Last week, a new foundation was created: Energies pour l’Afrique, a French-born pan-African programme whose objective is to give access to electricity to the whole African continent by 2025.
There can be comments and questions about this initiative: yes it feels a bit like neo-colonialism, yes it will force Africa to follow a liberal economy model just as Europe after the Marshall plan, yes the plan is way too Franco-French at the moment and needs to find an international aura, yes I wonder how renewable this energy will be.
But beyond these questions, there is a true need. The word ‘obscurantism‘ comes from the same Latin root as ‘darkness’ (which translates as ‘obscurité‘ in French) and this is what the foundation wants to fight, to give democracy and progress more chances in Africa.
To fully understand why this is important, let’s remind ourselves what it is like to live without electricity – for this, I will use 5 flashbacks from some of my travels.
In the middle of the desert, Mauritania, 9 pm, in 2007
Sunset is around 7 pm in Mauritania. After that, it is irremediably dark, until 7 am in the next morning.
I have written about my funny train journey in Mauritania, and how dark it was in the train because there was no light. There, just as in any other non electrified place I have travelled, I had a torch to keep me going. But locals did not.
What is it like to have no light at night? You cannot read, you cannot study, you cannot work.
Palolem, a little village in Goa (India), 6 pm, in 2006
We are in May, the warmest month in the year, it is 40 degrees (over 100 in Fahrenheit). I am craving for a cold drink – whether it is water, a Coke, or a beer, doesn’t matter too much to me at this time, what I am craving for is something cold to refresh me.
But nothing is cold, because the fridges have not been working for several hours now.
A village close to Atar, in the desert of Mauritania, 2 pm, in 2007
Kids and teens are running around us.
The reason: they are begging us to use the electricity of our generator to charge their phones. With over 700 million SIM cards in the whole continent, mobile phones have become a commodity in Africa, too. Except that many users do not have electricity to recharge their phones.
In Mauritania and in Burkina Faso, I have seen many drivers take a nap in their cars while the phone was charging on the car’s battery.
Pune, India, 9 am, in 2006
It is three minutes past 9 am. I wake up, literally soaked in my own sweat.
There are electricity shortages, and power is cut everyday from 9 to 11. This means that the electric fan that rotates on the ceiling to alleviate the unbearable heat, stops working at exactly 9.
And inexorably, every day, I wake up just 3 minutes after that, literally soaked in my own sweat.
Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, 7 pm, in 2008
The sun went down a few minutes ago and the city’s air is suddenly invaded by thick smoke. Almost none has energy in their house, and women cook on the streets, using small camping stoves.
What is it like to have no energy? To have no light at night, no fridge or stove in your house, nowhere to charge your phone, no fresh air?