Lighting Africa’s Economy

Lighting Africa, a project that Dr. Murphy mentioned briefly in her presentation, aims to create a market for high-quality and fairly-priced electric goods.  It is a joint project between the IMF and the World Bank, and it functions in Kenya, Ghana, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Senegal, and Mali.  The key focus of this organization is to inspire the countries’ private sectors to mobilize at the chance of making money in a market for off-grid lighting projects.  As part of its approach, the group works to lower all types of entry barriers to trade in the off-grid lighting market.  To do so, the program works together with local political and business leaders, manufacturers, consumers, and other major players in the areas.  This contact with local populations helps to establish Lighting Africa’s credibility and to help them spread the word about the market.

This organization’s main focus on stimulating a private market surprised me, because I can think of few other aid groups or NGOs that focus on such broad market-oriented approaches.  It seems to me that most organizations are focused more on the humanitarian side of development activities – providing basic goods, educating and training, and generally aiming to increase empowerment among individuals.  And of development activities that do focus on “capitalist” development programs, most of these focus on relatively small and specialized projects, such as micro-loans.  In any case, Lighting Africa’s attempt to create markets across a wide swathe of land was an approach that was new to me.

I am conflicted over my feelings on this project.  One one hand, I do think that helping the spread of cheaper, more energy-efficient, and “cleaner” lighting in Africa is an important cause and an issue that definitely needs to be addressed.  I also personally think that establishing a market system to promote Lighting Africa and other similar initiatives is currently the most sustainable way to keep the organization’s goals in place and help the changes spread to new locations.  But I am also skeptical about any organization’s ability to guide part of an economy that is already firmly in place.  I’m wondering, are these market-based any better than traditional approaches to development?  What are the benefits and draw-backs to this type of approach?  How could programs like Lighting Africa be made more effective?

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2 responses to “Lighting Africa’s Economy

  • etherspace

    Using a market based strategy for something as in demand as electricity to spur development is an interesting idea. So is the concept of ‘leapfrogging’ technologies harmful to the environment in favor of clean energy. One problem that I could see with this model however, is its potential to pass over the poorest people, who need the most help. It will likely be middle class to wealthy entrepreneurs or perhaps governments who see the most benefit. Is it likely that benefits of the program will ‘trickle down’?

  • njrudin

    This is a really interesting project with a few good and bad aspects, it seems. To start, I like that they know how crucial it is to have local political and business leaders, manufacturers, consumers, etc. involved. However, it is useless if they are just pawns in this. It will be interesting as they move towards their goals of bringing affordable off-grid lighting to 250 million people by 2030 whether or not the local populations will be in full control of the operation by that point thus giving them the self-reliance and sustainability necessary to have a project like this function to its fullest potential.

    In addition, there are many NGOs that focus on more than just the humanitarian side of development or on micro-loans. There are over 100 NGOs in the area of Northern Uganda alone. That being said, many of these are grossly ineffective due to the numerous hurdles involved with establishing a development project in a struggling economic and infrastructural situation. Likewise, I know there will be a variety of problems with getting this off-grid lighting to so many people who are in hard to reach rural areas with no means to buy even “fairly-priced” or “low-cost” solutions. Thus, I agree that it could just have major benefits for the upper class and only further the divide between rich and poor in developing countries. However, this is the risk in most development projects so I guess it is only a matter of time to see how this particular one turns out. I hope for the best and am excited to see how the results come back for the pilot projects in a few years.

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