Electricity hampers Africa’s ICT use

By Issa Sikiti da Silva, in Abidjan, Ivory Coast

From Dakar to Bamako, Abidjan, Kinshasa and Brazzaville and other African cities, the instability and inconsistency of electricity supply is mind-boggling, and its consequences of the continent’s information and communications technologies (ICTs) are devastating.

If big companies are well-equipped to carry on with their activities when load-shedding and black-outs come knocking on their doors, small tech entrepreneurs – under-funded and struggling – are not so lucky.

Those who thought Dakar was the worst in terms of black-outs and load-shedding have not been to Bamako or Kinshasa to find how serious the problem of power is in a continent trapped in a cycle of empty promises, and unable to practice what its leaders preach.

Honoré Yao, a manager at a mobile transfer money outlet in the city of Abidjan, told Biztechafrica: “It’s still early in the morning and power goes off just like that, and I’m wondering when it’s going to come back. This is really frustrating. Look at the customers’ queue.”

In Bamako, internet café owner Karim Diallo sings the same song: “These days it’s worse. Almost every day, power goes off every two hours, and only comes back maybe after three to four hours. Month-end you have to pay rent and employees’ wages. This month, we have  not worked that much due to black-outs. Electricity is really killing us, we are not making a lot of money to buy ourselves a generator, that’s why we have to rely on the government’s power.”

Gaston Nzinga, a Congolese statistics and IT teacher, who recently moved to Ivory Coast to seek a better life describes the power supply in DRC as Africa’s worst.

“I used to teach IT in Kinshasa, and sometimes for the whole week there was no power at that school, meaning computers stood silent and untouched. What kind of a country is that? You become worried about your students’ future.”

Like many schools across Africa, Gaston’s school did not have a generator, let alone toilets, safe drinking water, and almost 100 students shared one old computer.

Power outages and lack of affordable renewable energy alternatives are threatening to derail Africa's technological progress, the Uniwill Group Limited said, adding that the question of electricity has dominated discussions on how technology can be used to spur economic growth on the continent. 

Uniwill’s business activities include education, import-export, overseas tendering and international travelling.

Early this year, experts meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, unanimously identified electricity as the biggest challenge facing ICT expansion in Africa.

Decades of under-investment, lack of political will and corruption in the sector are said to have left the continent with an outdated, deteriorating infrastructure struggling to cope with higher demands as the economy grows and the population increases.

UK energy expert Nigel Blackaby told Biztechafrica: “Until African countries build more interconnections between their systems, they are forced to rely on their own resources, which all too frequently prove to be inadequate.”

A couple of African governments have embarked on major power projects, but it will be years before these investments start to bear fruit.

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