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Njoki Ngethe could barely hear the cry of her newly born baby as she was gasping for air in the operating theatre. The doctors and nurses put in every effort to resuscitate her but failed.

The doctors had argued that she had eaten before the surgery which caused complications. However, the unspoken element of the unfortunate event was that the incident was escalated by a power outage coupled with the unavailability of a functioning generator in the hospital. Mrs Ngethe had lost 1.2 litres of blood after the outage.

Ngethe’s loss in 2008 amongst many other tragic incidents fully describe the anguish of a dark continent. The number of lives and opportunities that have vanished as a result of poor electricity generation across the continent cannot be estimated. A report by the Africa Progress Panel reveals that Africa loses 600,000 people yearly to lack of electricity, of which nearly 50 percent are children.

The ravaging effect of blackouts and electricity outages in Africa has led to the pressing desire for improved electricity, being initiated in all discussion platforms. Regional integration is taking shape within the continent as each region is creating interconnected power systems to provide electricity through intra-continental trade.

Last week, the East Africa Power Pool (EAPP) announced that its proposed power grid project that would run from Cairo to Cape Town, South Africa would commence in April this year.

The project was announced by Tanzania’s Minister for Energy and Minerals, Professor Sospeter Muhongo, as he opened the 24th Eastern Africa Power Pool (EAPP) Steering Committee Meeting in Arusha, Tanzania. Professor Muhongo disclosed that the kick-off meeting to lay the groundwork for the power grid would be held in Kampala, Uganda in April this year.

The steering committee meeting was held in conjunction with the 12th EAPP Council of Ministers’ meeting to discuss other planned interstate power grid which is going to directly connect Tanzania and other countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) through the main Johannesburg to Dar es Salaam power connection.

Eastern African Power Pool
Credit: Deloitte

The power grid project which will connect the North and the South points of Africa with a single power line extending from Cairo to Cape Town is in the pipeline and may be functional within three years from now. From the outlook, the project will be requiring the cooperation of the 19 member body Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the East African Community (EAC) and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC)

The EAPP was established in 2005 along the signing of an Inter-Governmental Memorandum of Understanding (IGMOU) by seven African countries -Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda and Sudan-.

The body was adopted by the heads of states of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) region as a specialised institution to promote power system interconnectivity. The member bodies increased to ten as Tanzania, Libya and Uganda joined the pool in March 2010, February 2011, and December 2012 respectively.

In January 2016, the Council of Ministers of government representatives from the 10 member countries approved the EAPP master plan. The EAPP master plan will serve as the blueprint for power integration across the region over the next 25 years. The master plan entails the construction of transmission lines, which will be implemented between 2016 and 2017 and commissioned by 2020.

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EAPP countries will be able to import and export electricity to other partner countries upon full power system integration. Credit: Deloitte

“The lines include Sudan-Ethiopia; Rwanda-Tanzania; Uganda-South Sudan and Uganda-Kenya. The Libya-Egypt and Egypt-Sudan interconnections will be paused until Egypt’s concerns are addressed.”

Progress has been tremendously made on the various transmission projects. In October 2015, the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation and the Kenya Electricity Transmission Co. awarded a $450 million contract to German-based multinational conglomerate, Siemens, in a consortium with construction company Isolux Corsan.

The project involves developing a 1,000km high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission line between Ethiopia and Kenya. The project is scheduled for operation in Q4 of 2018.  The 127km Kenya-Uganda electricity transmission line is already 60 percent complete was slated for completion by December 2016.

The EAPP estimates that all the transmission projects will be completed before 2020 leading to their members being interconnected by power exchange.

The success of EAPP so far is a positive development for Africa as it serves as a model for other regional pools to speed up their power plans. Africa has four other operating power pools apart from the EAPP namely: the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP), the West African Power Pool (WAPP), and the Central African Power Pool (CAPP), and“Comité Maghrébin de l’Electricité (COMELEC).

The World Bank estimates that regional power trade could save US$2 billion annually in power costs and reduce the long-run marginal costs of power by between 20 and 40 percent for some countries, while at the same time reducing carbon emissions by 70 million tonnes annually.

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