Grow, Prosper, Electrifyingly

Electricity provision has never been an issue Ethiopia has been able to solve. And with the inclusion of more power consuming projects, like the Industrial Parks in different parts of the country, the problem is unlikely to abate soon. But in discussing the shortage of electricity, it is critical to note that there are those who have no access to it, to begin with. Rural electrification projects are just as essential to the country's development goals, by way of improving domestic resource mobilisation and creating job opportunities, as most of the government's economic agendas, if not more.

Believe it or not, there was a general election 60 years ago, for the members of the Chamber of Deputies in the lower house of the then parliament.

Candidates, it was said, would rush to promise all kinds of projects that ensure basic services for their respective constituents. They would request townsfolk to sign applications in the form of cost-sharing, as a measure of making sure that there are enough customers for the projects to go ahead. For an agrarian economy like that of ours, where most still live in rural places,  new projects had to be ensured in advance.

But that, however, is not the case these days. The Ethiopian government has built mega projects such as the Gilgel Gibe dams for hydroelectric power production. The Adama II Wind farm in Nazareth and the Aluta geothermal projects are other examples. There is also the exceedingly advertised Grand Ethiopian Rennaissance Dam, which endeavours to utilise the force of the Blue Nile to Ethiopia’s benefit, despite the increasing tensions emanating between the country and, Egypt.

Ethiopia’s rural electrification plans are significant for the resource-poor country of almost a 100 million. They are the government’s rather well-planned priorities that should not be compromised.

People, both locally and overseas, will find it hard to believe that such ambitious projects can materialise, at least within the coming decade. They argue that the flow of electricity even in the capital, Addis Abeba, is lacklustre for the government to be thinking about broadening the number of electric users to rural areas. And indeed, there are intermittent power outages from every part of the capital.

For the interruptions, there are all sorts of causes. Aside from low power generation, it could be the problems with the distribution lines. They are in some cases old and decrypt, or trees just fall on electric poles, at least according to the Ethiopian Electric Power (EEP). The government body is part of the then Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCO), which was split into EEP and the Ethiopian Electric Utility (EEU), for the proper administration of power. Nonetheless, the problems evidently still abound.

Of course, this does not mean the government cannot work on the electrification projects for rural towns simultaneously. All that is needed to realise this is the dedication of concerned bodies and the careful management of resources.

Electricity has long become one of those tools detrimental to growth and stability. Medical centres, schools, households, car repair shops and flour mills cannot do without it. From the perspective of resource equity, everyone has the right to benefit from his or her fair share of 21st Century’s technological advances.

Ethiopia’s agrarian community, which makes up the bulk of the population, should be no different in this regard. They should eventually have the same rights as those in the capital to use electricity in their homes, in the flour mills and medical centres that benefit them. There is no reason they should forever bake bread and Injera by burning wood.

Soil erosion could be easily avoided because of the electrification projects since cutting trees for fuelwood would become unnecessary. Extension school programs will also be a lot more practical this way, as well as various businesses, and the subsequent job opportunities, that would flourish as a result. And the overall working culture will improve too, especially when it comes to public servants that habitually complain about the lack of proper facilities and tools to carry out their jobs.

It should also be noted that rural electrification projects can enhance the nightlife, which in its own way will create new types of business opportunities. The nation’s deposit mobilisation efforts are also more likely to be realised this way, as banks could then be able to waste less money in brick and mortar investments and turn to progressive methods.

Electricity is a blessing of the world we currently reside in; thus, it would only make sense we make use of it. It opens the path to innovation and investment in the digital age. More sophisticated means of communication and transportation can only come if the populace is introduced to it. The rural population would get a glimpse into the fruits of science and technology, into progressive ways of thinking, and electricity would serve as that window.

All types of free information can be accessed through the TV and the radio, not to mention the Internet. Mass media will make them more politically savvy, knowledgeable of government policy directions, thus contributing their fair share to the democratisation process of the country.

Of course, the argument may seem basic, but the passive efforts in realising what to many may seem evident betray that there remains much to be done. Rural electrification programs are objectives essential to rural development, hence development as a whole. At a time when the developed world is looking to settle on Mars, rural electrification is an overdue issue. Efforts in this regard should be held to great significance, and the government shall take the reins to realising it.

By Girma Feyissa

Published on Dec 10,2017 [ Vol 18 ,No 920]



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