The Eastern Africa Power Pool (EAPP) is one of the world’s more ambitious power sharing schemes. Set up in February 2005 under an inter-governmental memorandum of understanding, its aim is to pool electrical energy resources to provide affordable, sustainable and reliable electricity supplies in the Horn of Africa and North Africa region.

The EAPP was established by seven nations: Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda and Sudan. In 2010, they were joined by Tanzania; Libya joined in 2011 and Uganda in 2012. According to the EAPP, other potential members include Somalia, Eritrea and Djibouti.

There is a strong logic behind a scheme that promises on the one hand to create a market for those countries with the potential to produce a substantial energy surplus and on the other to solve the problems of those whose power deficit is likely to only deepen in the future.

Power cooperation in East Africa

“It is in the interests of the East African states to bolster cooperation on power production and transmission,” says Aly Verjee, senior researcher at the Kenya-based Rift Valley Institute. “Energy demand is growing, supply is insufficient, and some states are unlikely ever to be in a position to generate enough power for their domestic requirements.”

According to a report published in May 2011 by Canadian power company SNC Lavalin, Ethiopia alone could be generating a surplus of 11,735 gigawatt hours (GWh) a year of power by 2018 and 19,543GWh by 2038.

In the same timeframe, Tanzania, the Eastern region of the DRC and Kenya could each be producing a surplus of about 4,000-5,000GWh a year, while Burundi and Uganda could each be producing a surplus of 1,000-2,000GWh  a year, according to the report.

If this potential surplus power can be harnessed by the EAPP, it could solve the substantial shortfalls projected for Egypt and Sudan over the next 25 years. According to the report, Egypt could have a power supply deficit of 11,748GWh a year by 2018, rising to 38,486GWh in 2028 before easing to 25,572GWh in 2038. Sudan and South Sudan, which separated in July 2011, could have a combined deficit of 5,532GWh a year by 2038, while Rwanda and Djibouti are expected to have annual deficits of 1,577GWh and 569GWh respectively.

It’s in the interests of the East African states to bolster cooperation on power production and transmission

Aly Verjee, Rift Valley Institute

It is estimated the implementation of existing country-to-country interconnection plans and the addition of a handful of additional intra-regional connections between now and 2038 could save the region about $949m a year, in return for an annual outlay of $172m. If regional integration were developed still further, by means of an integrated interconnection and generation strategy, the net benefit could reach $1.2bn a year, says the report.

A number of interconnections between members of the EAPP and other neighbours are already complete. Ethiopia exports power to Sudan and Djibouti; Uganda shares connections with Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya; Kenya and Tanzania are connected; Egypt is connected via Libya to the Maghreb countries and Southern Europe, and via Jordan to the Eastern Mediterranean; and the DRC, Burundi and Rwanda share power produced by the jointly developed Ruzizi II power station in the DRC.

Funding support from the African Development Bank

Other projects are under way. Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda are planning to strengthen their power networks and the connections between them, and to extend the network to other countries.

The African Development Bank (AfDB) is helping to fund the development of a network linking the five Nile Equatorial Lakes countries: Burundi, DRC, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda.

The plans include the addition of more than 700 kilometres of new transmission lines and the upgrading of a further 262km.

In December 2012, the AfDB also approved a $115m loan to help finance a new $1.26bn power line linking Kenya and Ethiopia. The 1,068km line will have a transfer capacity of up to 2,000MW. South Sudan has also signed a headline agreement with Ethiopia for a transmission line between the two countries.

But there are major technical and political barriers to the successful realisation of the EAPP’s goals. On the technical side, much of the region’s existing power infrastructure is in a state of poor repair, interconnections are few, and the institutional framework for their development is weak.

“There’s a bit of a disconnect between what would be useful and the reality of the capacity of each individual country to contribute,” says Jason Mosley, associate fellow on the Africa programme at London-based think-tank Chatham House.

“Building the infrastructure and reaching the regulatory harmony required to connect the different markets is going to be problematic to achieve quickly and efficiently, as is developing enough generation to create a surplus.”

The challenge of addressing the infrastructure deficit is complicated still further by the fact that many of the countries in the region are impoverished, suffer political instability, or both. Not only this, but not all of the states are on the best of terms.

Old conflicts in Africa

“The history of the Horn of Africa is one of states interfering in the affairs of their neighbours,” says Mosley.

“Ethiopia and Sudan have had civil wars in recent decades. In both cases, the government and rebel movements in each country have got involved in supporting the government or rebel movements in the other. So there is a trepidation in Sudan about creating a structural dependency on Ethiopia, and the same applies to Eritrea.

“Burundi, the DRC, Kenya and Uganda get on to a greater or lesser extent. But the relationship between Rwanda and the DRC and between Uganda and the DRC is a bit tense at the moment because of events in Eastern DRC, and there are Burundi rebels in the DRC at the moment.”

Building the infrastructure and reaching the regulatory harmony … is going to be problematic

Jason Mosley, Chatham House

The situation is further complicated by the sensitivities over the use of Nile River water to produce hydroelectricity. In 1999, a multinational agreement known as the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) was signed by Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda and the DRC to promote cooperation in the equitable and sustainable use of Nile River waters.

In 2010, the NBI published a report on the potential of cross-border power trading in which it concluded that the bulk of planned incremental power capacity in East Africa in the next 15 years will come from hydroelectric power generation.

This is particularly true in Ethiopia. If the Ethiopian government realises its power generation expansion plans, hydroelectric generation capacity will increase from 1,947MW to 13,125MW in 2025. Sudan and South Sudan will add some 3,000MW of hydroelectric capacity by 2030, while Tanzania will add about 2,600MW and Uganda about 1,200MW over the same period, according to the report.

Power supply and demand in East Africa (MW)
Country Existing supply Planned supply in 2030 Forecast demand in 2030 Surplus in 2030
Burundi 49 470 385 86
Djibouti 123 310 198 112
East DRC 74 1,191 179 1,012
Egypt 25,879 72,449 69,909 2,540
Ethiopia 2,179 15,796 8,464 7,332
Kenya 1,916 8,805 7,795 1,010
Rwanda 103 514 484 30
Sudan 3,951 15,261 11,054 4,207
Tanzania 1,205 6,086 3,770 2,316
Uganda 822 3,353 1,898 1,455
Source: EAPP 

The contention arises due to two historic agreements on the use of River Nile water. The first, signed by Egypt and the UK in 1929, gave the Egyptian government the right to veto upstream River Nile projects that would affect its share of water.

In 1959, following the independence of Sudan from the UK, a second agreement was signed by Egypt and Sudan, which gave Egypt the right to 55.5 billion cubic metres of Nile water a year, and Sudan 18.5 billion cubic metres a year.

Unsurprisingly, this arrangement has been challenged by countries upstream of Egypt and Sudan that also want to use water from the Nile.

In May 2010, after years of failed negotiations to reach a consensus on a more equitable division of rights on Nile water use, five of the nine NBI members – Rwanda, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya – agreed a treaty of their own.

Known as the Cooperative Framework Agreement, the treaty was signed by Burundi in February 2011, and the DRC is also expected to sign. But it is fiercely opposed by Egypt and Sudan, which wish to protect their rights under the historic treaties. Egypt claims that while countries upstream have access to other water sources, it is entirely reliant on the Nile.

“Ethiopia’s potential for export comes from exploiting the Nile, which puts it in a difficult spot vis-a-vis Egypt and Sudan,” says Mosley. “Ethiopia is already building a dam on the Nile, but the next question is whether it will also be used for irrigation, which would have even greater implications for downstream countries. It’s a major national security issue for Egypt. It’s one of its top five priorities.”

Sudan break-up

The situation is further complicated by the recent secession of South Sudan. Since it split from Sudan in July 2011, the relationship between the two countries has been fractious, and several political disputes, largely relating to the border region, remain unresolved.

The Juba government, which is planning to add more than 2GW of hydroelectric power capacity of its own, insists that it is “the right of any of the Nile Basin countries to use the Nile water for the benefit of the citizens of any member state, especially development projects dependent on irrigation”.

Although the government also states that it is seeking an “amicable” resolution of the dispute with Sudan and Egypt, it is a policy that is sure to set it at loggerheads with its northern neighbours.

The debate over the use of Nile water is set to intensify. “Negotiations over the use of the River Nile water have been put on hold during the political transition in Egypt, but it is going to be a big issue in the next couple of years,” says Mosley.

“When talks eventually start up again
it will be really fraught. I think eventually there will be an agreement, but it will take a while. I don’t think it is going to happen in the next year.”

At the moment, the region is stuck at an impasse where the momentum to resolve its power supply issues is continually sapped by the standoff over the use of its water resources. If the EAPP is to succeed, it is a cycle that has eventually to be broken.

Key fact

In 2011, Libya joined the Eastern African Power Pool initiative

Source: MEED