Africa’s Solar Street Lights Offer Glimmer of Potential

By Marianne Dhenin

Jinja City in Uganda is the latest city in sub-Saharan Africa to embrace the cost savings and environmental benefits of solar-powered street illumination.

Cyclists ride underneath solar lights in the Takpapieni village in Oti province of northern Togo.
Photographer: PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP via Getty Images

In 2016, on the northern shore of Lake Victoria, Jinja City sat in darkness. The city, the second-largest in Uganda, had run up an overdue power bill of 1.3 billion Ugandan shillings ($3.5 million), so Umeme, the nation’s largest energy distributor, disconnected the city’s street lights.  

Even before Umeme cut the power, most roads in this city of 870,000 near the source of the White Nile lacked illumination: Only the colonial-era center of town was equipped with street lights, and many of these had begun to sputter out due to age and poor maintenance. Districts that had grown as unplanned areas on the outskirts before being incorporated into the city had never been lit at all. “The area in the city that is planned is quite small,” says Kennedy Kibedi, a social media marketing specialist who works in tourism in Jinja City. “On the fringes of the city, in the suburbs, there’s a lot of informal development.”

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