Sub-Saharan Africa

  • Using data to tell the energy access story in Africa

    Maina Waruru

[KIGALI] Could data journalism be what the media needs to use to tell the access story in Africa? Can extensive use of data capture the story better and bring out the facts simply with clarity?

I was keen to find out the answers to these questions at a media workshop for science journalists from East Africa I attended in Kigali, Rwanda this month (9-10 November).

At that forum, I gained the impression that science reporters in Africa need to use data more in telling the energy access story, perhaps more than before.

“Data can so well capture and aptly disseminate information on the sorry state of energy access in Africa.”
Maina Waruru

Ugandan media trainer and consultant Joachim Buwembo, one of the facilitators at the workshop, said the energy access story has so much data that explaining with just text and figures is not enough, as it amounts to only telling half the story.

“This is one story which journalists should use illustrations to communicate more easily and graphically with the reader. It is also a story so full of data,” he told participants at the event hosted by UK charity Smart Villages, an organisation that promotes the use of off-grid power to boost energy access to remote rural areas not linked to the national grid.

The majority of the 1.3 billion people in the world without access to electricity live in Africa, according to the 2013 World Energy Outlook Report by UN’s International Energy Agency, which I obtained at the workshop.
The report further states that 2.6 billion people cook in open fires using mainly firewood. Again, African has most people implicated in this in such a habit.

In East Africa the figures are even more grim and graphic, with 81 per cent of rural populations and 40 per cent of urban dwellers not having no access to grid power, says Rwanda-based Denise Umubyeyi, a business manager of Practical Action, an international development non-profit organisation.

Less than 10 out 100 schools have access to power from the national grid.

The solution, Smart Villages co-director of projects Bernie Jones told me, lies in off-grid power options, including solar and micro hydropower solutions. Cheap power solutions are also being developed, even if they may not be as widely available in Africa.

With the revelation of the stark reality of the energy access figures that participants got to know at the workshop, it is unquestionable that data can so well capture and aptly disseminate information on the sorry state of energy access in Africa.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.