Rural Africa is the most expensive place on earth to charge a phone

This post is part of a series produced by Fusion and the Clinton Global Initiative in recognition of the latter’s CGI University meeting (March 6-8 at the University of Miami). CGI University gathers more than 1000 student leaders to create solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges. For more information, click here.

Click here to read more of Fusion’s coverage of the event.

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When American friends of mine say they’re interested in visiting rural sub-Saharan Africa, I tell them to consider Ghana, one of the most amazing nations in the world.

I also tell them to think twice about bringing a phone charger with them — there aren’t any power sockets in the walls. Of the approximately 600 million people living in the region, only about 14 percent have access to electricity, according to the World Bank.

It’s not that cell phones aren’t popular in rural sub-Saharan Africa – on the contrary, mobile penetration has exploded across the continent. But charging one? That will probably require a trip to a local shop, where customers are charged astronomical fees for use of a solar-powered kiosk.

This situation would vex the average American on vacation, who normally wouldn’t think twice about plugging electronics into the wall at home. But for millions across Africa, wildly expensive energy is a part of everyday life.

Worse, it can be a part of death. Three babies recently died in Ghana because the hospital couldn’t keep the ICU ventilators on, and a pregnant woman died because she could not switch on her phone to call a medical center.

But for millions across Africa, wildly expensive energy is a part of everyday life. Worse, it can be a part of death.

The scarcity of electricity in many African homes is a challenge in itself, brought on by policy interference from the major utilities and the high cost of expanding service to rural areas. But what’s worse is that rural sub-Saharan African consumers, most of whom live on less than $1 a day, also face some of the highest energy fees in the world.

Not including transportation, charging a phone costs them at least 25 cents each time. Annually, this adds up to nearly 400 times what Americans pay.

So why do these populations pay more for the same amount of energy? Well, it’s not that they want to — it’s because they do not have a choice. People in the developed world have the resources to find the cheapest energy alternative for them, but this is not a luxury that is available for people in rural Ghana.

Charging a phone costs rural Subsaharan Africans at least 25 cents each time. Annually, this adds up to nearly 400 times what Americans pay.

At this year’s Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) meeting, student leaders and industry experts are coming together to discuss pressing global challenges like the future of energy. Partnering with the public and private sectors, young entrepreneurs around the world will work towards creating affordable, clean energy solutions.

After witnessing first-hand the energy crisis in rural sub-Saharan Africa, I have developed a long-lasting battery technology that will ensure that all people have energy when and where they need it. Through a CGI U Commitment to Action, I have committed to distributing energy products that will use this battery to several rural parts of Ghana.

With this technology, we can help ensure that the costs of owning and operating mobile devices are reasonable. Fortunately, I am not alone in my endeavour, as my company has partnered with organizations such as Burro Ghana, Grameen Foundation, and Rotary International.

In our interconnected world, owning a mobile device is no longer a luxury exclusive to global society’s upper echelon. In fact, as recent tragedies in Ghana show us, access to electric-powered goods, especially mobile devices, can be lifesaving.

In our interconnected world, owning a mobile device is no longer a luxury exclusive to global society’s upper echelon.

Sub-Saharan Africa is ripe for investment. Economies are growing, and improved infrastructure is helping to connect all corners of the continent. Introducing long-lasting batteries to rural areas of Ghana proves that solutions to energy crises – whether local, like in the case of Ghanaian villages, or global – are ready to be discovered. And these impactful discoveries are sometimes made by everyday college students like me.

When friends ask me about Ghana, I will continue to say it’s one of the friendliest and most welcoming places in the world. My hope is to one day be able to say that it’s one of the most plugged in, too.

— Paul-Miki Akpablie

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Paul-Miki Akpablie is the founder of Kadi Energy Company and participant in the 2015 meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative University. He is Mathematics and Biochemistry Major at Colorado College and an elected member of Student Government. He is passionate about leveraging economic power to improve people’s lives.

He developed Kadi, a sustainable business model, for the purpose of improving the lives of Ghana’s rural poor by providing environmentally friendly products while simultaneously creating job opportunities. At the age of fifteen and living in Ghana, he developed a solar collector that was used to power community center lights.

While at United World College in Hong Kong, Paul co-founded The Graduate Program, a profitable student-run tutoring business and which he is still a major shareholder. He attended many business summits including the prestigious Global Engagement Summit and is an advocate for provision of financially sustainable renewable energy to change the lives of Ghanaians in the short-term and all Africans in the long-term.

 

Editors’ note: An earlier version of this post contained an image with errors, which has since been deleted.

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