Over the last ten years African governments have moved increasingly towards decentralized budgets, giving local authorities increased powers and budgets to govern areas that include both rural and urban population. Yet while the larger urban areas have municipal authorities to consider new ways of supplying energy to their urban citizens, those governing Africa’s rural poor in small and medium towns in the surrounding rural hinterlands have rarely considered energy infrastructure. Existing research indicates that many local authorities in Africa and beyond are struggling as they do not have the capacities and capabilities necessary to govern the complex social, political and economic situations they routinely face. Required to contribute amongst other things to financial management, local and regional economic development, strategic planning in the local area, budgeting procedures, tax collection, procurement procedures and standards, ethics for local government staff and elected representatives and action against corruption, it is hardly surprising that against this backdrop the demands placed on their time and capabilities would see energy planning neglected. And yet energy – in particular, clean energy for development – is becoming increasingly important not just to them in their specific geographical location, but to the wider region and world more generally.
Local authority capacity across Africa therefore poses a fundamental challenge for successfully implementing clean energy for development programmes. In short, decentralization, if properly resourced, could open the way for local authorities to become champions and drivers towards cleaner energy, but at the same time, lack of capacity, resources and capabilities could also prove a major barrier to implementing clean energy development in African states.
There has, however, been precious little research done on exploring the relationship between decentralization and energy governance and it is this major gap which this research project seeks to address.
The primary objective for this project is, therefore, to scope the implications for energy governance caused by the political process of decentralisation occurring across African states. As such, our objectives are to
(i) assess the roles and responsibilities of local authorities in relation to energy issues across Rural Africa,
(ii) to examine how the roles and responsibilities of local authorities in relation to energy issues have already been affected by the transfer of powers and budgets under decentralization initiatives and
(iii) to analyze the implications for local authorities in relation to energy issues of further, more profound, transformations that would see the transfer of more powers and budgets under current decentralization impulses. Central to all of this is the question of what kind of capacity local authorities need in order to play the potentially crucial role of integrating clean energy transitions into local development planning and how those capacitiesmight be enhanced.
(iv) As such, the fourth objective of the project is to carry out an exploration of capacity relating to energy literacy amongst local authorities in two particular African states (Kenya and Rwanda) that have experienced very different experiences of local governance and decentralization.
Our key research outcomes will be to validate the severity of the issues which we face in this area and to develop a proposed plan of action that will need to be undertaken through a larger programme of intervention.
We think that this research is particularly timely given the immediacy of several changing landscapes. The political landscape continues to evolve with new powers and capacities being decentralised. For instance the recent changes to the Kenyan constitution. The energy landscape is changing, with an increasing emphasis on clean energy development through mini and micro grids. The urgent agenda of Climate Change also means that local authorities will have to wrestle with complex ideas of mitigation and resilience.
We hope that this research will provide a timely synthesis of existing knowledge and contribute new understanding to a rapidly changing landscape which will be of particular use to decision makers concerned with the clean energy agenda in Africa by assessing the scope and depth of the challenge to enabling local authorities to engage effectively with the clean energy agenda. While this research falls short of seeking to provide an answer to that challenge, it is intended that the research will evidence the challenge in the hope that this enables action to be taken by other parties or in future larger-scale funded research.