— By Adebisi from Nigeria
This story was completed as part of a special course on electricity in Africa in collaboration with the Enel Foundation.
Seconds ran into minutes, and minutes ran into hours but neither did her consistency diminish nor the bonds of her strength fade. Carrying in the wake of her path, big bangs as with a sledge hammer, she never second guessed her desire to hit my head from the left, right and center. And for all the steam baths and herbs I drank, none had the might to hold her captive. Her simple name was fever and I hated her so badly.
It was my final year in secondary school, so I read every night using the bush lamp I made by my own hands. An empty bottle of cough syrup filled with kerosene, a piece of old cloth for a wick and voila! Enough power supply to read every night until she came visiting: the strange fever that contradicted all the herbs poverty had to offer. Much later in the day, while in physics class, I felt like my chest was exploding. With my eyes popping out I sneezed like my life depended on it, then I got a shocker: an ocean of wet dark substances running through my nostrils and coloring my white shirt all the way down, followed by streams of a pale, watery and translucent substance. All attempts to stop the flow of catarrh were frustrated by the harsh dust that filled the harmattan season. The soot from my little lamp had the day and while everyone was running helter-skelter to get first aid, I knew I might simply have died over the night from carbon congestion but God kept me.
Fast forward to my days as a student of computer science — our school was disconnected from the national grid for a few years and we had to depend absolutely on a power generator. That meant we had electricity two hours a day, three days a week. It was a terrible experience because courses as practical as computer graphics were taught on the chalkboard and we wrote codes and debugged them on paper without even knowing if they will run on a computer. You bet the end point; most students graduated with excellent grades but to date, are having a predictably hard time in the real world of computers.
These are typical cases of electricity supply or the lack thereof, and its implication on my health, my academics and career. I am a software developer and this is my dilemma. Last year I started a personal project with a few friends, SheLEAPS® (www.leaps.in), an Africa-led global community. The website was to include social media, an online radio station, an e-learning center, a blog and some petitions. Building the platform which should have required a month or two ended up taking almost 10 months for the lack of electricity. I eventually resorted to the use of android phones, tablets and lithium batteries (to store electricity from anywhere I found it, just to take home and work), since my personal computer can not use electricity from the lithium batteries. People find it really hilarious when I say that over 90 percent of that site was built on a mobile device. Even more interesting is that this essay you are reading is typed with my mobile phone. I coordinate a handful of volunteers from 4 continents and whenever they ask ‘why are you not always online?’ my answer is simple ‘you will never understand!’
Now, 700 million underserved people in Africa translates to over 700 million of these shocking stories. But beyond these stories, beyond the corrupt political leaders that have kept us in darkness and beyond the ignorant electorate who never hold them accountable, lies the solution to our electricity problems. If the ordinary citizen is the first custodian of electricity challenges, then the roots of its solutions also lies in the hands of the ordinary citizen.
A report by the International Renewable Energy Network (IRENE) states a proliferation in the use of small gasoline generators in Nigeria. We house over 20 million small gasoline generators that translate into at least 200 billion naira. And who are the users of these power generators? The ordinary man in the street.
The recent ban on the importation of small generators due to it’s harmful effect on the environment has created a new market for renewable energy. But what if the initial investment was in renewal energy as opposed to small, carbon-emitting, noise-making generators. It still comes back to the ordinary man and woman in the street.
The government is failing woefully in delivering its electricity supply promises. A 160-million-man population like Nigeria’s depends solely on hydro-electricity and having identified a weakness in its energy mix, the government has failed to take practical steps to finding a lasting solution. This is worsened by a constitution that allows only the federal government to provide electricity in commercial capacity, making financial institutions very reluctant to invest in this sector and global energy companies absolutely scared to build public-private partnerships in this sector due to institutional reluctance on the part of the government. Yet I insist that it boils down to the people.
What if we chose to hold our leaders accountable? What if we stage rallies and protests until we see a change? What if we write petitions and recall our legislators who do not properly represent our interests? What if we change our personal electricity sources to the renewable sources? What if our youths toe the line of scientific innovations? Building hand made solar lamps rather than the type that almost cost me my life back in the days.
We must never overwrite the need to feel angry deep within us. We are the generation that changes negative trends. That erases the so called ‘dark continent’ expression. That hands to our children an Africa that is bright as the sun and proudly says ‘our hands have done this’.
Come with me. #LetsChangeTheWorldTogether!