CAF America Insider Blog

Africa Leapfrogs its Way to a Long and Prosperous Future

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Posted by Carol Tappenden on August 18, 2014.

Energy is necessary for the industrialization and economic development of all nations, and according to the World Bank, it is also a key component to reducing poverty.  Some 600 million people in Africa still don’t have access to electricity, which means they have limitations on things that industrialized nations take for granted.  They don’t have refrigerators to store food, their main activities are mostly limited to daylight hours, and they still have to carry their water and collect wood and other biomass fuels by hand.  All of these factors force them to solely focus on their day-to-day survival and restrict their time, their potential to learn, and their ability to develop and work their way out of poverty.

Despite the fact that Africa has such high levels of poverty and is considered to be the most energy-insecure continent, it is still on an upward growth trajectory.  It is currently home to seven of the ten fastest growing economies in the world, and a sense of urgency about energy can be felt on the continent as the need for a reliable power source continues to grow.

Africa also has no shortage of energy resources to be harnessed which could aid in reducing the high levels of poverty and enhance overall economic growth.  These resources include both fossil fuels and an abundance of renewable energy sources.  Although fossil fuels served as the energy source for industrializing many modern nations, the world is now working to wean itself from these unsustainable dependencies in order to find ways to replace existing technologies and sources with more sustainable and efficient renewable energy sources.

Africa has an opportunity to learn from the history of the developed world. At this early stage of its industrialization, it can work towards developing renewable forms of energy and associated technologies with the future in mind.  As was the case with the telecommunications industry where cellular phones superseded the need for land lines due to the lack of existing infrastructure, Africa again can leapfrog obsolete technologies and focus on innovating with renewable, low-carbon alternatives to bring energy to its people.

This leap-frogging innovation in Africa is already quite visible; the product line delivered by Kenyan-based M-KOPA Solar (M-KOPA) is one example.  Approximately 80% of Kenyans still don’t have access to electricity and are using expensive and dangerous kerosene to light their homes.  M-KOPA offers affordable home solar-power systems through a 12-month mobile payment plan, a payment method with which most Kenyans are already familiar due to  the widespread success of the mobile money transfer product delivered several years ago by m-pesaTM(a mobile-phone based money transfer and micro financing service).  The deposit of US$35 followed by 360 daily payments of US$0.58 amounts to less than Kenyans would have spent on kerosene in a year. This means that they have more money available to supplement daily living and other expenses.  The customer also owns the solar power system outright after completing his or her payments.  M-KOPA currently provides affordable solar power to over 50,000 off-grid Kenyan households and is adding approximately 1,000 more each week.

M-KOPA is one of many such examples – demonstrating an exciting time for Africans and for potential partners and investors interested in the African continent.  It may take time, but with the right environment in place and the will and the resources to succeed, they are likely to continue on a growth path to jump ahead towards a more sustainably industrialized continent.  Perhaps those in the developed world might also learn a thing or two as new ideas and technologies emerge and Africans leapfrog their way to a long and prosperous future.

Carol is currently working in collaboration with CAF America on advisory initiatives in Africa & the Middle East.

Carol is a development practitioner dedicated to working with institutions that channel sustainable resources towards the world’s most pressing problems, especially on the African continent.

South African born and raised, Carol has over 15 years experience in philanthropy, CSR, impact investment, non-profit management, and fundraising. Through her work with non-profits, international development agencies and multi-national corporations, she has established a far reaching network across the globe.



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