July 28, 2021

Could Electricity Supply be the new gem in Sierra Leone?

5 min read

By Alpha Bedoh Kamara

“Light don cam! Light don go!” is still the mantra whenever there is electricity supply in our communities or when it suddenly goes off and left frustrated customers disappointed and angry; but then cannot take the body responsible for the supply of electricity to court!

“Light don cam! Light don go!” such is always the anxiety of children, young people and even the elderly.

Provision of electricity has always posed a challenge for the then National Power Authority which was unable to provide sustainable electricity supply for the few consumers that were able to afford electricity supply in their homes. It is either there is no electricity for months in a particular community because of a faulty transformer or an electric cable that wasn’t still fixed because the affected community members haven’t seen the personnel.

Because of the challenges faced by the NPA, the Government looked at ways to reform the Authority and then changed the name of the Authority to ‘Electricity Distribution Supply Authority (EDSA)” for proper management of electricity supply and financial transparency in the system.

However, the question is, “Will electricity supply in the city be 100 percent positive?’.

Somehow, unlike previous years, it is far better but the challenges are still there and the mantra “Light don cam! Light don go!” dances the rhythm whenever there is electricity supply in our communities or when it suddenly goes off and left frustrated customers disappointed and angry; but then cannot take the body responsible for the supply of electricity to court!

Unfortunately, though the market is huge with many opportunities for investors, there is none from the private sector to tackle this behemoth mine and makes it the new source of gems in Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leoneans want sustainable electricity supply; they want to feel the glamour of the 20th century hi-tech and cruise through the Wifi platform to reach out to their friends and families; but they will only live this dream when there is electricity supply that is sustainable and affordable.

Without sustainable and reliable electricity supply our country will always face the challenge of attracting major investment opportunities that could best lift this nation from its present position to a state of better economic output and developmental stability.

We’ve had years of mining history that spans from the 1930s and the trend still continues with our land being depleted and ravaged for diamonds, gold, bauxite, rutile, granite, iron ore, and others, yet the affected communities are basking in poverty.

Though the iron ore is being mined in Sierra Leone it cannot be processed in the country because of the low wattage of electricity, a process that would have created more employment for Sierra Leoneans as well as a sustainable market for the electricity supplier.

Unfortunately our national electricity supplier, almost 100 percent government owned, like other public service institutions, is unable to meet the growing demands of the people. But then, why not privatise the whole system and allow the professionals to handle it?

Sometime in 2005-2006, the privatization of the National Power Authority was high up in the agenda with ESCOM, a South African electricity supplier making the local news as favourite but unfortunately the momentum died down and residents in Freetown were again left to sing the mantra “Light don go! Light don cam!”

With the coming to power of President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma in 2007 electricity supply was radically improved and the Hydro Power Plant (Bumbuna) which construction was started in 1973 and almost in moribund state was brought back to life; however the management of Bumbuna is also faced with another challenge: old transformers, poor or outdated electrical connections and many others.

An engineer at the Bumbuna facility once said the National Power Authority (NPA) wasn’t prepared!

Indeed back in Freetown the problem is always a ‘transformer’ or a ‘fallen cable’, and will cause a whole community to be deprived of electricity for months.

But the development in solar technology has bought the minds of Sierra Leoneans who are dreaming of getting this technology in their grips. And the government is championing this cause by investing in solar installation nationwide to provide sustainable electricity, especially in the rural sector. But the use of government solar lights is limited to only providing street lights and not for household use.

Private individuals, non-governmental organizations and few radio stations are also utilizing this technology but it goes with a cost! And therefore only those who can afford the price will access solar power.

A 100 Watt solar panel in Sierra Leone is almost US$250; a single solar battery costing almost US$120; and inverter is priced according to the wattage as well as a controller. It therefore shows that only the very rich could afford solar to power their appliances at home.

People are hungry for electricity supply and the market is still so big that no one individual can salvage the plight of the people. In Magburaka, Tonkolili District, North of Sierra Leone, a man is using a Generator to supply electricity to people in the center of the township. His customers provide their own cables and pay per hours of usage and so far his intervention is uplifting the community as well as creating employment for seven people he has recruited to help him do the job.

A similar venture is also being carried out in Kambia District where another man is doing same.

But we need major investors to tackle this challenge and give us light! The new gem could be electricity and the people are hungry and want to see an end to “Light don cam! Light don go!”

I am optimistic that if an investor could come into the country and carryout a pilot phase in one of the communities in Freetown, such as targeting 100 households, he/she will see the potential for business in electricity provision.

This doesn’t in any way means the EDSA should be bought over but rather providing another window of opportunity that Sierra Leoneans will look out from to see light and an end to “Light don cam! Light don go!”

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