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Increasingly, Zimbabwean rural electrification projects are gaining significant financial backing
Zimbabwe's Rural Electrification Agency (REA) is to continue embarking on rural electrification projects following recent disbursements of funds from the fiscus, Minister of Energy and Power Development, Elton Mangoma disclosed. Mangoma told African Review that funds are beginning to trickle into the agency and it will continue with rural electrification projects which had been abandoned. He said that a fiscal allocation of $5mn was made to REA in 2010 and another $1mn was provided by treasury in 2011. Rural electrification projects have been initiated since 2009.
REA is funded through a six per cent rural electrification levy charged on all electricity, fiscal allocations, loans and donations from private and government agencies including contributions from customers who require electricity. The target beneficiaries of the agency's projects include rural communities, public and private enterprises, SMEs, government ministries, regulatory agencies and NGOs. Services offered by the agency include grid extension, solar installations, contracting and consulting including electricity end use infrastructure development to promote utilisation of electricity.
The Rural Electrification Agency is a statutory body governed by the Rural Electrification Fund Act (Chapter 13:20). Its background is that post-independence Zimbabwean Government gave high priority to rural infrastructure development programmes, which included the rural electrification programme. The policy framework was a deliberate intention to correct the imbalances between urban and rural electrification with the ultimate goal of socially and financially empowering the rural communities and enhancing their capabilities in their contribution towards economic development of the country. The Rural Electrification Programme (REP) commenced in earnest in 1983 when the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) earmarked forty-eight growth points for electrification.
The pace of project implementation was slow and characterised by under funding and inequitable project distribution. In essence, the resultant poor return on infrastructure investment emanating from the high electrification costs and low load regimes associated with the rural communities, discouraged ZESA Management, by then from fully fledged implementation of the policy framework. However, in February 1989 the idea of a countrywide rural electrification programme was mooted. This idea culminated in the 1995 African Development Bank funded Rural Electrification Master Plan The study recommended that:
The extension of the grid network to 415 rural service centres, business centres and growth points that would act as grid network hubs.
Dedicated funding arrangement through an electrification levy; and Promotion of productive use of electricity by the projects selected for rural electrification.
Efforts at electrification
In 1997 ZESA’s Consumer Services Department established the Rural Electrification Unit to dedicate its efforts towards the rural electrification activities. In March 2001, the ZESA Board passed a resolution to embark on the Expanded Rural Electrification Programme (EREP) with Electricity End-Use Infrastructure Development (EEUID). The resolution gave an unprecedented impetus to finalising the electricity industry reform draft white paper, which culminated in the enactment of the Rural Electrification Fund Act and the Electricity Act respectively at the beginning of 2002.
The legal framework created an enabling environment that promoted and sustained the Rural Electrification Programme in that the Rural Electrification Agency builds the grid network infrastructure and the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority collects the levy, operates and maintains the developed infrastructure. Due to lack of electricity in most of Zimbabwe's rural areas, there has been a heavy dependence on firewood as an alternative resulting in massive deforestation. Speedy implementation of rural electrification projects will help to alleviate massive deforestation.
By Wallace Mawire