A conversation with Eng. Linus K. Chanda, Chief Executive Officer of Zambia’s Rural Electrification Authority
The International Cooperative Research Group (ICRG), research arm of the U.S. Overseas Cooperative Development Council (OCDC), was pleased to support a study tour for the Government of Zambia in partnership with OCDC member organization, NRECA International.
The purpose of the trip was to provide an opportunity for the Zambian delegation to interact with electric cooperative leaders and learn about the effectiveness of the cooperative model in the U.S. and around the world.
Zambia’s Ministry of Energy’s Permanent Secretary, Dr. Francesca Chisangano-Zyambo, led the delegation, which also included a team from Zambia’s Rural Electrification Authority (pictured above).
During the delegation’s visit, we had the opportunity to have a meaningful conversation with Eng. Linus K. Chanda, Chief Executive Officer of Zambia’s Rural Electrification Authority. He shared what he learned from co-op leaders during the study tour, and his reflections and aspirations for what he anticipates will be a bright future for the electric cooperative movement in Zambia. Here is an excerpt from that conversation.
THE COOPERATIVE ADVANTAGE
Over the years there have been challenges in your country to expand electricity in the rural areas. Why do you think using the electric co-op model will work in Zambia?
The co-op model for me brings a very interesting dynamism. The cooperative is going to be community driven. The members of the community who need electricity will decide how much power they want, what level of service and cost, and they are going to have a say when they believe that the service is not meeting their expectations or if the service that they are receiving has become expensive. The focus is on empowerment to the people. It’s breathtaking, really, when I think about it and imagine what we can do.
Is there support from the government for the electric co-op model?
This government was elected in 2021 and we saw the doubling of the budget that’s been allocated to our authority. The existing regulatory framework is commensurate to the fact that we didn’t have co-ops in the industry. We had start-up companies like IPPs where we were thinking that we can have some private distribution companies. That is what our regulatory framework supports. So now as we push to implement and introduce co-ops, we’ve got to change that. We need to think and implement and borrow ideas from the U.S., borrow ideas from everybody else who’s done it around the world and go and implement it in our system.
LOCALLY LED DEVELOPMENT
What role do you see communities play in helping with developing co-ops?
We need to get buy-in from the community. It helps us to synchronize the needs of the villages. What they do is immediately form village committees. And these committees, synchronize with our project implementation and sensitizing the communities. They know there will be electricity so you can buy yourself a TV, you can buy yourself a fridge. That for me, every time I’ve gone out in the rural areas to see how these committees are formed and what they’re able to do, is a starting point for us to form co-ops.
What challenges do you see for these future electric co-ops in Zambia?
Affordability is one of the huge issues that we have to deal with. But I think the main challenge I see is the sensitization component. In the rural areas, not everybody is assertive. Most members of the communities in the rural areas expect that decisions will be made on their behalf by government and chiefs and people like that. And we can have a village with 1000 people, and maybe 100 people are literate and can come out and express themselves, and the rest of them will be passengers. So that’s a barrier we need to break so that we can get these people to understand that this co-op is yours, and you have a say. This is your land. This will be your power. This will be your co-op. So that’s one of the major things I foresee would be a challenge.
COOPERATION AMONG COOPERATIVES
Did the study tour meet your expectations?
Yes. I think first I needed to get a number of questions answered, especially in terms of the operations and a point of view of what members are able to do. Initially, I felt a co-op is just like a private business. You put up electricity infrastructure and you’re providing electricity and you’re making your own returns. It blew my mind to learn that co-ops are not-for-profit. During the round table discussion, the Bolivians said that despite all the naysayers who were saying this can’t be done, they went ahead and managed to put together their co-op. Even for us there will be people who will be pulling in the opposite direction. And we can only go past such challenges if we have support from you and other mature cooperative organizations. This inspiring conversation suggests that there is momentum, interest, and a viable pathway to empowering Zambia’s rural communities. Our forthcoming case study will share knowledge and further explore the potential for rural electricity delivery in Zambia through cooperatives!