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An investigation into renewable energy as a driver of
grassroots development in rural Rwanda
James Grabham
(1119190)
2015

This dissertation is submitted as part of a MA Degree in
Environment and Development at King’s College London

KING’S COLLEGE LONDON
UNIVERSITY OF LONDON

DEPARTMENT OF GEOGRAPHY

MA/MSc DISSERTATION

I, James Grabham hereby declare (a) that this Dissertation is my own original
work and that all source material used is acknowledged therein;
(b) that it has been specially prepared for a degree of the University of London;
and (c) that it does not contain any material that has been or will be submitted to
the Examiners of this or any other university, or any material that has been or
will be submitted for any other examination.
This Dissertation is 11,935 words.

Signed: …………………………………………...…………….
Date: …………………...……………………………………….

ABSTRACT
2

This study assesses the impacts a growing renewable energy market in Rwanda is having on
grassroots development. The UN’s 8th sustainable development goal concerning universal
access to clean, modern energy provides the context to this study to assess the effectiveness of
renewable energy in driving the development of low-income communities rather than being
the manifestation of a vain attempt at modernisation. The growth of the industry in Rwanda is
being led by the private sector involving a range of different renewable energies. The mixed
methodology adopted in this study targets a range of stakeholders including government
ministries, private companies, NGOs and consumers of renewable technology. The findings of
this dissertation are that the government plays an instrumental role in the regulation of the
private sector, innovative funding systems are required to effectively supply low-income
Rwandans, livelihoods are heavily influenced by renewable energy whilst cultural indicators
have been greatly under-researched.

3

CONTENTS
Abstract………………………………………………………………………………………..3
List of Figures, Plates and Abbreviations……………………………………………………..5
Acknowledgments………………………………………………………………………….....6
1. Introduction
1.1 Country Profile…………………………………………………………………….7
1.2 Research Questions………………………………………………………....……..8
1.3 Paper Presentation…………………………………………………………………8
2. Literature Review
2.1 Renewable Energy and Modernisation Theory……………………………………9
2.2 Market Regulation and Finance………………………………………………….12
2.3 Livelihood Impacts….……………………………………………………………14
2.4 Cultural obstacles ………………………………………………………………..16
3. Methodology
3.1 Field Research……………………………………………………………………18
3.2 Participants……………………………………………………………………….19
3.3 Sampling Methods……………………………………………………………….20
3.4 Obstacles ………………………………………………………………………...21
4. Results and Analysis
4.1 Table of Organisations Surveyed………………………………………………...24
4.2 Market Regulation………………………………………………………………..25
4.3 Funding Systems and Affordability ……………………………………………..32
4.4 Livelihood Impacts…………………………………………………………...….36
4.5 Cultural Obstacles………………………………………………………………..40
5. Conclusion……………………………………………………………………….…..44
Appendix…………………………………………………………………………..…………46
Bibliography…………………………………………………………………………….……49

4

LIST OF FIGURES, PLATES AND ABBREVIATIONS
Figures:

Figure 1: Map of Rwanda…………………………………………………………………....18
Figure 2: Twitter accounts for participating organisations…………………………………..19
Figure 3: Guardian article on General Karake……………………………………………….22
Figure 4: BBC article on General Karake …………………………………………………...22
Figure 5: Del Agua’s water filter…………………………………………………………….28
Figure 6: Del Agua’s energy efficient stove…………………………………………………28
Figure 7: Priority factors for solar companies to operate ……………………………………30
Figure 8: Priority factors for Del Agua………………………………………………………30
Figure 9: Priority factors for SNV……………………………………………………………31
Figure 10: GLE engineers……………………………………………………………………33

Tables:

Table 1: Participating Organisations……………………………………………………...24-25

List of Abbreviations:

CDM

Carbon Development Mechanism

GLE

Great Lakes Energy

GoR

Government of Rwanda

MoH

Ministry of Health

RDB

Rwandan Development Board

AMIR

Association of Microfinance Institutions

IFAD

International Fund for Agricultural Development

RURA

Rwanda Utilities Regulation Authority

DFID

Department for International Development

MININFRA

Ministry of Infrastructure

SE4ALL

Sustainable Energy for All (Government)

ESSP

Energy Sector Strategic Plan (Government)

5

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I am grateful to my supervisor, Dr. Andrew Brooks, for his guidance and assistance
throughout the period of undertaking this dissertation, particularly for his knowledge of the
subject and help with logistics. I would also like to thank every participant that took part in
this study, the generosity with their time and lasting assistance made my research very
enjoyable.

6

INTRODUCTION

Country Profile
Rwanda is Africa’s 9th smallest country in terms of land area, just over 10,000 square
miles, and with its population of approximately 11.78 million (World Bank, 2013) it is the
densest on the continent’s mainland. The implications of this which concern this dissertation
are that Rwanda’s natural resources are being ravaged at an exceptionally fast rate with forest
areas being reduced by 7% annually (Safari, 2010). 88% of Rwandan households rely on wood
for domestic energy use (Bedi et al. 2015) which is above the continental average of 80% using
traditional biomass as the primary source of their energy consumption needs. As a result
Rwanda is heading towards an energy crisis which will not only devastate the environment but
also worsen almost every indicator of development including health standards and income
generation. Unfortunately, Rwanda is not the only developing country to be faced with this
critical situation and consequently the UN has identified the energy issue as a priority for future
development in the form of the 8th sustainable development goal – ‘Ensure access to affordable,
reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all’.

The approach the Rwandan government has taken is to encourage the development of
renewable energy taken from the abundance of wind, solar, biogas, and hydro sources that are
present in the country. However, encouraging greater production of renewable energies is not
simply a means to improve environmental stewardship but is regarded as a central component
for the country’s drive for wholesome development. Introducing new, clean technologies into
households is to have the desired effect of raising living standards, reduce gendered
inequalities, encourage entrepreneurship and to create thousands of new jobs for domestic
workers within the sector (GoR, 2015). Despite these noble goals, renewable energy projects
have often failed to deliver wide-scale and sustained improvements to livelihoods in the
developing world. This is particularly true of sub-Saharan Africa where World Bank funded
energy projects have a ‘success’ rate of just 36% (Barry et al. 2011).

This study will therefore assess the impacts renewable technologies are having at the
grassroots level in low-income communities in Rwanda and explore the criticisms directed at
development through modernisation in the Global South.

7

Research Questions

This study has four areas for investigation and the results for each question below will help
develop an understanding of the Rwandan approach to renewable energy and ultimately lead
to a judgement on whether the industry can be a successful vehicle for development

i.

In what ways have the government attempted to create a business culture in Rwanda
to attract renewable energy companies?

ii.

How is off-grid energy production being made affordable for low-income
households?

iii.

To what extent can the renewable energy sector stimulate socio-economic
development in Rwanda?

iv.

What cultural challenges have hampered the successful implementation of
renewable energy projects?

Paper Presentation

These research questions have been chosen as they attempt to fill in the gaps within
current academic literature on renewable energy polices. The following section reviews this
literature and justifies the legitimacy of this study as an alternative perspective of the debates
surrounding renewable energy in the Global South. The third part of this dissertation focuses
on the methods employed to collect the appropriate data in an ethical and reliable manor. The
results of the study will then be presented an analysed with relation to the research questions.
Finally, part five offers a conclusion to the study and a judgement made relating to the
relationship between renewable energy and grassroots development.

8

LITERATURE REVIEW
Renewable Energy and Modernisation Theory

Modernisation has acted as a prominent and enduring fixture of development studies
over the past sixty years and whilst this term has evolved from separate processes of
Westernisation, urbanisation and industrialisation it has retained the capacity to be deeply
divisive. Post-development thinkers such as Arturo Escobar (1995) have bluntly condemned
the process as the embodiment of capitalism which undermines and destroys traditional ways
of living. This is in opposition to proponents of modernisation like Daniel Lerner (1958) who
advocated the practice as a means to escape underdevelopment and poverty. Within this
debate, renewable energy has often been described as a form of ecological modernisation, a
theory which identifies ecological stewardship as a catalyst for economic growth (Toke, 2011).
However, there are also social and cultural implications that result from the introduction of
new technology which could potentially be viewed as destructive. Inglehart and Welzel
(2005:16) summarise modernisation as ‘technological innovation and its socioeconomic
consequences as the basis of human progress, with pervasive implications for culture and
political institutions’. The pervasive implications which Inglehart and Welzel allude to will act
as the basis of this study, as renewable energies will be assessed in terms of their cultural,
political, economic and environmental consequences.

Criticism of modernisation has been extensive since the term was engineered in
President Truman’s 1949 speech on underdevelopment and the need for the developing world
to undergo a process of transformation to reach the economic status of Western nations.
Truman’s simplistic view of the development gap created the notion of modernisation as an
uncompromising term describing traditional and modern lifestyles as distinct binaries in which
‘no country or citizen can belong to both’ (Daniels et al. 2005:192). Similar high profile
misinterpretations were evident in Rostow’s stages of economic growth model (1960) in which
‘traditional societies’ signified the lowest form of development compared with advanced
capitalist economies which occupied the higher stages. This view of tradition is best
summarised by Abrahamsen (2000) who describes the pursuit of modernity as the disposal of
anything which comes before development as it is has no value in the developed world, instead
modernisation identifies that underdevelopment is constructed by deficiencies and absences.

9


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