East & Central African Countries to Undertake USD 400M Electricity Grid Interconnection Project

Plans to interconnect electricity grids within Eastern and Central Africa are failing due to lack of funds necessary to finance the implementation of projects in the next four years.

This was said yesterday during an extraordinary meeting between donors and state representatives of countries implementing the Nile Equatorial Lakes Subsidiary Action Plan (NELSAP).

Under NELSAP are six countries, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Egypt.

According to officials, the meeting which was hosted in Kigali, was called on short notice to discuss solutions to the sluggish implementation of grid interconnections which hampered the expected targets.

"To smoothly manage all the projects under NELSAP, a budget of US$400 million (Rwf 240 billion) was drawn, but as of now, we are still short of US$ 40 million. This means that some countries are short on funds and are finding it difficult to upgrade their power grids or to extend them to their neighbours," said James Kamanzi, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Infrastructure.

Main donors to the project include the African Development Bank, the Netherlands and German governmens through KfW Banking Group.

The Director of Energy Development Division in the Energy Water and Sanitation Authority (EWSA), Charles Kanyamihigo, said Rwanda has a funding gap of US$18 million to connect with Congo over a 200km stretch and with Uganda over 106km.

Burundi faces the same challenge, according to Justine Nisubire, Burundi's Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Energy and Mines.

"We fell short on funds for the project, but we are seeking funds from potential development partners, particularly from the European Union which pledged to provide once we have concluded required project studies," she said in an interview with The New Times.

Burundi produces only 35MW of electricity, the lowest in East Africa, which is only accessed by 2.5 percent of its eight million people.

"Through NELSAP, we are targeting to increase our power supply to 50MW in four years, which will surely have a positive impact on poverty reduction in our country," Nisubire added.

Uganda was also singled out for slowing the project and was urged to improve its commitment.

It was mentioned Uganda's transmission line connecting Kawanda, Masaka and Mbarara will be a bottleneck for power transfer to Kenya and Rwanda if it is not upgraded from 132kv to 200kv.

However, Ugandan officials reiterated that funds were available and plans to upgrade the grid were underway.

The Minister of State in Charge of Energy and Water, Emma Francoise Isumbingabo, said that for the NELSAP to be well implemented, all member countries must have the necessary resources to implement it concurrently.

"The majority of the countries in the region have very low access to electricity, with an average below 10 percent, yet access to electricity is a priority for our economies and a prerequisite for poverty reduction," Isumbingabo said.

NELSAP is a program under the Nile Basin Initiative that promotes investments in electricity development and trade as well as sustainable management of water resources.

Under NELSAP are six countries; Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Egypt.

BY IVAN R. MUGISHA: The New Times Newspaper Rwanda

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