migration combined with an important internal population growth rate.

Parnter Municipalities Map

In all countries, power supply does not cope with the demand and power cuts can be frequent which raises the question of the effectiveness of demand-side management policies; some municipalities also face constraints in terms of supply of water which will become even more acute in the near future; waste management can be an important unresolved issue; traffic congestion is also widespread due to the lack of public transport and cannot be solved by just implementing more infrastructure.

It was also emphasized during this meeting how data used by municipalities were inaccurate and misleading because of the importance of the informal sector, and that municipalities were always behind the fast changing situation on the ground. With yearly budgets planned according to the situation at a given time, but implemented with delays, flexibility in planning procedures was needed to allow the taking into account of changes that have occurred in the recent past, and not just to factor the growth rate of the municipality.

It has been underlined that data to be collected for the research did not need to be complete at the beginning of the project, because data collection was an on-going process and that data will get better once they have been started to be collected.

Each of the municipalities have taken the opportunity of this meeting to detail their specific issues and how they try to deal with them, particularly detailing and starting to compare their approach in terms of planning and electrification. After these first exchanges, further network meetings will help to design and implement effective strategies.


Members of the SAMSET Team in Ghana, May 2014

“Africa’s Urban Revolution” and African Urban Challenges

Mark Borchers on the launch of a new book, “Africa’s Urban Revolution”, the insights gained from the launch, and their relevance to the SAMSET project.

I was at the launch of the book Africa’s Urban Revolution recently. It has contributions from various authors associated with the African Centre for Cities (ACC) at the University of Cape Town, and covers a range of topics. Even though it does not have an energy focus, I found both the content of the book (tho I have just read a bit of it so far) and the discussions at the launch very interesting for the work on sustainable urban energy transitions which we are engaged in.

The presenters, Edgar Pieterse (director of the ACC) and Caroline Wanjiku Khato (School of Architecture and Planning at the University of Witwatersrand) emphasised that urbanisation in Africa is an issue of global concern given the pace at which it is occurring and the severe lack of capacity of authorities to meet the associated service demands. This we know, but I found it interesting that mainstream academia knows it too! In addition, African urbanisation is distinct from any other such process elsewhere in the world, often rendering existing approaches to urbanisation issues not useful. In no particular order, the following challenges struck me as potentially relevant:

– In many urban areas a significant proportion of the population regard their homes as elsewhere, and they subsist in the town or city and send remittances back to their homes, where their heart remains. So while they are present in the city, they are not investing in it. It is unclear what this does to the local economy and the tax base and service delivery demands on municipalities.
– In the absence of municipal capacity, informal social and economic systems can be quite strong, for example including land registers and social support systems, often via the church. Given that official capacity is unlikely to change drastically in the medium-term, such ingenuity and creativity may be one of the foundations for sustainable urbanisation in Africa rather than relying on more formal structures and systems.
– The urban agenda is often not high on national government’s priority list, sometimes because opposition parties are often able to first gain support in bigger urban areas, thus not endearing such to the ruling party. In one case, national government apparently effectively set up a department to run the capital city, thus ‘hollowing out’ the politically distinct local government’s power.
– Informality is sometimes regarded as an aberration to be rid of by national government. One presenter described how he was invited to the African Development Bank forum for minister’s in 2006, where urban issues were on the agenda for the first time (!). One Housing Minister, who had recently displaced half a million informal dwellers in their capital city through demolishing their settlements, received a standing ovation when he justified this act on the basis of ‘restoring the dignity’ of the city. So the plight of the poor in informal settlements may not always receive enthusiastic national support.

The above snippets obviously only present a partial picture, but some of them are useful in flagging that different players can have very different perspectives on issues, and we need to be sensitive to these. I know in the South African context all of the above are relevant to a greater or lesser degree in different places.

There’s lots more useful information in the book if you are interested.

Book information: Africa’s Urban Revolution. Edited by Susan Parnell and Edgar Pieterse of the University of Cape Town African Centre for Cities. Published by UCT Press in 2014. ISBN: 978 177582 076 5

Urban Energy Transitions – Uganda

Prof. Simon Marvin from Durham University reports on the Durham SAMSET team’s recent work in Uganda.

During March we undertook initial fieldwork in Kampala, Uganda as part of our work on developing a knowledge exchange framework for urban energy transitions in African cities [1]. The work had three main components. i): a ‘netmapping’ exercise to review the institutional landscape of the energy sector with local and national policy makers. ii) meetings with agents of local energy transitions from the NGO and private sector. iii) And dialogue with our Uganda partners on understanding the case study cities and sensitising the knowledge exchange framework to the local context. Three sets of issues emerged that will be important in shaping our future work programme in SAMSET

Restricted Capacity of Municipalities to Shape Energy Transitions

We met the Municipal Town Clerks – the equivalent of a Chief executive in UK – from our two case study cities.  These municipalities have few formal responsibilities for energy issues with policy making priorities and capacity being exercised at a national level – through the energy ministry and the actions of an unbundled energy system of generation, transmission and distribution. Consequently, there was very limited capacity in the local authority to focus on energy issues – with only one member of staff employed to deal with all environmental issues – including working on forests, wastewater etc.  While municipalities were concerned about a range of energy issues in their cities including high costs, disruption, health and air quality plus access of households to formal energy system  – there are few formal mechanisms for them to interact with, or shape, the energy system.

By-passing Municipal and National Context

Mapping the urban energyscape revealed a wide range of local energy initiatives around lighting, fuel-efficient stoves and a range of decentralised technologies.  But these responses were strongly dependent on the actions of external intermediaries – NGOs and private companies  – who worked with local households and community-based organisations to develop local energy initiatives.  What was striking about these was the ways in which these responses tended to connect to international financial mechanisms, agencies and particular national contexts involving private companies, universities and NGOs to a particular local context – household, sewage works etc. There was strong sense that these initiatives largely by-passed the municipal and national contexts within which they were inserted according to external priorities – a form of transnational governance of local energy.

“District Champion” Energy Response.

While the energyscape was incredibly fragmented there was one example of an energy strategy at a municipal scale in Kasese that WWF has chosen as the “ Champion District”[2].  The imitative involves working with a cross-sectoral partnership designed to accelerate energy access for off grid communities through cooking and lighting. A number of different pathways are being experimented with including working with not-for profit NGOs and commercial models.  A private solar provider had report significant up lift in monthly solar installations from 2 up to 400 a month after the scheme provided enhanced access to the market through CBOs.  In contrast an efficient stove NGO reported that the scheme had been less successful in providing access to households.

Solar Lighting in Kasese

Solar lighting in Kasese © WWF-Norge/Will Boase

[1] http://samsetproject.net

[2] http://wwf.panda.org/who_we_are/wwf_offices/uganda/

Telling Our Own Sustainability Stories

Melusile Ndlovu from SEA offers his thoughts on the importance on relating sustainability and climate change issues to everyday experiences.

Sustainability discussions or agenda (for lack of a better word) can be far removed from many people’s daily realities at times. This dawned on me when I was listening to “educated” colleagues, in a bar, talking about the climate change phenomena. Needless to say my friend, a climate change practitioner, in his attempt to drive the point home kept on referring to polar bears, melting ice caps, and all the humdrum stuff that you see on news channels. However, this seemed far removed from everyone’s day-to-day existence.

I once had an interesting discussion with my grandmother that somehow changed my thinking around sustainability and climate change specifically. Briefly about my granny; she lives deep in rural Zimbabwe, I say deep because if she wants to visit the nearest town she has to walk quite a long distance to get to the “nearest” bus station. That is to catch the only bus that passes through her village once a day very early in the morning around 4am. Our discussion might have started off on what the villagers expected to harvest from their fields. She mourned the shift in seasons that she felt was happening and could affect their crop outputs. You see, rain is very important to them as small-scale subsistence farmers with no access to complex irrigation systems. Her argument was that there is something happening with our climate, we didn’t put a name to “this something”. I tried arguing that what they were experiencing might be one of the normal climatic cycles (a drought year). But who am I to argue with an old lady who has seen more drought years than I? She went on to give me details of the past drought years they had lived through and that what is happening now is different from what she had experienced before. Seeing that I was losing the argument, I asked her if she has been to a climate change workshop in the village. Her response was that she had never been to one and hadn’t been listening to radio discussions on this topic. She was adamant that she knew what she was talking about (that “something”).

My point is that while the topic of climate change and energy in cities is gaining resonance, the question might be how to tell our stories in ways that resonate with a broader populace given that most people in cities have many other things to worry about and climate change is something that might be far removed from them. Municipal officials might feel this is not an important issue to them as they are faced with other service delivery issues. And in some cases this might be seen as an unfunded mandate but the question still remains on how to communicate the sustainability message in a way that resonates with most people. Therefore, the Samset project might have to find hooks within our partner municipalities i.e. identify the most pressing issues within a given locale and try to locate linkages with energy and sustainability.

The Challenges of Low Carbon Urban Development

Mark Borchers from SEA comments on the C40 City Mayors Summit, held in Johannesburg in February.

There are plenty of ideas about low carbon urban development. These tend to circulate in policy documents, reviews and conference presentations. The challenge is to take these ideas and let them take root and gain life in the messy engine rooms of cities where the aircon may have been broken for many months, the average qualification basic, a receptionist painting their nails, the engineer gone and the finance officer unwilling to do anything new. It may take 3 months just to appoint a staff member; up to six months to issue a tender and appoint a contractor. I have heard of instances where money for retrofit of public lighting ended up paying staff salaries; and funds for solar water heating installation could not be spent as there was no engineer to sign off that the houses could structurally bear the load.

Scratch the surface, however, and there is also a wealth of experience, irreplaceable on-ground technical knowledge and institutional memory. I have also experienced, across almost every municipality in South Africa at least, a massive commitment to meet the environmental challenges facing us.

In February city leaders met in Johannesburg for the C40 City Mayors Summit. Political analysts Richard Calland and Jerome van Rooij (‘African cities need to work together’) posed the question: will African cities be able to ‘catch the wave’ of cities being “where it’s at” with regard to sustainable development and green-growth, given their fiscal and political/legal limitations? Not without a major gearing up, they conclude.

SAMSET aims to address this, following a model that has been enormously successful in South Africa to date: taking an sustainable energy/urban development idea, working on it hand in hand with city staff; when it hits a snarl-up, deepening the investigation, exploring a number of possibilities and moving closer to a solution – a programme of real intervention. As the work happens, the finance begins to flow in, the capacity to do the work expands, new offices develop and the institution reconfigures itself. Incremental, but potentially powerful.