Monday, January 3, 2011

Power and Development

The research goes splendidly.  How can you go wrong when you work with farmers and gardeners?  I’m loving the work and loving what I’m learning.  I have zero complaints on that front.

I do, however, wish to complain about the power situation.  And the water situation.  Those situations, in a word, suck.  Much, much worse than when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer here in the early 90’s.  A day doesn’t go by when we are without power for an extended period of time.  Sometimes, we’ll almost get through a day, and I’ll think, “Ooo…today’s the day.  Today we’ll have power for the entire day.”  Alas.

Powering the water pumps obviously takes electricity, so that gets cut off, too.  Lately, they’ve only been turning on the water at night.  Once it starts flowing, very often around midnight, I’ll get out of bed and refill the barrels and buckets so that we have water for the next day.  For the record, I’m not alone in my complaining.  It’s a national pastime.  Just last week, the opposition party got back to the streets to voice their dismay, and the other day was filled with some ‘manifestations’ in Dakar, in which the protesters burned a bunch of stuff to try to get someone’s attention.

People here blame it on the president.  The president blames it on failing machinery.  It seems apparent to me that it is a problem of oil.  Electricity in Senegal is largely produced via the burning of oil, and I figure the expense of it means that sometimes the government just runs out of money. Senelec, which is the state-run electricity distributor, buys most of its oil from Societe Africaine de Raffinage (SAR), which is located here in Senegal.  That majority of that corporation is owned by foreign multinationals (Total-54.6%, Shell-25%, and Mobile 11.8%).  The rest (8.6%) is owned by the state.  SAR is protected by a number of government subsidies, which, obviously, would be borne by the Senegalese people.

Someone’s getting rich, but it isn’t your average Senegalese person.  And economic development?  Forget about it.  How does that happen if you don’t have the basics?  I’m rather amazed by the Senegalese people, who are continually able to make something out of nothing each and every day.  It’s pretty inspirational and has even made me consider going back to international development work (just for a second, though).

*update, for the last 3 days the power situation has been much better.  A few hours here or there.  Hopefully it will hold out, inchallah.

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