By Yusef Taylor
One of the biggest problems facing The Gambia is the lack of stable energy supply in the Greater Banjul Area and the wide spread absence of it in the rural areas. In President Barrow’s speech to parliament he reiterated the “urgency that [he attaches] to resolving the power supply issues across the nation”. According to the President of The republic of The Gambia (PORG) “Electricity is power – the power to support education and learning, the power to run life-saving health facilities, and the power for businesses to create jobs and grow the economy”.
In his speech PORG highlighted some challenges to resolving the country’s long standing blackout problem. “I came into office to find significant challenges in the energy sector, as is evident in frequent power outages. Electric power is one of the most basic services that people need for a decent quality of life, and the lack of it greatly affects the net national productivity and lives of the people.” This underlines his resolve in addressing the energy crisis which he acknowledges has far reaching impact on quality of life and the performance of other sectors. Stable energy supply will result in less Government downtime during working hours.
PORG Proposal to the National Assembly
On June 2nd this photo of PORG and Akon was posted on his official Facebook page. The caption read “Thank you Akon, for complementing my government’s efforts to provide stable electricity for Gambians. You brought happiness to Sare Pateh village by providing them with solar power. I’m informed that the mosque and school as well as others are all enjoying the electricity supply. Thank you for your love for The Gambia. When electricity is stable, this attracts business and can boost investment in light industries.”
This was welcomed news for Gambians anxiously waiting for their energy problems to be resolved, however PORG made no mention of the Sare Pateh success story in his speech. In fact he made no mention of making Sustainable Energy a key element in addressing the energy crisis. Instead his proposal is to outsource the country’s rural energy demands to Senegal and to buy a new generator, doubling the current capacity in the Greater Banjul Area. These are all laudable short term solutions. His proposal to resolve the country’s energy crisis is reproduced below.
PORG – “To meet these challenges and tackle our acute power shortage, my government has made it a priority from day one, to work with international partners, investors and developers to attract investments in the energy sector.
Some of the negotiations are at a very advanced stage. We recently signed an agreement for a new 60-megawatt power plant, which will more than double the current generation capacity in the country. It will deliver adequate and stable electric power supply in the whole of the Greater Banjul Area. I am also happy to report that the proposal to acquire electricity from our sister Republic of Senegal is well advanced.
It is worthy to note that this cross-border connection is a short-term measure to boost the energy supply, especially in the rural areas.”
Sustainable energy – two birds with one stoneZ
The first thing that needs to happen is for the Government to shift its focus from over-reliance on fossil fuels to more sustainable energy sources. The biggest opportunity for sustainable energy in the Gambia is the abundant sun and wind energy along the coastline. Doubling the capacity of our generators is not a long term solution as we end up spending more on fossil fuels to keep up with demand. The Gambia needs to reduce its dependency on NAWEC by investing on Solar and Wind Energy. The village of Sare Pateh is a prime example of Solar Energy being implemented in The Gambia and I am sure the Government is more than capable of replicating this initiative.
It’s well known that The Gambia has a huge unemployment problem. Is outsourcing rural energy supply the best way of addressing the energy crisis? An alternative could be for the Government to collaborate with Akon Light Up Africa and build a Solar Academy that can train Gambians to fix and maintain solar panels on street lights and buildings. This is a more holistic approach to tackling some of our biggest problems. In essence the Government can kill two birds with one stone with a more holistic approach to tackle the energy problem. Outsourcing your country’s energy demands to another country is a big risk, temporarily suspending a problem that will not disappear in the short term. In short my proposal is very simple; train Gambians to fix and maintain street lights and solar panels on buildings. That way they have a meaningful form of employment and resolve some of our energy concerns in the process.
A Solar Panel Factory may seem farfetched but I’m compelled to remind you that China is funding a $50 million US Dollar conference centre in The Gambia. The Government could have easily requested for a Solar Panel Factory instead, which will employ Gambians and manufacture the main components of a Solar Panel. To get us started all we need to do is focus on “less fossil fuels and more sustainable energy, one academy and one factory”. This is the start to truly address our energy problem. After Akon’s visit to The Gambia during which he provided Solar Energy to the village of Sare Pateh, I strongly believe that The Government has the perfect case study to replicate such an initiative and to expand it further with Wind Energy. It can be done, one village at a time, but without the right vision and citizens demanding that Government delivers it will not happen.