Published: MAY 19, 2022

A Brief History of Energy in Tanzania

The road from a colonial to post-colonial energy system

The first public electricity supply in Tanzania was established by the German colonialists in 1908 (by then Tanganyika) and served the railway workshops and towns where the colonialists were mostly staying (Edward and Hard, 2019). During colonial eras, electricity lines were installed directed to productive areas such as industries owned by colonial powers (Chaplin et al., 2017). In rare cases electricity was installed to improve livelihoods and ensure social services of community households. The role of electricity in promoting productivity at household levels remained limited and thus impaired contribution of economic growth from household livelihood activities. It is under this circumstance many of households in Tanzania remained with no access to electricity. However, after independence in 1961 the first government of Tanganyika came up with an intention to develop the national electricity generation for domestic, industrial use and to promote irrigation of rural agricultural land. Potential foreign partners and engineers were invited and were given an opportunity to support. However, in the process they changed the main focus to concentrate on hydropower alone and agriculture was not given priority. Consequently, the British dominance in the power sector was replaced by others such as Swedish and earlier knowledge produced by British colonial officers was disregarded. Discounting previous knowledge had its implications on future energy sector development.

 The birth of TANESCO

Empower communities by access to energy

 In 1964, the Tanzania Electric Supply Company (TANESCO) was formed as a public power utility. Electricity was seen as an essential element for improving livelihoods in rural areas and hence limit both rural-urban migration and deforestation (Chaplin et al., 2017) which were at an alarming rate. TANESCO was tasked to undertake studies and start planning new power projects to meet the increasing industrial, commercial, and rural township power supply demands.  It was during this time; large-scale hydroelectric plants were built and subsidized by the government to reduce costs from imported fossil fuel (Cook et al. 2015).

 A bumpy road toward energy for everyone

The challenges of transforming an industry-focused colonial energy system

However, it does not need to be emphasised that the process to increase electricity access in rural areas of Tanzania, remained focused on areas which were considered productive, towns and for decades has ignored rural areas. This shows how the colonial system in the energy sector continued to influence energy provisions in the country. Projects that intended to electrify rural areas were supported by donors or had slow advancement. Still in rural areas electricity was neither used to increase productivity nor serve the cooking and heating sectors. Even in some rural areas where households had access to electricity, it was only used for lighting (Bernard, 2012). Rural electrification did not increase a number of households with connections due to high prices and did not reduce reliance on wood (Bernard, 2012. Chaplin et al., 2017). Deforestation rates linked to unsustainable use of biomass was thought to increase and rural-urban migration did not slow down. In the period of 1980s and early 1990s, Tanzania switched to structural adjustment policies where government and donor-funding rural electrification projects were significantly reduced. It was learnt that large-scale projects to expand grid to rural areas were expensive and increased debts to the state-owned utility company (Bernard, 2012).

 The History of National Energy Policies

Promote productive use of energy

In general, all efforts failed to increase access and promote productive use of energy in rural areas and particularly at household levels, this is considered to be one of the reasons for existing poverty (CANTZ, 20219; Garcia et al., 2017). In 1992, the government formulated the first National Energy Policy (NEP) as a response to socio-economic reforms which happened in 1990s (URT; 2015). In the early 2000s, NEP was re-formulated and launched in 2003 with an intention of reforming the energy market and attracting private sector participation in the Sector (URT, 2015). It was through the implementation of NEP, 2003; Energy and Water Utilities Regulatory Authority (EWURA) was established; Rural Energy Agency (REA) and Rural Energy Fund (REF) became operational. Both Small Power Purchase Agreements (SPPA) and the Electricity Act 2008 were formulated.

 Energy for Development

A key to fight poverty

Since the 1990s, energy has been explained as one of the important socio-economic transformation enablers.  It has since been considered both in the Millennium Development Goals and Sustainable Development Goals as an important instrument to fight poverty and hunger, enhancing education, health, transport, empowering women, ensuring access to water and decent jobs. The utilisation and promotion of renewable energy and energy efficiency are among the SDGs and well linked to the Paris climate agreement. Renewable energy and energy efficiency are also considered to be important in addressing energy poverty and building resilience to rural and off grid communities. Decentralised energy and especially utilising local renewable energy sources are now widely accepted to ensure sustainable development. Despite their emphasis documentation in many national plans and agenda, their implementation has been lagging significantly. The current legislations in the energy sector have less emphasis on amplifying the role of renewable energy and decentralising energy compared to grid extension. If the abundant renewable energy sources are not utilized the current plans may not meet present and emerging energy demands and sector challenges.

(This section is part of the Policy Recommendation Report that analysis the landscape of the Energy Sector and Policy in Tanzania. Learn more about it here: )