— 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.
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.
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?