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How to Influence Policy in the African Power Sector

A Guide for Researchers

Compiled by

Stephen Karekezi, Bereket Kebede, Jack Muthui and John Kimani

Executive Summary

The Global Development Network (GDN) coordinates a project that examines the link between research and policy in developing countries. As part of this larger project, the Energy, Environment and Development Network for Africa (AFREPREN/FWD) undertook a study examining the research-policy link in the energy sectors of five Eastern and Southern Africa countries - Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe. The AFREPREN/FWD study largely focused on the preparation of the national energy policy documents in these countries. Country reports presenting the findings from the five countries and a regional report synthesizing the comparative results have been compiled. The regional report also incorporates the findings of a parallel UNDP-sponsored study on the power sector which is a similar study to the GDN one that AFREPREN/FWD undertook.

The central objective of the AFREPREN/FWD study was to assess the impact of research on energy policy and propose options that would ensure greater impact. To achieve this objective, the study identified researches that had significantly influenced policy – particularly the national energy policy documents – and consequently examined their characteristics so as to establish the critical features that made them potent in influencing policy.

Different research instruments for collecting various types of information and for triangulating data were used, notably:

• Timeline analysis (tracer studies) traced back the events that led to the formulation of policy in order to identify factors that influenced the research-policy link.
• Text analysis of the policy documents identified research projects that have influenced policy.
• Focus groups of policy makers and researchers systematically discussed issues pertaining to the research-policy link.
• Structured survey questionnaires gathered data on the opinions of policy makers and researchers.

The analysis of information gathered through these different means provided a mechanism for cross-checking and verifying study findings and enlightens us on the nature and problems of the research-policy link. In the con-text of GDN’s analytical framework and explanatory variables (namely: evidence, links, contexts and external influence), the main findings of the study include the following:


Text and timeline analysis in conjunction with focus group discussions identified a small number of research undertakings that have influenced the energy policy formulation in each of the study countries. These small number of research undertakings were further examined to identify their characteristics. Almost all the researches identified as influential have been commissioned by the government, irrespective of their nature (i.e. whether macro-economic energy demand forecast, macroeconomic impact of investment or micro-household data survey and analysis). Generally comprehensive policy oriented researches are driven by the demand from policy making rather than independent research leading the way - partly a reflection of the absence of a strong epistemic community in the regions energy sector.

All the influential researches directly involve policy makers. Research organizations specializing mainly in energy are more influential than those involved in many areas of specialization. The reputation of institutions as whole as well as those of the experts working in them, the past work done by the organizations, the quality and timing of work are important characteristics that determine how influential research undertakings are.

It is worth noting that, in several cases, regardless of the nature of the research (i.e whether macroeconomic energy demand forecast, macroeconomic impact of investment or micro-household data survey and analysis), influential researches have a significant level of technical details with the proviso, discussed later, that access to macroeconomic expertise can be advantageous. This is probably because most of the energy experts involved in the policy making process have technical academic backgrounds (mainly engineering), hence value highly technical reports. This characteristic makes influential researches in the energy sector unique compared to those in other sectors e.g. agriculture, health, water, etc, that may not have a heavy technical bias as the targeted experts largely have non-technical academic backgrounds.

An important lesson learnt from comparing the power and renewables sub-sectors is that the sub-sector whose policies are an integral component of national development plans attracts more funding from the national budget than the sub-sector that is not part of these plans.

Political contexts:

The restructuring of government ministries in all the study countries has created a spur for the development of a comprehensive energy policy. In most countries, the establishment of independent ministries of energy or departments of energy within broader ministries was a catalyst for the preparation of energy policy documents. The creation of an independent body seems to push the energy agenda to the fore and concentrates manpower specialized in energy. These organizational changes have helped to raise the profile of energy studies.

The policy formulation processes in the study countries exhibit many similarities among which the fact that the initial stage where the agenda is determined is firmly controlled by the government in all the study countries. And this initial stage is crucial since it is the stage where most of the input from research occurs. Due to the difficulties of intervening into the policy process when it is at the cabinet level or when it is being discussed inside parliament, the importance of the first stage cannot be exaggerated. In addition, the lack of a very competitive political sys-tem, civic society and absence of a strong epistemic community in the energy sector are also structural problems that make interventions in the latter stages of the policy formulation process difficult.

The energy policy formulation in all the study countries took an inordinately long time; this is confirmed by both the timeline analysis as well as the opinion of the majority of the surveyed policy makers and researchers. This long drawn process has probably negatively impacted on the research-policy link because on the one hand, the absence of a strong epistemic community makes it difficult to keep researchers interested for long periods of time and, on the other hand, many issues are overtaken by events.

Botswana appears to be a unique case study in contrast to the other four country case studies. Its renewable energy policy is entrenched in the national development plan. This has resulted into a positive outcome with the increase in budgetary allocation to the renewables sub-sector growing at almost the same rate as the power sub-sector. The Botswana case study demonstrates that the existence of a long-established practice of integrating all sub-sectors into the macro-economic framework allows research in relatively new sub-sectors such as renewables to have significant policy impact.


Compared to the role played by new policy institutions and recruitment of skilled personnel, the quality of key personnel seems to play an important role. This is expected in an environment where an epistemic community is weak or non-existent and institutions are relatively weak as in the study countries. The high rate of staff turnover, both at ministerial as well as middle levels, has significantly affected both the policy and research capacity of government energy institutions and has also affected the research-policy link.

In all the case study countries, governments have consulted stakeholders in the preparation of the energy policy document. But as the results from the survey questionnaires indicate, researchers and policy makers think that more consultation of stakeholders is required. A number of researchers are of the opinion that the consultation is cosmetic and at that stage, policy makers have already made up their minds. The surveyed respondents also think that the dissemination of the national energy policy document is still not adequate. But in spite of these reservations, most of the respondents think that the national energy policy document covers most of the relevant is-sues that need to be covered.

Other contexts and external influence:

When looking at the overall context within which the energy policies were formulated, the recent wave of economic reforms in the form of structural adjustment programmes (that are primarily driven by the World Bank, IMF and key ODA partners) has significantly affected the general policy environment. Even though the overall policy environment is affected by the reform programmes, in many instances the policies at the macro level and the en-ergy sector seem to develop in parallel in many of the study countries, with the probable exception of Botswana. For example, how specific components of the energy policy are to be related to the poverty reduction objective of the reform programmes is not clear.

In addition to the structural adjustment programmes other exogenous contextual factors – internal as well external – have also influenced the energy policy process. Changes in politics, macro-economy, world oil prices, internal shocks like drought, regional initiative like NEPAD and other regional economic groupings, specific projects, etc. have influenced policy formulation.

Botswana’s case appears to be unique as policies for the energy sector development are an integral part of the macro-economic policy making process. Consequently, both the renewables and power sub-sectors have successfully attracted a significant amount of funding from the national budget. In addition, the aforementioned policy making process appears to be a continuous development that has greatly benefited from the country’s good governance and political stability.

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