How electricity infrastructure reaches rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa matters. Two-thirds of the population of this 46-nation region live without reliable electricity. The consequences are real. At the household level, children in a growing number of countries are required to pass computer competency exams to advance to middle school or high school. Keeping cellphones charged is a critical means of facilitating basic commerce and maintaining business and social networks. At the national level, under-resourced Interior Ministries of most African governments struggle to properly register a maze of inadequate state utilities, NGO’s, and private energy companies – let alone regulate or coordinate their efforts. Citizens without energy alternatives are consuming the final forest reserves of a number of countries. And on the world stage, rural energy projects have become an important tool in the struggle for soft-power dominance across the African continent. At the end of 2018 the Trump administration tasked USAID with making multinational energy corporations the lead actors in African energy programs; China, meanwhile, has placed its emphasis on massive state-sponsored hydroelectric and other macro-infrastructure projects. The result is a bewildering landscape in which the need is great and the stakes are high.
This task force seeks to create realistic policy recommendations and best practice guidelines for energy-focused NGOs working at multiple scales to navigate this difficult terrain. Although the Task Force will look continent-wide, we will use Ghana as a principle case study. To be effective, our Task Force must avoid a mistake common to international policy makers and practitioners engaging in African issues: assuming Africa to be a tabula rasa, a generic and undifferentiated clean slate. Teaching Assistant Francis Abugbilla will therefore play an important advisory role for this Task Force. Francis has worked for several years with the village of Kpantarigo in Ghana’s northeast on the kind of micro-level energy project that many NGOs argue must be “scaled up” across the continent. But these efforts inevitably run into challenges created by local village histories and by global superpower maneuvering. To create effective policy, students need to learn to recognize the importance of these overlapping spheres. As the Task Force TA, Francis will serve as a mentor to the group, drawing not only on his own experience with the realities of working on energy provision in rural Ghana, but will help broker access to local, national and international stake-holders able to dialogue with the students. Our goal will be a set of policy recommendations that takes seriously the mutually impacting local, national and international forces that shape how energy infrastructure reaches rural Africa.