Have power sector reforms increased access to electricity among the poor in East Africa?
This article focuses on power sector reforms in East Africa and attempts to assess their impact on the poor. Specifically, the article examines the extent to which the amendment of the Electricity Act – a key pillar of power sector reform – has influenced the electrification of the poor. The article is based on the case-studies of Kenya and Uganda undertaken under the auspices of the Global Network on Energy for Sustainable Development's “Energy Access” Working Group. Poverty levels in the East African sub-region are very high, particularly in the rural areas. For instance, in both Kenya and Uganda, virtually the entire (100 %)1 1Stated as 100%, as the few individuals with incomes higher than US$2/day constitute a tiny total that adds up to a fraction of a decimal point (effectively, a rounding error). rural population falls under the US$2 per capita per day poverty threshold. Consequently, the rural population has been used as a proxy for the poor in this article. This article reveals that only 1 % of the rural households in Kenya and Uganda has access to electricity – implying that very few of the poor are electrified. The two case-studies demonstrate key shortfalls in the provision of electricity to the poor. First and foremost, the amended Electricity Acts do not sufficiently address the issue of the electrification of the poor (e.g., proposing new and innovative initiatives that would increase electrification of the poor). Secondly, the utilities, Ministries of Energy and regulatory agencies make no attempt to track electrification of the poor. Thirdly, the sequence of power sector reform measures appears to have been detrimental to electrification of the poor. In both countries, rural electrification was only addressed at the end of the reform process. Fourthly, reforms also appear to have failed to link rural electrification to the overall strategy of improving the performance of the electricity industry. Lastly, current rural electrification targets are very low and would, within the next decade, leave well over 80 % of the rural population with no electrification even if the set targets are realized. The article concludes that although some of the reforms have had some beneficial impacts on the region's electricity industry, the analysis presented demonstrates that they have not led to significant electrification of the poor. As a result, only a comprehensive transformation of ongoing power sector reforms could lead to greater electrification of the poor. The article ends with some suggestions on how reforms could be amended to ensure greater access to electricity among the poor in East Africa.