Posts Tagged ‘electricity’

What’s ailing Mali ?

July 14, 2020

You may have seen the images of Mali’s capital Bamako: the fires, the running battles and the extensive damage. It is an explosion that has been long in the making. Last Friday’s huge demonstration, the third of its kind against the government of president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, elected in 2018 during an exercise the vast majority of Malians considered completely irrelevant to their lives, descended into violence that has yet to end and, according to hospitals in the Malian capital, resulted in 11 deaths so far.

Yes, it was long in the making because the causes are so well-known. Top of the list : a security crisis that began well before 2012 with the fallout from NATO’s disastrously criminal ouster of the Libyan leader Muamar Ghadaffi without having an exit plan, an act that pulled the trigger of what happened next.

For years Ghadaffi had been the very nice friend of European heads of state, especially since he stuffed his arsenals with well over one billion euros worth of arms, made in Europe. When Ghadaffi was deposed, the many Tuareg officers in his army departed with the contents of those arsenals and arrived in their native Mali early 2012, where they started an ill-fated rebellion that was soon overtaken by jihadist forces that Algeria had earlier thrown across its border into the vast desert space of Mali’s north. There was nothing to stop them; Mali’s army has to make do with kit that often dates back to the time when it was an ally of the former Soviet Union…

That security crisis is still with us and has mixed freely and unpredictably with organised crime, banditry and self-defense, rendering the north and the centre of the country both ungoverned and volatile. The numerous high-profile international interventions (France, United Nations, the regional G5 Sahel Force) notch up a success or two here and there but are in no position to put an end to the problem. The army is a demoralised mess and prone to human rights abuses, like most of the other actors in this drama.

The deeply detested Karim Keita (you guessed right: the president’s son) presided over the Parliamentary Defence Committee while he took an army plane to celebrate his birthday in a decadent Spanish resort, an event he has since downplayed. However, the images of a drinking and cavorting top official sticks in the craw of the many who don’t know if they can pay for their next meal. His extremely arrogant attitude (just follow his Twitter feeds) is emblematic of an elite that came to power nearly thirty years ago in the wake of a popular uprising against the repressive dictatorship of General Moussa Traoré but has presided over the descent of this country into corruption of both finances and morals. Keita Junior’s belated departure from the prestigious parliamentary post changes nothing.

The majority of Malians have no access to safe drinking water, health care that doesn’t kill you, quality education, reliable electricity, decent roads and working drainage systems. None of this bothers the clans in power, issued from that 1991 “revolution”, because they have their own water and electricity, they send their kids to school in Europe and when they fall ill there’s a flight to take them to a first class clinic in Rabat, Geneva or Paris. The system works for them – and nobody else.

‘They have failed and they have failed us,’ is a refrain you hear a lot when speaking with Malians about the parlous state of their government. But from the perspective of the elites and their – mostly foreign – supporters the system is working precisely as it should. International aid from banks and donor countries keeps them in power, as do the revenues from Mali’s gold mines that do not even improve the lives of those who live next to them.

In short, the idea that the current crop of leaders, essentially unchanged since 1991, will bring positive change in any of these areas has long since been abandoned. Hence the near-complete lack of interest in elections and the mass turn to Allah. Inevitable Islam – yes I wrote this six years ago and the trend has only intensified. It was only a matter of time before someone would appear on the scene who would personify the Islamic alternative to a morally bankrupt polity.

His name: imam Mahmoud Dicko and please take some time to read Bruce Whitehouse’s excellent profile of the man here. His movement, the rather blandly named Coordination des Mouvements, Asociations et Sympathisants (CMAS) is his still-discreet-but-soon-overt political vehicle. A former Prime Minister, Soumeylou Boubeye Maïga, whose dismissal Dicko engineered called him “a hybrid”, a man of God playing politics.

But Dicko can marshall crowds tens of thousands strong, although he has been accused of paying the owners of Bamako’s ubiquitous Sotrama minibuses good money to ferry demonstrators into town, mirroring the practice of paying voters CFA2000 (just over three euros) for the promise to support such and such a politician. Whether or not these accusations have merit, the grievances are too numerous and too deep to dismiss these mass gatherings as simply rent-a-crowd.

Bamako, and if my sense of direction is anywhere near accurate, this is close to the Second Bridge, which demonstrators blocked off. Picture retrieved from the website of Anthropology professor Alain Bertho. Link here:

Last Friday’s was the third one. The pattern is always the same: mass open air prayer, long speeches denouncing the government, followed by nightfall and increasingly violent riots. This time, irate demonstrators attacked the building where the National Assembly (Mali’s parliament) exhibits its expensive futility and the national television ORTM, where the state broadcaster obediently broadcasts government propaganda. There was looting, fires were started, bridges across the Djoliba (Niger) River were blocked and then the embattled security forces took aim at the angry crowds with live ammunition. Deaths ensued.

This was inevitable, for it’s not just widespread anger and frustration. The many large and impoverished neighbourhoods in Bamako are filled with disenfranchised, disenchanted young men, permanently bored witless. I have written about them before. This is the demographic permanently left out of the high-flying development discourse, the group that finds out pretty early on in life that nobody has any time for them and that they’re on their own. When they hear about a big anti-government demonstration, they do not hear political complaints; they hear an invitation to pick a fight and loot businesses. In short, they copy the behavior of the clans that rule them – but in a more direct manner. It’s mainly because of them that Bamako, over the weekend and even today, resembles a battlefield.

None of the actors present here has a workable solution. The president has offered the option of a Government of National Unity, which may or may not come about, as regional and international mediators fly in to put an end to the crisis. However, the international community is widely regarded as being in cahoots with this discredited regime. Besides, president Keita is very likely to hold on to power – whatever the scenario – until it is time to go in the manner approved by said international community: elections, which, once again, hardly anyone will bother to attend. Imam Dicko, if ever he declares his intention to run for the presidency and gets elected, is likely to turn the country into a state under de facto Islamic rule. The youths who now so enthusiastically follow him will not enjoy living in a land without music, videos, drinks and sex for very long…

And finally, there is doubt whether Mali can survive or whether it even exists as a unitary state. Parts of the north have been self-governing since 2012, a situation that angers many. Other parts of the north and the centre are steeped in anarchy and uncertainty, as criminals attack homes, businesses and buses and militias stalk the land while they murder, steal, rape and pillage. And that’s before we even get to talk about the regions that are supposed to be inalienably part of this vast land but where recent demonstrations have highlighted local grievances. In Kayes and Sikasso people took to the streets to protest against the terrible state of their roads and other basic services, even when their regions provide the gold (Kayes) and some of the food (Sikasso) that keeps Bamako on its feet. Another former Prime Minister, the relatively young and sharp-tongued Moussa Mara made this point in a public speech about two years ago when he said (and I paraphrase): everyone is looking at the north and the centre. Nobody is looking at places like Kayes and Sikasso where there is a groundswell of dissatisfaction at the lack of any tangible development.

The problem is not the north, or the centre, or any other region. The problem is Bamako and its aloof, self-serving elite. As the slow but probably unstoppable disintegration of Mali continues, the elite is currently being served notice. Is the situation insurrectional? I don’t think so: there’s widespread dissatisfaction but no revolutionary fervour. Could the army step in? Given the extremely unhappy memories of the last coup eight years ago this is unlikely. No: Mali will be very likely be muddling through, as it has done for quite a while now. Depressingly, there is at present little else on offer.


The culture of debate

March 19, 2013

Caught my eye in the newspaper this morning. ‘Program launched at Senegalese universities.’ The strapline gave the game away: ‘Promotion of the culture of debate among Senegalese youth.’

When you read a line like this, the association is immediate: some NGO or other? Correct! Does it contain the word training somewhere? It does – double bingo!

Law students at the University Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar, an institution in the deepest crisis since its establishment, where students go without tuition for months and have even resorted to the extreme act of setting themselves on fire to get their grievances heard, that university, plays host to a team of foreigners (yep – you got that one right too – someone needs a holiday…) that will teach…er…

…Respect For Diversity. Ah, no, not that kind of diversity, that’s for Westerners in their own countries who have been taught to swallow the new gospel hook line and sinker. No: the Senegalese students will be taught the kind of diversity that is no longer taught at universities in the West, and in fact the only diversity that really matters: Diversity Of Opinion.

Tolerance of other peoples’ views will be preached, says the woman who coordinates the program, plus the ability to listen to others and accepting the public verdict in the end. All in the name of good democracy and an Open Society.

Yes, this time it’s George Soros’ outfit teaching those poor hapless Senegalese students – who only last year helped rid the country of a megalomaniac with seriously autocratic tendencies – how to do democracy. Of course, Ms Hawa Ba who coordinates the program in Senegal needs a job, like everyone else working for the Oxfams, the Action Aids, the official aid bureaucracies, the UN bureaucracies and everybody else in this more than US$60bn industry. The pay is good and the perks are nice, for as long as they last. Very few things are as fickle as the priorities of the aid establishment.

But here’s the rub.

If there is one thing the Senegalese excel in, it’s talk. “Wakh rek,” only talk, is a frequent referral not only to the increasingly irrelevant political class but also to the fact that work gets a lot more talked about than actually done. In an extremely rich place like the Netherlands, this has become a national pastime but then the Dutch can afford it – up to a point. They will eventually find out that holding meetings and shifting boxes do not constitute an economy. But that’s their problem.

What we don’t need here is more people who know how to talk; the law students will learn that in college – if the professor can be bothered to show up. What we need are people who know how things are made and done. We need entrepreneurs, like Aissa Dione, people who create factories, as the Nigerian industrialist AlikoDangote is doing.

On the Autoroute, a few metres from my flat: we want to work at Dangote cement.

On the Autoroute, a few metres from my flat: we want to work at Dangote cement.

We need people who can work and ensure that homes stay dry during the next rainy season, people who can fix schools and universities so that they start fulfilling their educational promises, people who can fix the deeply dysfunctional water and electricity systems. And so on. We emphatically do not need any more administrators, bureaucrats or people who can organise workshops and training sessions.

Oh and we need the outdated colonial laws fixed – so that the people who make things happen and create jobs are not obstructed, blocked, harassed, frustrated and thwarted Every Single Step Of The Way.

And listening lessons? Coming from a US-based organisation I find that, well let’s keep this polite, a bit rich. The times I was in the dear old USA I have been awestruck by the depth of the love affair Americans have with their own voices. It’s a place where political debate mainly consists of two people standing with their backs to each other and shouting ‘You’re wrong!!!’ (or worse) at each other. Where the soundbite was invented. And you are coming over here to teach us….wakh rek.

Hey, Open Society, I have a job for you: pulling the other one.

Deadly Geography

December 8, 2012

Sometimes, reality hits home when you move temporarily away from it. In February, I was covering the first round of Senegal’s presidential elections – out of Dakar.

Coming back from Tambacounda (where I met two excellent rap artists) and Kaolack (where an office belonging to the then ruling party was burnt down) I was looking at the landscape from a bush taxi and thinking: this is all very empty. Sand. Savannah. A few trees. A few homes. And a town or two.

Our taxi took a brand new ring road around the town of Diourbel, 146 kilometres from Dakar. Then we joined the old road to Thiès, which runs next to a railway rack. It was astonishing how fast places were filling up. Sand and savannah were still there but the rhythm of the settlements increased – dramatically.

Long before we got into Thiès, we were driving through what was basically giant sprawl. The final stretch from Thiès itself to Dakar, 65 kilometres, is fast becoming one massive megacity.

Not much later, a story in La Gazette (called Deadly Geography) made the point. It said that more than half of the entire Senegalese electorate was living in three rather small districts: Dakar, Thiès, Diourbel. Tambacounda district, which has far more surface area than those three combined was home to…less than 4% of the country’s electorate.

The strain is obvious. Newspaper Le Populaire reported this week that the National Statistics and Demographic Office had calculated that between 2000 and 2009 rents some parts of Dakar had gone up by almost 40%. Forty per cent! Friends keep telling me to NEVEREVEREVER abandon this apartment I’m renting because I will never get this much value for money again…

Question: where did these eye-watering rent increases take place? Sure, Central Dakar, where the expensive offices are. But also in Guédiawaye and Pikine. That’s where the poorest people in town live! If this is the free market at work, someone’s clearly having a laugh.

The strain is obvious in other ways too. Power cuts at any moment. Water pressure in many parts of town (expect the expensive ones) is now so low that this shower you have in your bathroom is…decoration, basically. Any agglomeration that grows at such breakneck speed cannot possibly expect service provision to keep up.

Yes, we know. Cities continue to grow fast because rural folk look for opportunities not available in the village: money, jobs, and so on. Some succeed, a lot more don’t. Fact is, very few go back. I met the grand total of one on my country trip: Vincent had left behind his dreadful and badly paid job as a night guard and had started farming. He was glad to be out of Dakar. But there are very few like him.

Dakar was home, this week, to a massive jamboree called Africites, in the obscenely expensive King Fahd Palace (formerly the Meridien). Hopefully the mayors from all corners of the globe and the other luminaries caught a glimpse of “the other side of town”, if only to reinforce their firmly held and often voiced conviction that they are firmly in touch with “The People”.

More to come on cities. Making them places where you can lead a decent life rather than just vegetate is arguably the biggest challenge on the planet, although it appears that they’re having a word about this thingy called climate change in another jamboree far from here. Well, not that far actually: you can fly directly from Dakar to nearby Dubai. On Emirates.

Hello – anybody there? (part 3 and end)

March 31, 2012

Amsterdam residents with roots in the pre-digital age will (i.e. everyone over 40) remember that once upon a time they had to go to the rather unpleasant offices of the city’s electricity utility (Gemeente Energie Bedrijf, or GEB) to pay their bills. That’s all in the past of course. Here in Senegal, this is an evolving story.

ahhh, the good old days... (sort of)

Here, our great, wonderful, lovely electricity supplier Senelec (third largest company in the country, annual turnover of some 350 million euros, according to a 2011 survey by business magazine Reussir) used to insist on cash payment at one of their offices. There was one nearby, across the Autoroute de l’Aéroport. Was.

Routine procedure. Take a book along, because this will take time. Get in early. Take a number. If you’re late, you’ll be #150 in the queue. There are a grand total of TWO windows for this crowd of remarkably patient customers. If you hang in there, their numbers will drop fairly rapidly because a lot of people, facture in hand, payment at the ready, will leave before it’s their turn. Still, expect to spend an hour (or two – or three) here as the electronic queue counter bleeps the numbers up until it reaches you.

Now – a few enterprising men and women decided that there was a niche here. They gave you an alternative. Forget about the Senelec payment office, drab as only state utilities can build them. Instead, go to a neat little office, pay your bill, and leave. You get a receipt and are told to come back tomorrow. Takes all of five minutes. Come in the next day and find the receipt waiting, stamped and all – proof of payment.

Price of this excellent service? The grand total of 500 CFA Francs, €0,75. Needless to say, business was booming.

So what did Senelec do? Give thanks and praises to these entrepreneurs? Help them set up a system to incorporate this neat example of customer friendliness into their own system?

Er, no.

Instead, we got this advert in the press. I paraphrase, but only slightly:

‘For some time, courtesy cabinets have been offering, through the newspapers, services related to the payment of electricity bills in a private capacity. Senelec informs its customers that it has not set up any private structure outside its own commercial offices that can cash electricity bills…Paying the amount due to an intermediary does not constitute a settlement towards Senelec and does not exonerate the customer from the risk of having delivery of electricity suspended should the obligation of payment not be respected…’

and do note the payoff...

A fine piece of warm fuzzy, customer friendliness, written I’d suspect by some bureaucrat with warm fuzzy memories from certain European countries that used to be run by political parties wielding Red Stars and slogans about the World Proletariat Defeating Imperialism (yes, these existed and I visited four of them; I have the pictures…).

Now – fast-forward a few months (I told you: this is an evolving story) and the following happens.

You see: Senelec sends bills but it does not always send electricity. Amazingly, people get upset about this, especially if this goes on for months. So in June 2011, for a whole variety of reasons, people were really fed up and some members of the Great Senegalese Public went into the same offices where they used to sit, patiently, for hours on end, waiting their turn to pay their facture

…and smashed them up.

Senelec across the road from where I live? Closed.

Senelec in Ouakam, on the other side of the airport, which now administers the electricity supply for my part of town? Barely functioning.

The story is repeated all over town and indeed the country.

So who is there to take up the slack? Ha! Those maligned agents who had yanked Senelec’s bill settlement system straight into the 20th century!! They now sport brand new signs above their entrances and statements to the effect that they are “officially approved”. That includes the lady who runs my payment office. Only thing is: she now has to go all the way to town, to the Senelec Head Office with the factures and the cash. But that headache is royally offset by the fact that today she also runs payment services for water, the mobile phone – and of course: she’s a Western Union agent.

Night out

April 15, 2011

Cold beers! A delight in a place without electricity. Few consumables are more repelling than tepid (or worse: warm) beers.

And so the evening begins in the one restaurant in town that actually serves not only cold beers but also beef and potatoes and various other local and French delights.

And it is here that I meet Mahmoud. He enters with another colleague and immediately zeroes in on me with a story about a lost relative somewhere in Europe and that I should be the one to find that relative.

Sure. Have another beer.

He then tells me that he knows a place that is by far (by far!) the best place in town. Money is not a problem he says. Of course not – I will be paying. He insists, almost violently. So we agree to go to the best place in town – for one drink.

But not after a wild and unstable ride across the sand roads of his town, on his motorbike. It is indeed a miracle he manages to keep the thing from straying into a garden, a house or an animal. But we do arrive at the very best place in town. Where he will continue his drinking spree.

The best place in town is a low-ceiling den next to a rather grandiosely named “Night Club”, where the beer is (you guessed it!) warm. But Mahmoud has a solution to this problem: he switches to whisky. The television is belting out Ivorian happy-go-lucky music: the conflict there is reaching a decisive phase and a bunch of artists has decided to record a song entitled ‘Ca va aller’ – Ivory Coast’s national catchphrase.

Mahmoud is engrossed in his whiskey and he does not see me leave. This town is small and the next port of call is a smallish bar, run almost entirely for the benefit of the students and lecturers of “The Institute”. It is a training centre for vets with a fairly large and vibrant student populaton. We have a lovely little time sitting around a plastic table, talking about the imminent downfall of Laurent Gbagbo in next door Ivory Coast, The Institute, The Netherlands “where you have so much good cattle” and Life After The Institute – which, quite frankly, worries them. Where are the jobs?

It’s a question left hanging in the air when I make my way back to the hotel but before getting there, a sound catches my ear. It comes from the Bar Manding. Fiery percussion, high-pitched singing and a frenzied keyboard that mostly reminds me of the organ frequently used by legendary rock band The Doors. But then on steroids. The band does manage to drown out the sound of the generator. I enter a big square hangar where they are  playing next to a motorbike and assorted industrial debris. Over a royally disgusting warm beer one of the band helpfully explains that this is a general repetition for a Big Launch tomorrow and I am heartily invited. With ringing ears and slightly nauseous I leave the hangar half an our later, on my way, finally, to the hotel.

Which is half-lit. No, actually, just a quarter lit. In the cavernous dining hall, there is an island of light and here I find myself discussing life, politics and the universe with the manager, over a few bottles of not exactly cold but still acceptable beer. A tiny generator outside struggles to light up even that small space. Ah, the melancholy of once-great hotels that still try and keep up past grandeur…Africa is littered with them. And I love them.

One final stop. Next door to the hotel is another night club and since I just got to know the owner from a business exchange earlier this afternoon, it would be nice to pay him a visit.  

“Entry 10,000 Francs,” I am told. That’s a euro and a half for one, maybe two final drinks as I do begin to discover a slight and rather disconcerting wobbliness. It’s after midnight and really really dark. But inside there is upbeat popular Guinean music. It’s produced by the bucketload and I like it: they basically have one band in a studio somewhere in Conakry, which plays two or three standard tunes. They then put different singers in front of the band – and a new hit is born.

The barman comes from Cameroon. And yes, he studies…at The Institute. He likes it here. There is not much conversation as the music is very loud. Hey – this is a nightclub. You’re supposed to watch, be watched, drink and….

‘You must dance with me,’ she says. She is pretty and copiously blessed by Nature. I am reminded of the old Shakespearean punchline about drinks provoking the desire but taking away the performance. Time to make my way towards the exit.

Now I stroll with great calm and dignity towards the hotel, meanwhile feverishly hoping that I am not going to be chased after by the she-person who just accosted me at the bar. Or Mahmoud on his motorbike.

The hotel door is invitingly open. In a few hour’s time, the’ sun will once again shine its light on a dazzling display of mountains and valleys. I only have to open my bedroom curtains. Meanwhile, Dalaba, Fouta Djalon, Guinea, will most certainly party on without me.

Dakar, March 19 – a day at the demo

March 20, 2011

Couple of thousand people on the big Independence Square, downtown Dakar. Many speeches.

Photo: Seneweb News

‘Asalaam aleikoum Dakar!’


‘We want electricity!’ (and indeed, after a short break the power cuts are back with a vengeange)

‘The regime must go!’

Na dem! ‘He must Go!’

Comparisons with Tunis, Egypt even Libya.

Music. Mbalax – what else? Well, rap of course,  and very good rap by the way – from the likes of Kër gui (The House), an excellent new outfit from Dakar’s poor suburbs.

‘Libérez les otages!’ – reference to the fact that three people were arrested for planning a “coup d’état”, a factoid that was announced by the Minister of Justice the night before the demonstration – to general amusement, even more so when he revealed the details of the “coup” – consisting mostly of public disruptions in various parts of town. These happen anyway.

As far as “coups” are concerned, it may have come to the minister’s notice that we don’t do those in Senegal, although eleven years of your lot in power have pissed of a sufficient number of people to turn this from a complete impossibility into something that may have entered some heads. Carry on, minister.

(Here’s a link to a Facebook page – photos from the demo taken by my good colleague Sheriff Bojang Jr.)

Senegal does demonstrations  – and then goes home. On March 19, people waved the national flag, politicians spouted, slogans poured. It was festive and good-natured. And all about the daily grind, made worse by the rapacious behaviour of the clan in power.

A few very minor skirmishes at the end – and then it was over.

‘Diërediëf Dakar!’ Thank you Dakar for coming!

Followed by the reassuring calls to prayer and the obedient march to the mosque. And then, the city centre was mostly quiet.

The one who has been nicknamed "Sa Majesté", among others

At the presidential palace, a short walk from the Square, the party in power was readying itself for its festivities. After all, this was March 19th, the day Abdoulaye Wade’s rule began, eleven years ago. More political noise – and mbalax, of course. But wandering about the centre, what struck me was the speed with which business retook its normal course. Guys walking around with phone cards, the coffee men plying their trade, taxis BEEP!ing, pickpockets working their routine…

I met a newspaper vendor, in a seriously foul mood because this whole demo business had cost him six hours of real business. ‘Didn’t care about it. I’m just glad I can get on with my work now. All those politicians talking, let me tell you – the minute they get power they will be the same. Ah – you’re 300 francs short. Never mind, come and see me when you are around next time…’

‘Bonjour Monsieur, give me a thousand francs…’ I wish I could solve everyone’s problems. Yes, hubris is my middle name…

...speaking of cash...

I walked out of the now almost deserted centre, along the seaside road called La Corniche, done up to the tune of billions of CFAFrancs, unaccounted for, by the Eldest Son of the Royal Family, now also the minister of electricity cuts and a huge number of things besides, including the new airport. At Soumbedioune, the only tunnel in the city, I saw dozens of minibuses emerging from below. And I heard the response coming from the people on the pavements, their balconies, the shops on the side of the road.

‘Boooooh!’ they said. They shouted and whistled. The buses were full of people coming back from a demo in another part of town.

‘Did you see that? They are given a few thousand francs to shout for Wade. They have no idea – they just get hired and now they are brought back home.’ If anything, the onlookers felt pity for the poor folk bussed in and out of Dakar like that. But they were scathing in their assessment of the regime that had hired the buses and their occupants in the first place.

And then I took a taxi and went home. Driver: ‘Me? Didn’t go anywhere near that thing. I was afraid for my vehicle. So where do you want to go – Yoff? That will be =some ridiculous amount=.’

‘Mon frère, seer na lol.’

You know the rest.

Conversation on the way home. ‘So you’re a correspondent? Looking for trouble, were you not? If you know Senegal just a little bit, you’ll be aware that we don’t do trouble here. It’s peaceful. We prefer it like that.’


A town, a country, sick to the backteeth of this…

January 29, 2011


This revolution will most definitely not be televised….

…because televisions don’t work if there is isn’t any bloody electricity.

Alright, let’s review.

Today – woke up: no current, 4 hours and counting

Yesterday – twice, three times, first time for 3 hours, then two hours, then half an hour

Thursday – came in from town – it was off, had been for hours the neighbours said

Tuesday – 4 hours, at least

And last Sunday, for seven hours


…the owner of the pharmacy down the road must rush – yet again! – to get his generator going, otherwise he can throw his expensive stock of medicines in the bin

…people everywhere will worry how long this one will last or they may have  to throw out expensive food – yet again

…in the house, in the shops and everywhere it’s back to expensive battery lamps – yet again

…my friend who tries to keep his restaurant going must make sure – yet again – that his meat does not rot, his internet connection does not bomb and he will have to apologise – yet again – for the beers not being very cold… (meanwhile, his fuel bill is €300 a month and is there anyone to reimburse them? Is there f***)

…the launderette must turn away its customers yet again because they cannot work…

Right, class, today’s lesson. How do you to destroy an economy? Simple! Kill its electricity supply.

People assure me that this is the worst ever. Worse, there is absolutely no let-up in sight, in spite of what the Royal Family and its Party say. Senelec, the electricity utility is up to its neck in debts, there is no new money coming in, the mechanics are trying their damnedest to keep the old machinery going and are in fact covering up for the unspeakably bad management of their politically connected directors. And just yesterday, the folks in Ouakam (not exactly the most unprivileged part of town) went on the rampage, throwing stones at the utility’s office – and a house reportedly belonging to the Royal Family. Yoff, not exactly dirt poor either, could be next. It’s happened before.

But take a look at Guediawaye and Pikine, two massive suburbs with up to a million really poor people. You can smell the riots. There, people go without current for days. You read that right – days. So you have just put your family supplies in your old rickety fridge and off it goes – and off goes your food. You have not got the money to replace it. Cook it by candlelight, is all you can do. And hope that when they put it back on they don’t blow your fuses out like they did last time.

Tell you what. I’m seriously inconvenienced by this permanent annoyance (can’t work, no internet, no coffee) but my problems are absolutely dwarfed by those who live on a euro a day and are still facing the indignity of getting invoices from an electricity company that does not deliver. I’d be out on the streets too.

It is beyond a scandal and everyone is beyond fed up. And it’s been said before : it takes a special talent to really annoy the Senegalese. But I think I’m not remiss to say that what we have here could well be the makings of the first public uprising caused by electricity shortages. At least to my knowledge. You cannot piss people off so much for so long without consequence. And you certainly cannot take the piss out of people for such a long time. 2012 is around the corner and there will be something that starts with e-l-e-c-t but does not end in –tricity… Don’t even think about a computerised voting system – but do bring a torch to the polling booth.

So I predict a riot and a very hot election. You read it here. A round of (probably warm) beers when I get it wrong.


January 20, 2011

They are finally here!

There's two of them on the ground here since Jan 19. Photo: Senegal Airlines through Aviation Branding Weblog

They’re called Gandiol and Kayemor and reflect the genuine connection felt by the Head of the Royal Family to African realities. The two names refer to towns that have been, in their own way, symbols of the the anti-colonial struggle.

The arrival of the two Airbus aircraft (made in France) also made Him think of His Monument for the African Renaissance, which points to the skies. And to the Canary Islands. But I may have bored you to death with that by now.

It also made Him think of producing small aircraft – made in Senegal. Interesting idea, coming from someone who heads a government that is quite happy to lay waste to local entrepreneurs. See here for the latest example.

But most of all: it made Him think of the youth. Yes. The  youth will show the way forward. Indeed. That is why, a few hours after this umpteenth display of presidential hubris, the youth were extremely busy in at least six Dakar suburbs blocking thoroughfares, setting fire to car tires and playing cat-and-mouse with the police.


Well, for once, they will never have the privilege of boarding either Gandiol or Kayemor. But in fact it’s way more practical than that. Absolutely everyone is sick and tired of paying for electricity that never arrives. Having to throw away food because the fridge is off. Again. The electricity cuts are coordinated from the ministry that is in charge of these things and a lot more, including airplanes. The head of that ministry is His Majesty’s son, nicknamed The Prince.

Events in Tunisia are keenly followed here and there’s even speculation whether this place would be next. Not so sure. It takes real talent to annoy the Senegalese to such an extent. But fair’s fair: His Majesty has that talent in spades.

The city, the sky…no lights!

March 31, 2010

Dakar power cut

First acquisition upon arrival here: a largish, battery-powered lamp. Made in China, of course. The reputation of the national electricity utility, Senelec, has plummeted even further with more power cuts than ever. Three times a day for hours on end, it’s now common. One of the Senelec offices is right across the street; expect windows to be smashed soon – once again. It’s not the engineers trying to keep an obsolete system going; it’s the management, political appointees with no interest in the company. So once again….

home, last night

Still, there’s plenty of sun to compensate for the lack of artificial light, one would think. And yes, there is. Dakar’s warming up nicely. But this is how the sky ordinarily looks towards sunset…

From my window, between 6 and 7pm

Pollution has one advantage, a former geography teacher used to say, beautiful sunsets…

Fumes, smoke, sand and dust: the air we breathe. And it’s a spectacle. Dakar has some 2.5m inhabitants; this is projected to increase to 4.7m in some 20 years’ time. The future is clear (or should that be murky): more power cuts and more of this:

Skies over Yoff