Disruptive Processes in the Electricity Sector of Guinea-Bissau

A History of Electrification, De-Electrification and Re-Electrification (1890-2020)

Disruptive Processes

We analyze the processes, which enabled and disrupted the electrification of Guinea-Bissau since the first bulb was illuminated during colonial times. 



 A period from the late 19th century  until the mid-1980s was characterized by a slow expansion of electricity to the country’s major marketplaces. 



However, this period was followed by decades of degradation in the electricity sector and a nearly complete  de-electrification of the country  until the mid-2000s. 



Since 2008, the focus shifted back to the provision of electricity. A process of re-electrification started with grid-extension and hybrid solar-mini-grid projects. 


Disruptive Processes 

The case of Guinea-Bissau shows that electrification is not a unidirectional socio-technical process, but contrarily a process which can oscillate in the one or other direction (electrification vs. de-electrification).


A period from the 1890s to the mid-1980s was characterized by a slow expansion of electricity to the country’s major marketplaces with decentralized local electricity grids.


In Guinea-Bissau, a period from the 1890s to the mid-1980s was characterized by a slow expansion of electricity to the country’s major marketplaces with decentralized local electricity grids. In the following three decades from the mid-1980s to 2000s those decentralized electricity grids collapsed completely. Only the capital Bissau remained with a rudimentary electricity supply.


In the last 15 years development cooperation has shifted its focus to the provision of a stable and affordable energy supply to the whole population. Thus, a process of re-electrification hast started with a more reliable electricity supply in the capital Bissau and beyond. 

Research Questions

Four questions guide the project through the research of the different decades and processes of electrification in Guinea-Bissau:


How did the electricity distribution system in Guinea-Bissau evolve?


How does the evolution of the electricity system – a large socio-technical system – shape its current forms, functioning, perceptions and problems? Hence, can we find a continuity between the establishment of the electricity system – how it was organized and how it continued to be organized – and how actors and stakeholders in the electricity sector imagine how electricity supply should be organized currently and in future?


Which discourses or imaginations were connected to electricity supply in each of the identified phases (e.g. higher standard of living, who was eligible to be connected and who not, a “geography” of electricity supply)? How and why did they change over time?


How do large blueprint approaches (for developing countries in the African context) in the electricity sector of donor agencies translate into – or are reflected in the Bissau-Guinean context for which they were never made or even adjusted?


Research is based on literature & archive and empirical field research:

1) Literature & Reports

Literature, project reports, document research; mainly post-colonial period.

2) Archive

In Lisbon and Bissau:
– Arquivo Histórico Ultramarino
– Centro de Documentação da Fundação EDP
– Arquivos Históricos Nacionais da República da Guiné-Bissau

3) Expert Interviews

Current and former staff in the electricity sector (EAGB, Ministry, NGO’s).

4) Field Research

At selected current and historical sites of electricity production (e.g. Bissau, Gabú, Bafata, Bambadinca, Bolama, Canchungo). Interviews with current and former members of staff


Documents & reports
to review


Electricity generation sites to be visited


Interviews to be conducted

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Research Blog

First results, selected impressions from field research and other additional material will be presented here.


The project „Disruptive processes in the electricity sector of Guinea-Bissau – a history of electrification, de-electrification and re-electrification (1890 to 2020)“ is funded by Fritz Thyssen Foundation for a period of 12 months from June 2022 to May 2023.

The project is hosted by the University of Bayreuth at the Chair of Social Anthropology (Prof. Erdmute Alber).

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[info (at) history-electrification.com]