Thursday, July 19, 2007

Lack of electricity in Guinea: a 'geological scandal'

The Associated Press did a story on how the parking lot of the international aiport in a suburb of the Guinean capital Conakry has become a hub for students. The airport is one of the few places in the capital where the lights don't go out.

The average Guinean uses less electricity in a year than the average American uses in two and a half days. Many children from Conakry who want to study gather after dark around light fixtures in the airport's parking lot.

Parents require girls to be chaperoned to the airport by an older brother or a trusted male friend. Even young children are allowed to stay out late under the fluorescent bulbs, so long as they return in groups.

"My parents don't worry about me because they know I'm here to seek my future," says 10-year-old Ali Mara, busy studying a diagram of the cephalothorax, the body of an insect.

Even this informal gathering has its structure. The children sit by age group with 7-, 8- and 9-year-olds on a curb in a traffic island and teenagers on the concrete pilings flanking the national and international terminals. There are few cars to disturb their studies.

To illustrate how low expectations are in Guinea, after 23 years of Gen. Lansana Conté and his cronies, one university student points out that he has an advantage over Guineans from other parts of the city (let alone the interior of the country). "We have an edge because we live near the airport," he said.

In a country referred to as 'the water tower of West Africa,' The lack of electricity is "a geological scandal," says Michael McGovern, a political anthropologist at Yale University... The Oregon-sized territory has rivers which if properly harnessed could electrify the region, McGovern says. It has gold, diamonds, iron and half the world's reserves of bauxite, the raw material used to make aluminum.

Another student admitted that sitting on the hard concrete of the airport's parking lot was uncomfortable, but added that "we prefer this hurt to the hurt of not doing well in our exams."

And bear in mind that if elecricity in Conakry is erratic, it is infrequent in other big cities and virtually non-existent everwhere else.

When I was in Guinea from 1995-97, I kept hearing about how the Garifiri Dam in western Guinea was going to dramatically expand electric power in the country. Ten years later, the dam still only provides power to some parts of coastal and central Guinea.

Only one-fifth of Guineans have access to electricty and most of those that are subjected to regular power cuts. 80 percent have no electricity at all.

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At 8:59 PM, Blogger bantara said...

This is a remarkable story--a microcosm of a failed state. I've already been emailed it multiple times from other volunteers. It seems like it really underscores the desperate situation faced by so many students in the country.

I agree with your commentary as well. During my time in Guinea, I inevitably heard about major projects that would change the face of the country and improve the quality of life for everyone; yet, only the opposite seems to be true, growing worse with each passing year.


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