The Menchum Fall: Cameroon’s Rural Electrification Power Reservoir

yuh (1) — By Yuh Acho from Cameroon

This project was completed as part of a special course on electricity, in partnership with the Enel Foundation.

If I were the President of my country (Cameroon), in order to salvage the power insufficiency all over the nation, I would implement just one policy: that of the construction of a hydroelectric dam over the Menchum Fall which presently has been noted by experts to have an incomparable potential for rural electrification in the country.

LOCATION

Cameroon, fondly referred to as Africa in miniature, is home to this power treasure. The Menchum Fall is specifically located in Menchum Division (20km south of Wum and 30km north of Bafut). The Menchum Division is one of seven divisions of the North West Region of Cameroon. It is a tributary of the Benue River in Nigeria. The North West and South West Regions are the only two Anglophone regions in a Francophone dominated, ten-regioned, bilingual country.

CAPACITY and POTENTIAL

After the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon has the second most abundant hydropower potential on the African continent (with an estimated capacity of 12000MW) and two-thirds of its on-grid installed capacity is powered by hydropower (yet the country is currently harnessing only 5% (721MW) of its enormous hydropower resources through three main hydro power plants namely: Song Loulou 348MW, Edea 263MW and Lagdo, 72MW). Aside from hydropower, the main installed network capacity (298MW) is supplied by thermal power plants.

Cameroon’s currently installed generation capacity stands at 1,475MW. And though Cameroon has a relatively high national electrification rate of 55%, just 17% of the country’s rural regions are electrified while urban electrification rates are as high as 88%.

This makes a special case for rural electrification thus rendering the National Rural Electrification Master Plan even more significant.

The Menchum Dam if constructed should be able to produce an installed capacity of 450MW which would represent a whopping 40% increase in the overall electricity output of Cameroon. This was stated by the Managing Director of Joule Africa, an Anglo-American energy company contracted to construct the dam in March 2012.

According to www.njeitimah-outlook.com/Menchum-Falls/, The Menchum Fall was reputed to be one of the most powerful waterfalls in Africa in the sixties. However, this changed due to deforestation and a resultant drop in water tables.

DIFFICULTIES and PROBLEMS

All the existing dams are all found in the francophone regions of the country thus leaving a bitter taste of a longstanding marginalization in the mouths of the Anglophone community.

Power is below sufficiency even in Yaoundé the capital city as you can hardly go for a full week without power cuts; and that’s at best. Other small quarters of the capital city are counting months and even years of no electricity. It is even worst in rural areas so they have maintained traditional means of lighting (kerosene lamp), wax candles or have adopted alternative sources of lighting such as rechargeable or nonrechargeable battery systems like torches and lamps. Those who can afford have resorted to the moderate solar systems. Large solar panels do exist but that’s reserved to the wealthy.

PREVIOUS ATTEMPTS

As earlier mentioned, the Cameroon government has seemingly awarded contracts a number of times to some energy companies to construct this hydroelectric dam over the River Menchum including Joule Africa in 2012 and CIMA Int’l and ARQ Engineering in 2015. In the beginning of this year there were unverified claims that the contract had been awarded to yet another contractor. Unfortunately as we speak, nothing has been done. As to why nothing has been done so far is a subject for another investigation.

Meanwhile other dams that were started later are very close to completion if not completed. This lackluster attitude by government to follow up on this project is widely perceived as a show bad faith considering that this government is almost absolutely a francophone entity and that the Menchum Fall if constructed will primarily serve the anglophone minority.

Not only are they neglected as a potential power panacea for the country, it is also neglected as a touristic money making machine.

Lambasting the state of this site, Auke VanderHoek of The Vanguard newspaper remarked back in 2009 that, “the Menchum Falls are impressive to see but the long rough ride and the unwelcoming conditions of the site make it not all worth the trouble.” He further says, “Cameroon is the African Continent in miniature. Almost everything that Africa has can be found in this country. Look around and you see it’s a country rich on natural resources and has a huge potential for tourism: impressive, beautiful and adventurous. But what is missing is a good tourism industry.”…and a political will for rapid and sustainable development; I dare add.

OPPORTUNITY FOR INVESTMENT

Cameroon is the most populous State in the CEMAC sub-region and also has the fastest growing population. About half of the total population has access to electricity but less than 25% of rural Cameroon is covered.

However, there are plans to install an additional 720MW of hydropower capacity by 2020 even though experts say amid rising demands from a galloping population and investors, the country will rather need an additional 3GW of energy by the same time. The government is also working on implementing measures to facilitate the introduction of energy efficiency and off grid renewable energy investments.

The government’s Rural Electrification Master Plan aims at electrifying 660 localities through grid by 2030. The potential presented by the Menchum Falls would be a comfortable and reliable power warehouse to this effect as it will level most of the problems of power insufficiency in the country especially in the rural areas. If finally implemented, the Menchum Dam will be the first in the whole of the Anglophone Cameroon and what a relief this will be.

These all culminate in creating a juicy opportunity of investment in the rural electrification domain.

Now the big question is: WHO IS THERE TO GRAB THIS OPPORTUNITY?

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The Day I Cheated Death

sylvie — By Sylvie from Cameroon

Dawn was almost breaking, so you could still hear the birds chirping, the cocks crowing, and my siblings snoring. 
It was 5:30am, so I quietly slipped my way from our room to the kitchen, tiptoeing and being as quiet as I could to prepare the things I needed for the day’s restaurant sales. 


I was 21, had graduated from the university and because of a lack of jobs in the country I opened a restaurant. I employed two people to help me and I couldn’t be prouder of myself. 


When I finished packing, I rushed for a quick shower, got ready, and by 6am I left the house. Carrying the bags on my head, I walked through the dusty tiny path that linked our house to the main road. As I walked past the trees, I looked at the mud built houses occupied by the other jobless youths, and wondered how they paid their rent; I wondered if moving from the villages to the cities was a good idea for them, and I wished them well.


Finally, I arrived at the restaurant, it was an earth floored, brown painted two-room building bordered by two drugstores, a domestic gas seller to the right, a tiny passage to a motel where prostitutes lived, and a huge snack bar to the left. Business was active at the “Sodom and Gomorrah,” or as my mom called it, 24/7. The prostitutes were getting ready to retire as they had worked all night.


I opened the restaurant doors and walked through the first room, which was used for serving and eating, to the second room which was the kitchen. I used “salt-dust-pots” to cook the food, as it was cheaper, but it was some sort of a hassle to get it started. After about 30 minutes of pounding the dust into the locally made cooking utensil it was ready for use. I lit the fire, took a seat and started preparing the other ingredients for cooking; onion chopping, asparagus washing, spices blending and as I did, I heard a scratchy squeaky sound from the neighbor’s domestic gas shop, and I thought maybe he had forgotten to turn his radio off. I continued chopping, washing, cleaning, but the sound got louder and in a split of a second I saw a rushing flash of fire below my feet, and soon the entire kitchen was consumed in fire. Red curly puffs of fire covered my entire body. I got numb for a second and the next second I rushed out of the kitchen through the serving room to the street screaming “Fire!! Help!! Fire!! Fire!!” The prostitutes who had retired were the first to come to my aid as they too joined in screaming “Fire!! Fire!! Help!!” And in the next few minutes the entire place was filled up with people all trying to help, others rushing for sand to pour on the uncontrollable fire. The sounds of the gas bottles exploding could be heard from the neighbor’s shop, others were calling the fire fighters, and others were trying to save as much property as they could. 


I was standing there covered in tears, hands on my head, no shoes on my feet as they had been burnt: I watched how the flames spread to the neighboring buildings, and in twenty minutes, millions of dollars worth of property were all burnt to ashes. Journalists, cameras, people all surrounded me asking what had happened and how I survived, and to this day I don’t have an answer to that question. 

 

My motivation to join YaLa

sylvie

— By Sylvie from Cameroon

October 2016,

Lawyers dressed in robes marched the streets of Buea, the capital of the South West region of Cameroon, demanding an end to a gradual eradication of the common-law system by the civil law, an end to French-speaking magistrates being placed to preside over cases presented by English-speaking lawyers, and an end to marginalization of the English-speaking regions in Cameroon. This was met with violence, beatings, and imprisonment of most of these lawyers.

Like a trigger, the teachers were next calling for a sit-down strike; no schools and no classes until the government put an end to French-speaking teachers being recruited in masses to teach kids who only spoke English, an end to the closing down of Anglo-Saxon education structures, and a demand for better working conditions.

As the teachers and lawyers held their ground and needed the government to meet their demands, trade unions and political parties joined in demanding for a complete shutdown of the markets, banks, offices, and a return to a two-state federation of equal status between the English-speaking part of Cameroon and the French-speaking part, as was agreed during the unification.

This led to mass protests of teachers, lawyers, trade unions, political parties, and the entire population. As a response, the government sent in its military to intimidate protesters and maintain control with whatever means possible. Spraying of itchy water cans, mass arrests, and mass shootings characterised the months that followed in Southern Cameroon.

Sylvie4

With the YaLa project coming up, I decided to join to learn how I could help my people make their voices heard. With knowledge gained, I made a video teaching them how to use Twitter and hashtags to tell their stories. In a matter of hours, my video had above 45,000 views and the entire Southern Cameroon youth became citizen journalists. I called them twitter warriors and with pictures and hashtags, we told our stories to the world. This was eventually picked up by Aljazeera, CNN, and then BBC.

Fast forward a couple of months, the excess use of this medium led the government to shut down internet services in the entire region and we could no longer receive live streams about how the government was killing and imprisoning its own people who, after 50 years of marginalization, finally decided to demand equality in a country that they are meant to call home.

Activists were arrested, teachers were arrested, youth were arrested, and it was left to Southern Cameroonians in the diaspora to keep on pushing the Twitter warfare for their people back home who had no access to the internet.

Here we are, 10 months into the Southern Cameroon struggle, the issues are still there, pressure from international bodies led the government to restore the internet and now all young Southern Cameroonians are citizen journalists and they know how to use Twitter and hashtags and make their voices heard to bring justice and peace to their region.

Thank you, YaLa Academy; You didn’t only inspire me to make that video but you helped the millions who now know the power of Twitter for citizen journalists.