By Vera Songwe and Scott Mather
Addis Ababa — The African Continent today stands at a sustainable development crossroads.
On the one hand, the economic and governance picture suggests that Africa is poised to play a major role in the world—with burgeoning trade, investment, and demographic and population trends that, while posing living standard issues, also promise robust and expanding markets.
The political landscape also continues to strengthen with greater peaceful transfers of power, improved regulations, and economic integration within regional blocks as well as the implementation of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement.
Unknown to many, Africa, over the past six years, has consistently topped the ease doing business assessment in terms of the number of business regulatory reforms, particularly with regard to contract enforcement. Furthermore, many of the non-resource rich countries have registered consistently high growth.
At the same time, Africa’s sustainable development challenges are real and serious. While it is difficult to generalize about this vast and enthralling continent, widespread poverty remains a fact of life in many countries, overall Africa suffers from a range of environmental threats and problems—including climate change, water pollution, sanitation deficits, and deforestation.
And then there’s energy.
The lack of energy – traditional or renewable – for health care, agriculture, education, and economic diversification remains a critical barrier to overall growth and prosperity on the continent.
According the Economic Commission for Africa, nearly 600 million Africans (about half the population) lack access to electricity, with 110 million of these living in urban areas—all within proximity of existing power grids. Failures and inefficiencies in energy transmission infrastructure, combined with high costs of last-mile connections to rural communities and other factors, mean that many Africans are moving off-grid – choosing expensive options like generators and in some instances constructing home and mini-grid solar systems in their communities.