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Occasional  Paper 20: Zimbabwe's Policy on Energy Services for the Urban Poor

Edited by

Maxwell Mapako and Ikhupuleng Dube


Executive Summary

The 2001 Zimbabwe National Policy Seminar had as its main theme, the subject of Energy Services for the Urban Poor. A total of 24 participants attended the seminar, including two from the AFREPREN/FWD Secretariat as well as principal researchers from Tanzania and Zambia.

Energy reforms currently sweeping across much of the southern Africa region provide some hope of a vibrant future energy industry. The reforms being pursued by Zimbabwe are increasingly leading to the distinction between public energy policies and planning on one side, and private investment and operation on the other. In addition, the reforms introduce certain imperatives in the form of strengthening energy strategy formulation, increased focus on environmental sustainability, involvement by local communities and gender equality.

Access to modern energy services is a major socio-economic condition for accelerated development for the urban poor. Determinants of modern energy consumption patterns include household incomes, sources and cost of the energy service and the accessibility options available.

The presentations contained in these proceedings highlight the observation on the energy consumption potential of the urban poor in Zimbabwe based on the fact that a large percentage the population live without access to modern energy services. The percentage budget shares of monthly household incomes committed to traditional energy by the urban poor are used to derive a measure of affordability to pay for modern energy services. The presentations note that the high expenditure on energy by the urban poor cannot sustain their payment for up-front costs of modern energy under current terms of service delivery.

In keeping with the approach established in 2000 at the first seminar in the series of annual national policy seminars, a specific policy related presentation from the Department of Energy was made. The participants were able to contribute comments to this draft on Energy for Rural Development Strategy. Major comments included the need to put emphasis on the poor, which was felt to be insufficient. A further suggestion was to be wary of adding more structures and to include lessons from other countries.

During the seminar, alternative policy options were proposed that could be adopted to improve access to modern energy services for the urban poor. The recommendations cited had been tested for conformity with existing legal framework, economic situation as well as institutional and managerial capabilities in the country. In addition, research findings from neighbouring Tanzania and Zambia on energy services for the urban poor were presented for comparison purposes.

The seminar findings can be summarised as follows:

Energy policies in Zimbabwe do not make any specific references to the poor as a unique group, yet there are no major operational problems associated with energy supply initiatives benefiting the urban poor.

The role of energy and its relevance to the economic growth objectives of Zimbabwe dominates the Government's energy policies. This is also reflected in budgetary allocations.

Accelerated rural electrification dominates the emphasis on electrical supplies to the marginalized groups.

Previous and current electricity supply policies by suppliers are targeted at achieving equity and affordability of electrical energy.

The need to maximize economic benefits and not profitability of the supply companies influenced past and current electricity supply policies. However, the envisaged economic benefits exclude the role of micro-enterprises.

Some of the successful past supply practices have been negated by the new policy redirections.


Some discussions were held in groups and the results presented and discussed in plenary sessions. Major conclusions and recommendations made include:

The terms of reference of the theme group restricted the research to modern energy sources even though traditional sources like fuelwood were important;

Defining and understanding the poor and their needs was seen to be still problematic;

The fluid economic situation in Zimbabwe complicated the applicability of survey results since it was felt that many people were moving from non-poor to poor in short periods of time;

The issue of paraffin shortages and distribution problems in Zimbabwe was recommended to addressed by the Special Studies group;

There was a need to meaningfully consult women and the poor.

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