Communities in West Africa find it difficult to access uninterrupted power supply and this makes life in urban poor very difficult and unbearable. As a solution to this, rural villages in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Senegal have embraced solar energy for alternative means of electricity supply.
At the moment, over 80 rural communities in Senegal use solar energy, while in Mali 150 communities now use solar power. Going by the revelation of the solar producers stationed in Senegal Sustainable Power Electric Company (SPEC), solar panels appear to provide a prospective answer for electrification in remote villages’ years ahead.
In Kayes town, a community located in the west of Mali, many families embraced solar power as an alternative means for power generation despite the fact that the community is connected to conventional electricity. To them, solar is affordable and does not damage their electronics and electrical appliances as conventional electricity does. One of the community members Khalidou Soumaré, who lives in the Kayes municipality, said he had adopted the usage of solar power in his home for over 10 years.
The government of Senegal gives support to this initiative by subsidizing the purchase and installation of solar panels for many rural villages in Senegal. In complementing the effort of the government, community dwellers are engaged while they contribute 50,000 CFA per household (100 USD), to purchase and install solar power to light up communities.
The herdsmen in the communities believe that the installation of solar panels will be most useful as that will make it impossible for their livestock to be stolen: it will lighten up the communities, therefore making it difficult for thieves to steal their livestock at night. They are also happy that with solar power they now have television to be abreast of the happenings, tracking the news.
In 2009, the Monaco Red Cross installed a small solar power plant in the Kayes community, enabling the recharging of four hundred lanterns that belong to respective homes. They will be able to recharge their lantern at the central point at whatever time they want for a monthly subscription fee of 700 CFA (1.45 USD).
The money generated through this process is used for engaging electrical technicians for the maintenance of the solar power plant. This method, however, has the benefit and possibility of making families who cannot afford photovoltaic kits to have access to solar electricity.
In Boulsa, a community in the Koupèla commune in southern Burkina Faso, a non-governmental organization known as Soleil et Développement (Sun and Development) assisted one hundred and two women to install solar panels in their respective homes in the year 2009.
The future of West Africa depends on its industrialization, which cannot take place without adequate power supply. Therefore initiatives of this kind no doubt will play a major role in the development of the region, particularly as it will provide lights to rural communities, taking pressure off the grid power and making living a bit comfortable for rural dwellers.
This is likely to create jobs for rural communities therefore reducing rapid rural-urban migration. It will also give rise to cottage industries and factories making jobs available to city youth.
If this kind of initiative is supported and sustained across West Africa, the region is likely to be one of the competing economies in a short time and the level of poverty and unemployment is likely to be reduced to the barest minimum.
Audu Liberty Oseni
Coordinator, Media Advocacy West Africa Foundation (MAWA – Foundation)