Africa ready for energy transformation: World Bank

Thu Mar 4, 2010 5:38am GMT

By Lesley Wroughton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Just as Africa spent a decade transforming its telecoms market that connected huge swathes of the continent, the World Bank's top official for Africa sees the next giant developmental leap in the power sector.

New technology and legal reforms in Africa's telecoms market opened the way for a boom in affordable mobile phone service, said Obiageli Ezekwesili, vice president for Africa at the World Bank.

A similar transformation could repair Africa's power sector that has suffered from years of underinvestment.

"The next big thing that will happen on the continent is going to be massive investment of private capital into Africa's energy sector," Ezekwesili said in an interview with Reuters.

The changes are being forced by a critical shortage in power supplies across Africa that is stifling economies.

Chronic energy shortages in South Africa, the region's economic powerhouse, have forced its government to turn to the World Bank for a controversial $3.75 billion loan to fund a coal-fired plant, which is drawing criticism from environmentalists because of effects on climate change.

South Africa's urgent need for an energy infusion made the project necessary, Ezekwesili said, adding that the government has committed to a long-term plan to move toward more investments in renewable sources of energy.

"There is no viable alternative to safeguard South Africa's energy security at this particular time," Ezekwesili said. South Africa's Eskom, he said, provides 95 percent of the country's power but also 45 percent of Africa's needs.   Continued...

<p>Kiambere Power Station plant in Machakos District December 8, 2006. REUTERS/Antony Njuguna</p>
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