The unexpectedly high spend on mobile phones in Africa in the past few decades surprised many Africa analysts who had largely written off the spending power of the poorest in society, preferring to focus their efforts on a rising middle class. This expenditure highlighted the fact that people will find money, however little, to spend on goods and services they really want and need. Another indicator of this is the expenditure across income groups on power generation. A huge $50bn a year is spent by Africans on fuel for energy, according to a speaker at last week’s African Energy Indaba in Johannesburg. Most of this is used to power generators — a staple energy source across Africa. In Nigeria alone, more than $20bn a year is spent on fuel for localised energy solutions. The ubiquitous sounds of the fuel-guzzling machines can be heard across Nigeria, from the smallest market stall to the biggest hotel. They also help the government to function. In Nigeria’s recent budget, the highest...

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