The overall electricity situation in Africa reveals poor coverage of the population as the rate of electrification hardly reaches 15 per cent, according to a report by the Economic Community of Central African States. In Cameroon, even though the present rate of electricity coverage is 55 per cent, among those able to access energy 88 per cent live in urban areas. Only 17 per cent of those living in rural areas have electricity in their households (US Aid 2015). This clear divide between the urban and rural areas is socially and ecologically alarming as a widening of this gap could be a very realistic future scenario.
For this reason, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung organized an educational seminar in Yaoundé in mid-March that was attended by mayors, traditional chiefs and trade unionists from rural areas who are all involved in the energy challenges of the country. Under the heading “Towards Renewable Energies, Beneficiaries, Interests and Roles” the event envisaged shedding light on the general concept of renewable energy which included a deeper understanding of the different typologies and the types of resources exploitable according to the different conditions in regions across Cameroon. The seminar thus brought together a diverse mix of actors to identify and discuss economic, social and ecological interests they would have to opt for to enjoy these new types of renewable energy.
During this event, FES Connect had the chance to speak to Jean Pierre Tsiaze Fozang, mayor of the Penka-Michel municipality in the western region of Cameroon, who speaks of his expectations of the FES seminar and shares insights on the electrification and energy situation of the people in his community and on the consequences they have to live with due to the unfavourable position of rural areas.
Connect: Jean Pierre, you are mayor of the Penka-Michel local authority, in the department of Menoua, in the West region of Cameroon. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and about your current job as mayor?
Jean Pierre: By profession, I’m a teacher at the bilingual high school in Penka-Michel. My subject is German. I was born here and grew up in this district until the age of 16. In 1999, I returned here and became mayor in 2005.
According to current statistics, there is an obvious divide between the rural and urban areas with respect to their access to electricity, thus increasing the inequality within the country. From your position as mayor of Penka-Michel municipality, can you tell us more about the consequences of this unequal energy access that people living in rural areas have to endure?
JP: Poor supply of electricity in rural communities like ours has many consequences. On a daily basis, the people primarily use oil lamps, which in the long term is detrimental to the eyesight of our young students. The fumes coming from the oil lamps also affect the respiratory system and cause numerous types of illness. Using sources of lighting like this obviously increases the fire risk considerably. That is why lots of fires are regularly caused by the carelessness of adults and above all of children unwisely using oil lamps. Nevertheless, you also have to take into consideration that one litre of oil is not within the reach of everyone. The few households using electricity have to supply dozens of other households whose bad connections often cause fires and even electrocutions. Advantages also become apparent in terms of information availability: People are not connected to the rest of the world as they can’t use computers, television or other media to get information.
Which natural resources do people mainly use in rural areas to undertake their daily activities? And which other natural resources exist in Cameroon from which people could benefit?
JP: The only natural resource used by people in rural areas is firewood, obtained by felling trees. And that again, as you can imagine, leads to other issues. On the other hand, people could make use of other resources such as wind energy, solar energy and hydraulic energy. Biomass is also a different type of energy that could be exploited in Cameroon, if you consider that we have a large amount of undeveloped organic materials.
Which projects have you and your administration already carried out in order to address the pressing needs of the people? Which improvements still need to be tackled? Do you see any opportunities in cooperating with other municipalities in order to gain further benefits from your endeavours?
JP: In an effort to respond to the needs of the people, the government of Cameroon has undertaken a huge campaign to bring electricity to rural areas which, despite all their efforts, is only successful in a third of cases. We are counting on creating joint municipal authorities to find the financial means to supply our areas with renewable energy, which we think would be cost-efficient for the people.
You participated in the seminar “Towards Renewable Energies, Beneficiaries, Interests and Roles” which took place in Yaoundé on 16 March 2017. What prompted you to attend this seminar? Do you have a specific interest in renewable energies?
JP: My attendance at the seminar on 16 March 2017 was motivated by the fact that our people live in darkness on a daily basis and in the most indescribable insecurity. For that reason, I grasped the opportunity to look elsewhere: To turn towards a different source of energy, that of renewable energy, the guarantee of sustainable development.
Was it the first time you worked with FES?
JP: I got to know Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung a long time ago. As a German teacher, over time I was able to fully appreciate its importance and its role in developing countries, such as Cameroon. Its work takes in areas such as education for everyone, training, information, looking for partners to finance promising projects and lots of other things.
In which areas do you see opportunities for further cooperation and joint actions with Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in the future? What do you think such cooperation could look like?
JP: There is scope for cooperation and action in financing projects on harnessing renewable energy, as well as in supplying the people with drinking water. Across the seminars promoting awareness and for training purposes, the exchange forums which are attended above all by the locally elected officials and traditional chiefs, groups could come together to look for finance from financial backers, financing which should directly benefit the people concerned throughout the community.
For more information on the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung event in mid-March, contact its Yaoundé-based office.
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