By Barnaby Dye
A boom in constructing electricity infrastructure is underway in Africa – whether in generation plants or power lines. However, there aren’t many studies explaining why this building wave is taking place. My new paper presents a detailed case study of new hydropower and fossil fuel plants in Rwanda to understand this marked trend. Looking especially at power generation, my article argues that one of the important factors driving this trend is ideological. Ideologies about development, meaning the ideas and theories people have about how to create progress, are shown to be particularly important. The article also looks at historic factors and at the strategic interests of the key decision makers. But ultimately it demonstrates that ideology was the most important element behind the trajectory of increased electricity infrastructure in Rwanda. Consequently, it argues that ideology needs to be better appreciated in the literature on Africa’s electricity boom. Policymakers appeared to be particularly influenced by specific ideas about what building power plants could achieve, believing it would generate economic growth, poverty reduction and industrialisation. This led them to set overly ambitious targets for constructing power plants. Rather than listening to expert predictions about what the economy needed, or thinking about the downsides and costs of the plants, they thought that power plants by themselves were the development solution. This is important for Rwanda as it has saddled the energy sector there with debt: the new power plants were done by signing ‘take-or-pay’ deals with private sector companies where the government has to pay even if the plant isn’t needed. Therefore, whilst the boom in power generation in Africa can be very beneficial, there are also dangers in the rapid construction of electricity plants which need to be factored into decision making too.
Note: This article gives the views of the author/academic featured and does not represent the views of FutureDAMS as a whole.