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Powering Africa a Challenge, but Could Charge Well-Being

Powering Africa a Challenge, but Could Charge Well-Being

by Bob Tortora

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Gallup surveys in 26 sub-Saharan African countries in 2012 suggest U.S. President Barack Obama's new initiative to double access to electric power in Africa will be difficult to implement, particularly given the geographic distribution of households without power. About 50% of all households in these 26 countries mainly get their light from power lines, but access varies dramatically by country.


During his recent visit to sub-Saharan Africa, Obama unveiled the Power Africa initiative, vowing to help bring "light where there is currently darkness." The initiative's first phase includes a $7 billion U.S. investment to bring access to at least 20 million new households and businesses in six countries -- Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, Liberia, and Kenya -- in the next five years.

An estimated 50% of households in these 26 countries use power from an electric line (48%) or solar panels or solar torches (2%) as their main source of light. Note that this estimate does not quantify how long these households have power nor does it discuss providing power to businesses.

In addition, 28% of households use a kerosene or fuel lamp as the main source of light, with the remaining 22% using flashlights (7%), candles (6%), generators (4%), or batteries/car batteries (3%) and other sources such as firewood and gas lamps. So about 58 million households use a "sustainable" source for the main household light, while about as many households use sources that are not sustainable such as kerosene or fuel lamps, flashlights, candles, and others.

Bringing power to sub-Saharan Africa is further complicated by the nature of the geography of the households without power. About 11% of the households in the 26 countries are located on farms, about 69% are located in a small village or town, and 20% are located in a medium or large city or suburb of a medium of large city. As urbanization increases, the percentage of households without power from an electric line or solar panel decreases.


Electricity Related to Well-Being

Bringing power to sub-Saharan Africans across all geographies is a challenge, but Gallup continues to find a positive relationship between access to power and people's well-being -- even after accounting for country, urbanization levels, and household income -- that suggests the investment is well worth it.

Adults in the 26 sub-Saharan Africa countries who do not have access to electric or solar power rate their current lives a median of 4.1 or 4.2 on a ladder scale with steps numbered zero to 10. Those who mainly light their homes with electricity from power lines or solar panels rate their lives much more positively.


Life evaluations increase at each urbanization level, going from a median rating of 4.1 when on a farm without electric or solar power or living in a small village or town to 4.4 and 4.5, respectively. For those in a medium of large city the life evaluation of those with electric power or solar power is 4.8, compared with 4.2 for those without electric or solar power.

Bottom Line

Obama's Power Africa initiative will be difficult to implement, especially because so many of the households without light from power lines or solar are in rural sub-Saharan Africa. Similar to how mobile phones have enabled sub-Saharan Africans to avoid the necessity to build telephone infrastructure, the Power Africa initiative will most likely have to rely on technologies such as solar to reach its goal. It may also indirectly increase well-being among these household members.

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

Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face interviews with approximately 1,000 adults (2,000 interviews in Nigeria), aged 15 and older, conducted between February and December 2012 in each country.

The margin of error ranges from ±3 percentage points to ±8 percentage points for the percentage of households having power lines or solar as their main source of light at the country level. The margin of error reflects the influence of stratification and cluster sampling. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of surveys.

The data from four (Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and Tanzania) of the six countries identified in the Power Africa initiative indicate about 20 million households do not use power from electric line as the main source of light.

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

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