Power cuts and protests

We’re getting into the humid, rainy season now. Not so much rain yet (although it has been pouring down all day today) but the air is thick and sticky, the mosquitoes are out in force and as usual at this time of year the power cuts have started.

This year they are much worse than usual though – two to three cuts a day, each between three and eight hours long. I have a generator, but it uses lots of fuel which on the one hand is very bad for the environment and on the other hand is very expensive (I don’t believe our donors give their contributions thinking they will pay for an expat to have her air-conditioning on) so I use it as little as possible. Last night, thanks to a good laptop battery I held out until 9:30pm, sitting there watching a DVD and listening to music in the dark, until the mosquitoes just got too much and I switched on the generator so as to power the little stand-up fan I have by my chair to keep the mosquitoes away. I will use the generator when I really have to but cannot justify it just to enable me to make a cup of tea or listen to the radio.

This has been going on for two weeks now (the cuts started as soon as the World Cup was over) and it is incredibly frustrating even for someone like me with a generator. My maid says she has to rely on candles – which are expensive – and that many people end up sitting in the street as there is nothing they can do in the house. Of course it also has a terrible impact on many people’s working lives. Dakar’s thousands of self-employed tailors, for example, who cannot earn any money if there is no electricity to power their sewing machines, and those who rely on supplies of ice to keep their produce fresh (such as the women who go to the port each day to buy fish, which they then hawk around the residential areas in little cool boxes).

There have been many demonstrations around the country, an office of Senelec (the national electricity company) ransacked, and last week one protestor was killed in a demonstration that turned violent. Tomorrow a big march is planned to the head office of Senelec, which will probably end in more violence.

I kept asking people why this was happening, and there were no clear answers, but yesterday a statement was released explaining that this resulted from the purchase of some sub-standard fuel which has jammed the generating machinery. I wonder what the reaction would be in the developed world to an answer like that! They also said the problem would be resolved by the end of the month. Tempers are short and patience is wearing thin throughout the country, so I can only hope the end of month comes quickly.