A research paper produced by the Eswatini Economic Policy Analysis and Research Centre (ESEPARC) was one of 11 papers chosen for presentation and discussion at the Fifth COMESA Annual Research Forum.

The paper titled ‘The Impact of the Demographic Transition on Energy Demand in COMESA: A Pooled Mean Group Estimation’, which was authored by Associate Researcher Tanele Magongo and Senior Research Fellow Dr Thabo Sacolo, was presented at the Forum anchored under the theme: ‘Harnessing the Demographic Dividend for Social Economic Transformation and Deep Regional Integration in COMESA through Academia-Industry Linkages’ last month in Nairobi, Kenya.

The main objective of the Forum was to review and discuss the papers developed by researchers from the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) region on key regional integration issues focusing on the digital economy in the context of the Tripartite and African Continental Free Trade Areas.

Dr Sacolo, who represented ESEPARC at the Forum, explained that the research paper submitted by the Centre argues that the increase in Africa’s working age population means that the COMESA region needs to plan its energy infrastructure accordingly. He said the objective of this paper is to examine the impact of an increase in the working age population on energy demand.

“This was deemed necessary since there is no study that has assessed the effect of the demographic structure on energy demand in the COMESA region. As a result, current Energy Master Plans neither take into account the demographic structure nor its transition when making long-term energy demand projections,” he said.

In the case of Eswatini, Dr Sacolo explained that the current energy Master Plan does not take cognisance of the demographic structure of the population, hence it is prone to underestimate the country’s future energy needs. Adding, he said to improve the estimates of projected energy demand, the Master Plan should disaggregate population into young population, working age population, and old population. “This is deemed sufficient since the study reveals that different age groups put different pressure on energy demand,” he further noted.

Dr Sacolo said the research paper further argues that in order to avoid future energy shortages, part of the solutions will therefore require the development of energy demand Master Plans that will ensure that the demographic structure and transition are considered when making energy demand projections.

“The study highlights empirical evidence which reveals that Africa is experiencing a demographic transition. An interrogation of the current method used by COMESA member states to estimate energy demand reveals that the current estimation procedure does not take into account the demographic structure of the population,” added the senior research fellow.

Meanwhile, Dr Abel Ozeoha who was the discussant remarked that the paper is timely and very policy relevant, especially for Africa. He observed that a deepening energy crisis persists in most parts of the continent and that in COMESA, renewed interest in the energy debate is important for building an effective energy pool and interconnectivity.

Some of the participants affirmed that a lot needs to be done to improve the accuracy of estimates of energy demand in the region. While a delegate from Comoros argued that the paper is a step in the right direction, he however challenged the authors to extend its scope beyond the population variable in future studies, since it currently focuses on one aspect of the current estimation procedure (population), and yet it is apparent that a total overhaul of the current estimation procedure is necessary to better inform investment in the energy sector.

The delegate also advised the authors to make efforts towards quantifying the energy deficit within the region, since most studies only argue that there is an energy deficit without actually attaching a value to it. To this end, Dr Sacolo said with data permitting, they are keen on quantifying the deficit.

The Forum was attended by over 50 leading policy think tanks, academia, and private sector representatives from the 21 COMESA Member States, as well as representatives from the sponsors of the Forum; COMESA Competition Commission and the United Nations Conference for Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Other organisations represented were the COMESA Monetary Institute (CMI), ZEP-RE, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), Trade and Development Bank (TDB), Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and Afrexim Bank.