AFRICAN SPOTLIGHT FEATURE: Building New Infrastructure in Post-Conflict Angola

by Jason Czyz, Academy for Educational Development

The Republic of Angola obtained independence from Portugal in 1975. Immediately following independence, a civil war erupted that did not end until 2002. During the civil war, what little infrastructure existed was destroyed, and hundreds of thousands of people were killed and millions more displaced. Due to the petroleum sector boom in the in early 1990s, migrations during the war, and the lack of opportunities in the provinces, the population in the capitol city of Luanda and the surrounding areas grew from fewer than 800,000 in 1989 to more than 8 million today. These factors have strained public services in general and the electricity system in particular.

Understanding the Problem

To help address Angola’s electricity needs, the Academy for Educational Development (AED), a global nonprofit organization working to improve education, health, civil society and economic development, began the Angola Services Support Program in 2006 with the goal of increasing access to electricity in Luanda’s poorer areas. United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funds AED’s electricity and water programs.

A basic map of the power grid in Angola’s capitol city of Luanda.

Information about Angola’s electricity system, the location of infrastructure and consumer data was virtually non-existent in 2006. The state-owned electricity distribution company, the Empresa de Distribuiàƒ§àƒ£o de Electricidade (EDEL), did not have a systematic approach for keeping track of its infrastructure and did not know how to identify service delivery problems. AED worked with EDEL on training and gathering electricity system infrastructure data to create geographic information system (GIS) maps. At the same time, AED worked with municipal governments to identify communities’ underserved sections.

Once electricity system constraints are identified and mapped, AED acts as a facilitator between EDEL and the community to address the issues. For example, when adding transformers, AED works with the community to build the enclosures used to house transformers (transformers are not pole-mounted in Angola) and EDEL provides the transformer and technical expertise. Community donated resources and time for system improvements creates community buy-in and reduces theft and vandalism.

A transformer post in the capitol city Luanda.

Before entering a particular section of a municipality, AED and EDEL hold “casa abertas” (open houses) to explain to the community the purpose of the mapping exercises as well as to discuss electricity consumers’ rights and responsibilities. AED works with EDEL and municipal governments to map illegal connections, wealth/poverty levels by household, non-payment and other items. This work allows AED, EDEL and the community to determine individual households’ ability to pay for electricity services and whether those who have the resources are paying. A further layered datasets breakdown provides details on the electrical infrastructure’s status. With this information, AED and local stakeholders can gather and analyze trends and establish a concrete understanding of who has benefited from increased access to electricity, differentiate between legal and illegal connections and identify which households are not electrified. EDEL and local governments can then work together sovle existing challenges.

“Providing electricity to homes and businesses requires more than just installing poles and stringing cable,” said Joàƒ£o Baptista Borges, former chief executive officer of EDEL. “Maps, censuses, customer data and infrastructure data, which are outdated or nonexistent in Angola, are fundamental in planning for and providing electricity.”

The Government and Investment

Angola’s government aims to provide 100 percent electrification in urban areas and 60 percent electrification in adjoining areas by 2012. While Angola is not yet in the position to meet this goal, it has made a great deal of progress since the end of the civil war. AED estimates that 31,500 families have benefited from the program and are now connected to the electricity grid as a direct result of the project. Luanda, however, continues to grow and demand for electricity often outpaces resources. Furthermore, Luanda suffers from brownouts because of inadequate generation and transmission constraints. Petroleum revenues provide Angola with resources to address these obstacles, but government control slows change.

Electricity sector investment, as well as information about foreign investment is not available to the public. Unsubstantiated claims that the Chinese and Russians own interests in several power plants exist. The transmission system, however, is completely government controlled and most generation facilities are government-owned. Electricity system financial information also is closely guarded by the government. A number of opportunities for system expansion and new generation construction would likely exist if the government would open the sector to private investment and improve the sector’s governance and transparency. The Angola energy regulator exists in name only.

Office for the state-owned electricity distribution company, EDEL.

With the exception of hydro, renewables are almost unheard of in the country and it lacks energy efficiency efforts. Air conditioning in commercial buildings and among the wealthy is growing and severely strains the grid during the hottest months, leading to regular and long brownouts. Most existing generation facilities are fueled by oil, and air quality in Luanda is poor.

Angola experiences additional challenges in infrastructure planning because land title laws are ambiguous at best, cadastral maps are out of date and a census has not been taken in decades. In addition, when undertaking this work, AED has confronted hurdles, including no base maps (road maps), trained personnel or equipment and supplies, as well as other challenges. Officials at EDEL, however, are open to learning new techniques and skills. They are forthcoming with the information they have and they grant AED access to their facilities.

A local substation in Angola.

AED created a GIS Center at Agostinho Neto University (ANU) in 2010 with funding from BP and Sonangol. The Center’s purpose is to leave sustainable GIS capacity in the country after AED’s programs end. After training from AED, ANU professors teach GIS courses. EDEL and the water utility, EPAL, regularly send staff to the courses.

Training has been expanded to local stakeholders, including small businesses, civil servants and residents. These efforts are not only improving the electricity system, but also increasing capacity and skills through collective engagement, planning and improved governance practices.

The electricity sector program’s success prompted USAID to ask AED to expand its work to the water sector. Angola has fewer water than electricity connections. Furthermore, the water system is entirely pump driven without an adequate electricity supply and does not function. A number of infrastructure projects are underway in Angola, however, and a great deal of potential to improve the water system exists as the government continues to invest in the sector.

Jason Czyz is deputy director of energy programs at AED, a nonprofit organization working globally to create foundations for thriving societies. To learn more about the Angola Services Support Program or AED’s energy programs, contact Czyz at

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