East African Electricity Systems and Reliability
Connecting poor populations in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) to the electric grid is thought to lead to reductions in poverty-induced vulnerabilities and is considered a strategy for meeting development goals. However, electricity infrastructures are complex. Their dynamic physicality, which varies both spatially and temporarily, carries a diverse set of agents; these users, operators, engineers and policy makers embody conditions that are socially and materially produced and reproduced. Furthermore, the nature of reliability, or specifically (un)reliability compounds existing vulnerabilities by increasing uncertainty for already precarious populations. My research explores the nature of uncertainty as it relates to energy access in SSA and, specifically, the intermittent materiality of the electric current to users and the provider. I will conduct this work in Zanzibar, Tanzania - an island facing severe (un)reliability, and use a mixture of quantitative/qualitative methods: ethnography, surveys, and electricity monitoring. By combining an understanding of the materiality of the electricity system with qualitative semi-structured interviews and survey data, I establish a unique notion of the social and material conditions capable of heightening and resisting everyday uncertainties.