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Bye Bye AES 

By Bouddih Adams

CameroonPostline.com — The performance of AES Corp in electrical power supply in a dozen years in Cameroon, following the privatisation of SONEL, has left much to be desired by Cameroonians.
 

The situation is so dire that Cameroonians don’t only want to see the backs of the Americans, but would hesitate if any other American company were coming again to invest in Cameroon, that is if the opinion of Cameroonian masses were sought. Due to constant power outages, many Cameroonians have, avoidably, lost their lives and property. Refrigerators, musical sets and other electronic equipment and appliances have been destroyed owing to the perilous nature of electrical energy supply.

Losses have been incurred by industries and factories because of power failure. Factories are unable to run at full capacity because of epileptic energy supply. Nothing seems to improve ever since the Yankees rode in on the back of their horses, no, privatisation to takeover our major economic cow and milk it to darkness – to death. As it was in the beginning, it is now, world without…
 

AES cannot claim that they didn’t foresee the problems in the company before it took the concession under the privatisation. Before the deal, the incoming company was presented the technical situation of the company and they did their assessment before signing the concession.
 

AES appears to be so helpless or confused that, because of the many accidents that occur due to power outages, it has resorted to the funny irony of advising Cameroonians how to use candles – that is like a business company advising customers to buy a competitor’s products. And the Chinese are making brisk business producing candles while smart hawkers refer to clumsily Chinese manufactured hurricane lamps as “Assistant Sonel”.
 

So, how is the energy sector managed back in the US that AES Corp cannot copy that management style and apply it here in Cameroon? Power outage, they say, is a strange phrase in America and Europe. Recently, America celebrated many decades of uninterrupted power supply. The story is told of a Cameroonian who visited Europe and was taken on a guided tour of London.

During the tour, he demonstrated his knowledge of a variety of subjects that his white hosts marvelled at the brains he has to know at least a bit of everything. It was when they were touring the London Underground that the anti-thesis came. After marvelling at the structures, the activities, the busy railway traffic and the lighting, the very knowledgeable Cameroonian asked what would happen if there is power failure. The Londonians asked what he meant.

When he explained himself, they were stunned to hear this from the otherwise wise Cameroonian. Anyway, one of them told him that he had been working in that underground during the past 50 years and was about 70 and had never witnessed what the power outage the Cameroonian was trying to conjure. The problems we face with a crucial utility like electricity is the same we face with a life-or-death utility like water; yet from another arrogant monopoly.
 

Power like water, is hardly supplied, yet, the bills keep galloping, nay, flying. Especially with AES, their agents seem to enjoy the comfort of their offices – without going to the field – and conjecture how much which customer is going to pay. In some cases, the bills come before they are due. And when there is default in payment just by one day, a huge penalty is slammed on the defaulter …just like that.
 

For equity, what penalty does AES pay to Cameroonians when they default in power supply? In fact, not even a single day passes with uninterrupted or, rather, epileptic power supply. Homes and markets have been consumed by fires, most often ignited by short circuit from appliances that were forgotten on, when power returns after an outage.
 

Given the evident failure of AES, the Government has to seriously consider the solar power alternative. The authorities of the towns and cities in Cameroon can use solar, which is far cheaper, while industries can rely on AES or what is left of it. The Douala street lighting by solar energy is an example to emulate; besides, it adds some value to the beauty of the economic capital.
 

Now in Buea, inhabitants are celebrating the lighting of the hitherto dark and insecure streets. But after President Biya comes and goes, the Council might not be able to pick the bills.
But the rampant power failure witnessed today suggests that President Biya might need to come along with a standby electric power generator …just in case. The President might have to take his bath while he is here from a bucket and with water fetched from Musole, because the shower just might run dry after he would have applied soap on his body. To before warned…
 

First published in The Post print edition no 01438

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