Competition Winner: Moussa Ngom
Moussa Ngom is an independent journalist and therefore free to tour his country, Senegal, and narrate everyday stories of socio-cultural origins and unknown problems. After a short stint on television in 2017, he decided to make the most of the audience potential on the Net by practicing full-time his professional and civic blog “A Vos Commentaires” (www.avoscommentaires.com), the beginning of an adventure that takes him into the country every month to discuss topics of interest.
Senegalese communities call for better solar equipment
Click here to read the original version in French.
It is barely 8 o’clock when the rays of sun begin to shine on the roofs of the huts of Touba Aly Mbenda Lô. At the beginning of the day, the temperature is close to reaching the 40 ° on average at this time when the climate is relatively “mild” according to the words of the inhabitants.
The young teacher A. Kh. Sene unrolls the cable wrapped around his solar panel. In the other hand, he connects the small battery that supposed to store the energy thanks to the photovoltaic panel and the small electric clamps. Finding the right position for optimal exposure is a natural reflex acquired over the days.
Its device is most rustic, impossible to determine the level of charge because of the inverter, but 4 to 5 hours are sufficient according to him to ensure his needs at night. His bedroom lamp, an occasional charger for his smartphone, is essential for the tedious daily preparation of educational sheets.
It took only one week to convince the townsman to buy for 17,000 FCFA this light equipment, which is essential in this remote village that is not connected to the national electricity grid. However, a series of electric pylons extends in the margins of the village as far as the eye can see but it deflects the area to connect the next village, situated about twenty kilometers away, to the network of the department.
A ten-meter high pole stands in the center of the village as if to dazzle its inhabitants of the upcoming electricity arrival. But they are not impatient for its arrival.
“All we need is better solar equipment” ensured the Village Chief, where on either side the solar panels standing above the straw huts manage to handle a few light-weight appliances. “Everything but the fans and refrigerators” we used to say here not because of impossibility to have them, but because of the high price of solar accessories that can help manage them.
Unlike community-owned and managed hydraulic drilling, the arrival of power is not a high priority. The constraints related to its use and especially its cost have discouraged more than one villager preferring to remain autonomous. “We are peasants, it is only during times of trade that we have the means. If we install counters also many people will not be able to pay the bills especially during winter for someone like me”, according Mor Lô.
The mill manager in the village does not say the opposite. Busy scouring in the sun his equipment running on diesel, O. Camara is waiting for the arrival of electricity but at low prices. The electrical outlet is also already fitted out in his small refuge: “I prefer solar by far, it reduces operating costs since it belongs to us once and for all”.
An active company in the solar already offers its services to the local population but it does not agree to the majority of the 1500 inhabitants who wished to benefit from these more sophisticated facilities for a monthly payment of 3,500 Francs CFA spanning 3 years.
There is a financial contribution to pay in order not to suffer the same fate of the unfortunates cut of electricity for lack of payment.
At first sight, the 126.000francs of repayment seem sustainable, but the inhabitants of the village are for the most part poor. Many profit from the harvest to buy the necessary equipment for the rest of the year, some still do not have the means, and at the end of the greasy period finances become scarce.
“It’s better to save money and buy your own equipment than subscribe to such a deal” says Samb, who is himself an occasional technician for the city-based company. “At most, it only allows to light a few lamps during the night and can charge at most three phones during the day”. It was unlikely to think the same in the recent past.
“Before, just to charge our phones we had to travel 18 kilometers to Koungheul and the arrival of solar has prevented the acts of banditry since the perpetrators always prefer darkness”, according to the village chief. Besides, “it is with solar that we started to watch television”; reveals Mor Lô.
Watching TV is Abdou Ndao’s favorite pastime at this time. The reduction of the rural expenses is helping, the “Oustaz” (the master) divides his time between the religious practices and the Arabic channels programmes thanks to his small television surmounted by a decoder.
In spite of all the modesty that accompanies his gestures to the point of lowering his gaze before his guests, his shyness gives way to the passion for the solar which he has known by coincidence.
“At the time my big brother brought a TV that was powered by a generator. The engine was so loud that we did not hear much. When I went to Dakar to look for a solar panel I knew that it took 100 Volts to run our station while the battery only stored 12. That’s why I was recommended to buy an inverter that would increase the capacity of the battery. It cost a lot of money because the solar material was in this period a luxury, the panel alone costs about 200.000frs ».
The investment was not ultimately at a loss. Like the girl who interrupted him a moment to recover his phone, a never-ending ballet of neighbors comes to garnish for ten years his storeroom converted into local electrical recharging for 50 to 150 francs CFA, sometimes nothing. “I earn up to 5,000 Francs CFA each day to charge people’s devices, the cost of installations is amortized in just one month, especially since the panels can last for several years”.
The business has become flourishing over time but the first goal of the sixty-year- old has always been his personal comfort by energy autonomy: “Unlike others I can turn on a fan with my panels, the one you see there, stays on all night long. The lamp with which it was made also allows me to read everything I want at night. The farmer does not forget his neighbors for whom he has installed many solar panels in the past and knows better than anyone the concerns about electricity: “It only needs a very little support so that everyone, each house, can have enough electricity, it is not so difficult to make solar panels and we cannot run out of power because our exposure to the sun is one of the best. This “advocacy” he repeats it to all enthusiastically by showing a great understanding of the issues known to those who went to school unlike him.
“I did not go to school, but I think you know, like me, that the electricity obtained from fossil fuels with all the pollution it generates, is not even good for the environment. From my point of view, we can go beyond the Whites and the Arabs because we have more sun!”
A bright dream but Abdou Ndao still feeds it, eyes glittering with optimism, and hope to see it emerge one day.