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Mobile coverage! Africa’s biggest service achievement

Far above electricity and water

More Africans have access to a mobile phone network than to piped water, electricity or a health clinic, revealed last month’s Afrobarometer, which canvassed 34 African nations. The report showed that while cellphone coverage is almost universal at 93%, only 64% of Africans have access to an electricity grid (many of which are moreover unreliable), 62% have access to a health clinic, and 59% have access to piped water.

Other services polled revealed the following continent-wide averages:

  • access to school: 88%
  • access to market stalls: 68%
  • access to paved roads: 47%
  • access to a police station: 38%
  • access to a sewerage system: 28%
  • access to a post office: 27%

The report, titled “Developing Africa’s Infrastructure: the Rough Road to Better Services”, was a collaborative affair; it was conducted by Kenya’s Institute for Development Studies, Ghana’s Centre for Democratic Development and South Africa’s Institute for Justice and Reconciliation and involved social scientists from over 30 African nations.

A key finding of the survey was that areas with low access to the various services listed above tend to be significantly poorer than those areas with high access.

Regional differences

The barometer, which took in both North and Sub-Saharan African nations as well as the islands of Cape Verde, Madagascar and Mauritius, uncovered various stark regional differences: “Country-level differences in access to service infrastructure are enormous — 89% lack access to piped water in Liberia, while teams report 100% access in Mauritius. Rural-urban differences are also large, especially with respect to electricity (a 48 percentage point gap in favour of urban areas), piped water (45 point gap), paved roads (44 point gap) and police stations (38 point gap).”

In terms of access to piped water, the continental mean is 41%, but Botswana’s percentage is an impressive 93%. South Africa, one of the continent’s most developed nations, ranks only at number ten, with 79% access.

Improvements in electricity access

“Across 15 countries tracked since 2002/2003,” says the report, “there has been a 15 percentage point gain in reported levels of access to an electricity grid.” West Africa in particular has recorded good gains, with Cape Verde going up 25 points, Nigeria 23 points, Ghana 22 points and Benin 21 points.

“The gains in southern Africa are more mixed. Mozambique has enjoyed an impressive 30 point gain, and Lesotho has achieved 23 points, but others progressed more slowly and Madagascar has apparently seen a reported 11 point loss of access.” Moreover Zimbabwe’s access dropped between 2008 and 2012 to less than 60%.

The eight countries with the best access ratio are Swaziland, Morocco, Algeria, Cape Verde, Egypt, Mauritius, Tunisia and South Africa.

David Okwara

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