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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Studying at Cambridge


Josephine Tumwesige

Sustainable development, climate change, and renewable energy in rural Sub-Saharan Africa: The impact of rural electrification on rural-urban migration in Uganda

The case of Uganda’s rural-urban migration is unique because the country’s capital city and towns are growing without industrialisation. This has implications on the inspirations of rural individuals and households that view migration not only as a livelihood strategy but as an investment. This unique situation places and urgent need to diversify economic structures in rural areas. Since access to energy is an enabler that underlies economic activity, it is posited that rural electrification by significantly contributing to the improvement of the rural economy can improve livelihoods, which, in turn, addresses structural causes for rural-urban migration.

This study investigated the impact of rural electrification on rural-urban migration in rural Uganda through a case study of seven villages with off-grid electrification projects. The aim was to understand the causes of rural-urban migration, the perceived benefits and limitations of the electrification initiatives by the individuals in the benefitting communities and what way the benefits influence the individual or household’s decision to migrate to an urban area. 

The results show that rural electrification indirectly underpins rural-urban migration through enabling the phenomenon of a migration ladder.  The results also show that rural electrification causes in-migration into the electrified area and may result in the displacement of the rural poor, threatening the livelihood of the intended beneficiary. These results demonstrate the rural electrification projects can not only benefit but can also act as threats to rural livelihoods. This complexity of impacts and how the threats can be mitigated needs to be considered when planning and implementing rural electrification projects.