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In Sub-Saharan Africa, Most Workers Are Without Electricity

In Sub-Saharan Africa, Most Workers Are Without Electricity

by Bob Tortora and Magali Rheault

This is the second in a series of articles about power in sub-Saharan Africa. Part one revealed that those who have access to the power grid at home report higher well-being than those who use other sources of lighting. The next article will explore the reliability of power in the workplace in sub-Saharan Africa.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Most sub-Saharan Africans surveyed who say they work report having no electricity at their place of work in the last seven days. This lack of electricity in the workplace ranges from 92% in Mali and Niger to 12% in South Africa.

Power cuts in sub-Saharan Africa

In fact, employed South Africans are the only workers surveyed for which a majority say their workplace always has electricity. Still, about 3 in 10 South Africans who work say their workplace experienced power outages on some days.

While some businesses in sub-Saharan Africa depend on generators for their power needs, World Bank Enterprise Surveys show that it is far more expensive to rely on generators than being connected to the local power grid. In addition, according to the Enterprise Surveys, the use of generators applies to relatively large companies. Results from the Gallup surveys show that less than 5% of workers say their workplace always runs on a generator, although there is no indication about the size of their workplace.

Most Rural and Self-Employed Workers Are Off the Grid

A median of 62% of the rural adult population in surveyed countries have some type of work, compared with a median of 52% among urban adults. But lack of access to the power grid is especially acute for rural workers. This is noteworthy as agriculture is a key economic sector in many countries across the sub-continent and many farmers live at subsistence levels.

Workers in Rural Areas are without electricity

Self-employed individuals are by far the most likely in surveyed countries to say their place of work had no electricity. But even among those who work for an employer, significant proportions -- especially among part-time workers -- are off the power grid.

Self-employed less likely to have electricity at work

In keeping with the dearth of electrical coverage in rural areas, farmers and farm workers -- including those working in fishing and forestry -- are the most likely to lack access to electricity, while professional workers such as doctors and engineers are among the least likely. Still, a median of nearly one-half of professional workers say their place of employment had no electricity in the last seven days, similar to what sales workers and clerks report. Being off the electrical grid is slightly more prevalent among construction and transportation workers than among sales and professional workers.

9 in 10 farmers say their workplace had no electricity

While different professional activities make up the self-employed group such as in Cameroon and Senegal, it is important to note that in most countries surveyed, farmers represent a majority of people who say they are self-employed, especially in low-income countries, such as Mali and Niger.

Majorities of self-employed work in agriculture

Bottom Line

Majorities of workers across sub-Saharan Africa work without electricity. According to researchers at the Center for Global Development, poor infrastructure -- in terms of electricity and roads -- represents significant challenges for economic development in the region. In addition, the Gallup findings show that while being off the grid varies across types of professional activities, no business sector is immune to it.

As agriculture remains an important economic activity in most sub-Saharan African countries, most farmers and those working in natural resources activities experience serious obstacles to growing their activities beyond subsistence level. In the coming decades, it will be important to harness alternative sources of power, such as solar and biofuels, to provide businesses with the basic infrastructure they need to be successful, short of building a traditional electric grid, especially in rural areas.

For complete data sets or custom research from the more than 150 countries Gallup continually surveys, please contact or call 202.715.3030.

Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face interviews with 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted in 2010 in Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error ranges from ±3.4 percentage points to ±4.0 percentage points. The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup's Country Data Set details.

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