Is power supply a priority for African people?

Electricity is an important problem, according to surveyed citizens, though not their most important problem. When asked to cite “the most important problems facing this country that government should address,” 13% of respondents cite electricity as one of their top three priorities. This places electricity at No. 11 on the list of problems, far behind unemployment (38%) and health (32%) but ahead of corruption, housing, and political violence (Figure 1).


In some countries, however, electricity stands out as a top priority, including Guinea (where 33% cite it as one of the three most important problems), Nigeria (32%), Ghana (31%), and Benin (28%) (Figure 2). Along with Lesotho (23%) and São Tomé and Principe (21%), these countries place electricity supply among their five most frequently cited problems. Similarly, on a question about priorities for increased government spending, citizens in Lesotho (36%), Nigeria (28%), Benin (25%), Ghana (25%), South Africa (24%), and Guinea (23%) are most likely to rate electricity as their first or second choice (not shown). (For details on top problems and investment priorities, please see Afrobarometer Dispatch No. 67, “Where to start? Aligning Sustainable Development Goals with citizen priorities,” available at


Power supply and poverty

Survey findings related to electricity confirm previous analysis of Afrobarometer data demonstrating a strong link between poverty and access to basic services (Mattes, Dulani, & Gyimah-Boadi, 2016; Mitullah, Samson, Wambua, & Balongo, 2016; Mattes, Dulani, & Logan, 2013; Logan, 2014).


Afrobarometer data describe “lived poverty” based on how often people go without basic necessities: enough food, enough clean water, needed medicines or medical care, enough fuel for cooking, and a cash income. The frequency of going without enough to eat is a particularly good proxy for overall household experience of poverty. In a household without electricity, members are significantly more likely to go without enough food. For example, where an electric grid is available, 37% went without enough food at least once during the previous year; where no grid is present, the proportion who experienced hunger rises to 60% (see infographic above). Comparable patterns hold for the relationship of other basic services to hunger (Mitullah, Samson, Wambua, & Balongo, 2016). (…)

Further research may clarify whether having electricity reduces lived poverty or poverty reduces the ability to obtain reliable electricity – or whether the two operate in a selfreinforcing vicious circle. But for infrastructure planners, the message is clear that the poor should be a priority target for provision of electricity.


About Afrobarometer

Afrobarometer is a pan-African, non-partisan research network that conducts public attitude surveys on democracy, governance, economic conditions, and related issues across more than 30 countries in Africa. After five rounds of surveys between 1999 and 2013, findings from Round 6 surveys (2014/2015) are currently being disseminated. Afrobarometer conducts face-to-face interviews in the language of the respondent’s choice with nationally representative samples that yield country-level results with margins of error of +/-2% (for samples of 2,400) or +/3% (for samples of 1,200) at a 95% confidence level.


Excerpt of: Off-grid or ‘off-on’: Lack of access, unreliable electricity supply still plague majority of Africans, ed. by Afrobarometer, December 2017.


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