Tag Archives: Municipal Governance

Sub Saharan African local government and SDG 7 – is there a link?

Megan Euston-Brown from SEA writes on the importance of considering local government spheres in sustainable energy development in light of the recent UN Sustainable Development Goals 7.

Building an urban energy picture for Sub Saharan Africa (SSA) is a relatively new endeavour, but policy makers would do well to take heed of the work underway [1]. The emerging picture indicates that current levels of energy consumption in the urban areas of SSA is proportionally higher than population and GDP [2]. These areas represent dense nodes of energy consumption. Africa’s population is expected to nearly double from 2010 to 2040 with over 50% of population urbanized by 2040 (AfDB 2011). Thus by 2040 it is likely that well over 50% of the energy consumed in the region will be consumed within urban areas. Strategies to address energy challenges – notably those contained within SDG 7 relating to the efficient deployment of clean energy and energy access for all – must therefore be rooted in an understanding of the end uses of energy in these localities for effective delivery.


Analyses of the end uses of energy consumption in urban SSA generally indicate the overwhelming predominance of the transport sector. Residential and commercial sectors follow as prominent demands. Cooking, water heating, lighting and space cooling are high end use applications. Industrial sector energy consumption is of course critical to the economy, but is generally a relatively small part of the urban energy picture (either through low levels of industrialisation or energy intensive heavy industries lying outside municipal boundaries).

Spatial form and transport infrastructure are strong drivers of urban transport energy demand. Meeting the ‘low carbon’ challenge in SSA will depend on zoning and settlement patterns (functional densities), along with transport infrastructure, that enables, continues to prioritise and greatly improve, public modalities. These approaches will also build greater social inclusion and mobility.

The high share of space heating, ventilation and lighting end uses of total urban energy demand points to the significant role of the built environment in urban end use energy consumption.

These drivers of energy demand are areas that intersect strongly with local government functions and would not be addressed through a traditional supply side energy policy [3]. Understanding the local mandate in this regard will be important in meeting national and global sustainable energy targets.


Urban highway in Ghana. Image: Dennis Mokoala)

The goal of access to modern, safe energy sources is predominantly a national supply-side concern. However, with the growth of decentralised systems (and indeed household or business unit scale systems being increasingly viable) local government may have a growing role in this area. In addition an energy services approach that supplements energy supply with services such as solar water heating, or efficiency technologies (e.g. LED lighting), may draw in local government as the traditionally mandated service delivery locus of government.

An analysis of the mandate of local government with regard to sustainable energy development across Ghana, South Africa and Uganda indicates:

  1. National constitutional objectives provide a strong mandate for sustainable development, environmental protection and energy access and local government would need to interpret their functions through this constitutional ‘lens’;
  2. Knowing the impact of a fossil fuel business-as-usual trajectory on local and global environments, local government would be constitutionally obliged to undertake their activities in a manner that supports a move towards a lower carbon energy future;
  3. Infrastructure and service delivery would need to support the national commitments to energy access for all;
  4. Decentralisation of powers and functions to local government is a principle across the three countries reviewed, but the degree of devolution of powers differs and will affect the ability of local government to proactively engage in new approaches;
  5. Existing functional areas where local government may have a strong influence in supporting national and global SDG 7 (sustainable energy) targets include: municipal facilities and operations, basic services (water, sanitation, and in some instances energy/electricity) and service infrastructure, land use planning (zoning and development planning approval processes), urban roads and public transport services and building control.
  6. Where local government has a strong service delivery function it is well placed to be a site of delivery for household energy services and to play a role in facilitating embedded generation. New technologies may mean that smaller, decentralised electricity systems offer greater resilience and cost effectiveness over large systems in the face of rapid demand growth. These emerging areas will require policy development and support.

In practice the ability of local government to respond to these mandates is constrained by the slow or partial implementation of administrative and fiscal decentralisation in the region. Political support of longer-term sustainable urban development pathways is vital. Experience in South Africa suggests that the process is dynamic and iterative: as experience, knowledge and capacity develops locally in relation to sustainable energy functions, so the national policy arena begins to engage with this. Thus, while international programmes and national policy would do well to engage local government towards meeting SDG 7, local government also needs to proactively build its own capacity to step into the space.

[1] In South Africa this work has been underway since 2003; SAMSET is pioneering such work in Ghana and in Uganda and the World Bank’s ESMAP has explored this area in Ghana, Ethiopia and Kenya. SAMSET is also undertaking a continent-wide urban energy futures model.

[2] Working Paper: An exploration of the sustainable energy mandate at the local government level in Sub-Saharan Africa, with a focus on Ghana, South Africa and Uganda. Euston-Brown, Bawakyillenuo, Ndibwambi and Agbelie (2015).

[3] Noting that not all drivers of energy demand intersect with local government functions, for example, increasing income will drive a shift to energy intensive private transport; and that population and economic growth will always be the overarching drivers of demand.


Energy and Sustainable Urban Development CPD Course – Day 5

This blog is part of a series on the Energy and Sustainable Urban Development in Africa workshop, 17 – 21 November, 2014, University of Cape Town. For more details on the purpose of the workshop, see this blog.

Day 5 of the continuing professional development course further developed the theme of policy and governance, and the role of local government, in energy planning, as well as addressing financing for local government energy interventions.

The morning sessions once again highlighted the intersectionality of energy with every discipline of local government, and the need for whole-system approaches to energy transitions, with appropriate solutions at all levels of government and governance. Sarah Ward from the City of Cape Town Energy & Climate Change Unit t presented on the development of South African national and municipal energy policy in the last 20 years, and the fact that cities in the future must help to drive energy policy, rather than ‘receiving’ policy from a national level. Knowledge of local contexts can help local authorities to drive their agenda for the green economy, rather than resorting to a ‘tick-the-boxes’ approach.

CPD blog day 5 imageOne-stop sanitation services building in Kasese, Uganda. Image: John Behangaana

SAMSET project municipal partner John Behangaana, Town Clerk of Kasese Municipality in Uganda, presented on the vision of Kasese for energy transitions, and projects to date in the municipality. This highlighted the importance of partnerships for implementation of energy projects, as Kasese has partner successfully with other municipalities, companies and organisations to improve sanitation and electricity supply in the municipality. These include Aalborg and Frederikshavn municipalities in Denmark for ‘one-stop sanitation shop’ development across the urban area of Kasese, as well as the WWF and System Teknik A/S for the Kayanja Solar Hub project, providing solar lighting and micro-grid services for off-grid households.

Roland Hunter, in his capacity as ex-Chief Financial Officer of the City of Johannesburg, presented on municipality financing in Sub-Saharan African and its implications for energy transitions. City finance can broadly be split into operating revenues and capital finance sources. Despite huge GDP growth in a number of Sub-Saharan African cities, with the exception of South Africa city spending on municipal operations as a proportion of GDP remains very low. This is often a result of a weakness in revenue administration: without sufficient revenue collection, spending cannot increase. This leads to a degradation of services, and then further unwillingness to pay among revenue sources (taxes, licensing etc.). This so-called ‘vicious spiral of performance decline’ is indicative of many Sub-Saharan African cities. Through building tax payer support, increasing revenue collection strength and enforcement, and improving service quality through investment and resourcing, this can be turned around. Two broad challenges concluded the presentation – the local revenue relationship in municipalities, and the assigned revenue powers to municipalities from national government. Implications in the energy sector are widespread, including a lack of infrastructure financing capacity as a result of this, leading to a reduction in decision making powers in the sector, as well as the strength of national agencies for energy in many Sub-Saharan African countries.

Graph day 5 cpd roland hunter

City billing as a percentage of city spending as of 2012 for selected African cities. Source: Hunter van Ryneveld (Pty) Ltd

The end of day five saw a closing address from Professor Daniel Irurah of the University of Witswatersrand, bringing together the ideas from across the week that urban energy transitions are a necessity in the coming period, if rapid urbanisation and energy consumption increases are to be addressed in a sustainable manner. Local approaches for local solutions, considering whole-system approaches in energy transitions, the importance of stakeholder engagement and participatory planning, and strengthening governance and the role of municipal government in energy transitions, were all highlighted as key factors in moving forward.

cpd blog day 5 cartoon image

One of a series of cartoons produced for the Energy and Sustainable Urban Development course, highlighting the role cities can play in driving energy transitions in developing countries.

“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