Co-Investigator: Dr Joshua Kirshner (Department of Environment and Geography, University of York)

External Collaborators: Sheffield University; Oxford University; University of Eduardo Mondlane; AVSI Foundation; Electricidade de Mocambique 

Funder: British Academic (Sustainable Development Programme 2016) and GCRF

Project Duration: 2016-2018

Achieving universal access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy requires addressing socio-political constraints, particularly in conflict-laden areas. In Mozambique, where armed conflict is resurging, achieving energy access can support economic development and the eradication of extreme poverty.

Sustainable Energy Access in Mozambique: Socio-Political Factors in Conflict-Laden Urban Areas is a research project supported by the British Academy’s Sustainable Development Programme and the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), which examined multiple aspects of Mozambique’s energy system to understand the existing energy access challenges and propose ways of overcoming them.

Mozambique has abundant fossil fuel and hydropower resources and a nascent renewable energy industry. There are also business models, such as the prepaid electricity system, that enable poorer people to access energy at unprecedented rates. What then explains the persistence of energy poverty in this context? Why do some populations lack reliable sources for basic needs such as lighting, cooking and heating water? We argue that to facilitate energy access we need to understand the socio-political conditions that prevent it, particularly the underlying conflicts related to energy provision. The project used quantitative and qualitative methods developed through co-production processes to analyse the socio-political roots of energy-related conflicts and how they can be overcome.

Kirshner led the work package on the political economy of energy, highlighting links between national scale energy policies, energy resources and intersections with everyday life.


​Aim and objectives

The research aimed to understand the social and political conditions that constrain universal energy access in urban areas in Mozambique. The project had three main objectives:

1) To understand the uneven geographical patterns of energy access in Mozambique

Research on energy access tends to pay attention to individual limitations to consumption patterns, but seldom examines or maps how local and regional differences in terms of availability of energy sources influences household practices. The project aimed to understand how these practices are shaped by geographical and historical differences in the impact of political and armed conflict, regional and local investments, and the proximity to urban areas.

2) To examine how the political economy of Mozambique influences energy access

Political and armed conflict around access to resource wealth between the ruling and the opposition political parties (FRELIMO and RENAMO) creates focalized areas of violence. This has created instability in how the political and business elites are inserting Mozambique in different global and regional circuits of capital and resource circulation, particularly involving much needed energy generation projects. The projects aimed to examine how conflict shapes the political economy of energy investments to improve energy access rates.

3) To examine the everyday processes of symbolic and economic violence constraining energy access

There is an established literature that demonstrates how everyday processes of management influence the unequal provision of services. In Mozambique, utilities and other local managers may construct particular forms of deserving and undeserving subjects, thus promoting unequal patterns of energy provision over time and space that can lead to social and political unrest. The project examined how management practices may enact forms of symbolic and economic violence that lead to inequality of service provision.


The project followed a methodology of knowledge co-production, combining traditional quantitative and qualitative methods with processes that integrate the knowledge of infrastructure managers and communities through participatory and co-design workshops. A household survey of energy access in the cities of Beira, Maputo and Pemba, developed in partnership with local actors, supported a process of mapping local and regional divergence in energy access. Qualitative research with key experts in the energy sector analysed the country’s wider political economy of energy. Participant observation with EDM, the national electricity utility, was used to examine approaches and policies that are enacted by experts in the process of grid management and expansion. A series of participatory workshops were held at the end of the project to discuss these findings with local actors, in Mozambique and in the UK. The project team also staged a visual exhibition on energy access in Maputo, as part of the British Academy Summer Showcase event in June 2019.


Key Findings


There is a methodological need for research to examine energy justice challenges from within specific, situated understandings of energy delivery. 


There needs to be emancipatory notions of energy justice that integrate concepts such as energy sovereignty at their core to emphasise the dimension of self-determination as a complementary aspect of energy justice.


Processes of social and territorial fragmentation, rather than an integrated project of modernity, characterise Mozambique’s evolving energy landscapes.


Using energy landscapes as a lens can reveal political challenges as well as political opportunities for promoting change.


Project Outcomes

Castán Broto, V., Baptista, I., Kirshner, J., Smith, S. and Neves Alves, S. (2018) Energy justice and sustainability transitions in Mozambique. Applied Energy 228: 645-655 (in a special issue on ‘Low carbon energy systems and energy justice’).

Kirshner, J., Castán Broto, V. and Baptista, I. (2019) Energy landscapes in Mozambique: The role of extractive industries in a post-conflict environment. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space 52(6): 1051-1071 (in a special issue on ‘New energy spaces: towards a geographical political economy of energy transition’).

Links to external partners

University of Eduardo Mondlane (Maputo, Mozambique) 

AVSI Foundation 

Electricidade de Mocambique (EDM)  (national electricity provider)