Power and Electrification in Africa Conversations with Urenna

1st Conversation: Women in Power in Africa: Likonge Makai Mulenga in the Zambia Mining Industry
2nd Conversation: Voice of the Masses on Local Energy Security
3rd Conversation: Politician’s Perspective on Electrification in Zambia: Chipoka Mulenga
4th Conversation: Career Choices: Prof. Jorry Muyetwa Mwenechanya of the Rural Electrification Authority, Zambia
5th Conversation:AllowPowerInAba: Mobilize Youth and Individuals to Improve Electrification in Africa!
6th Conversation:Raphael Onoshapor: IEEE Nigeria Section Chair

IEEE PES Power Africa Conference

I am the general chair of the IEEE PES Power Africa conference and a power engineer. Thanks for joining me as I e-journey around the beautiful continent of Africa, interviewing individuals including power experts on their perspectives around electricity and electrification in Africa.
I am currently embarking on this blogging project with a high school friend of mine, Nkem Ndem Vivienne. She is a young, dynamic, and vibrant freelance writer, editor and online journalist with interests in online writing (web content and blogging), social media, internet marketing, PR, SEO and mobile marketing. Follow her on Twitter @ndemv or e-mail her at nkemdemv@gmail.com.

About Me


urennaMy name is Urenna Onyewuchi. I studied electrical engineering at George Mason University in Virginia and graduated with a doctorate degree in the field of asset management from Georgia Institute of Technology’s (GATech’s) electrical and computer engineering program. My work in asset management entailed developing algorithms for the maintenance and reliability of power equipment, infrastructural and other systems. I got the awesome opportunity to chair the IEEE PES Power Africa conference on electrification, thanks to a recommendation from the amazing 2015 president of the PES, Prof. Miroslav Begovic, who knew all about my passion for power in Nigeria and the continent of Africa.
Now, a strong team of volunteers with passion for power, Africa and volunteering are doing an amazing job of putting this conference together.
The IEEE PES is a long-standing organization that provides the world’s largest forum for sharing the latest in technological developments in the electric power industry, for developing standards that guide the development and construction of equipment and systems, and for educating members of the industry and the general public. Find out more here: http://www.ieee-pes.org/ . As you can imagine, I am privileged to have this role.
I am currently a power engineer at Corning Incorporated, the world leader in specialty glass, ceramics and optical physics. I specialize in applying power quality data analysis/ data science towards building resiliency into plant manufacturing and environmental processes; simulating and modeling electrical manufacturing processes for testing, optimization and process improvements; and power failure investigations, among other things.


Nkem is a young, dynamic, and vibrant freelance writer, editor and online journalist with interests in online writing (web content and blogging), social media, internet marketing, PR, SEO and mobile marketing. Follow her on Twitter @ndemv or e-mail her at nkemdemv@gmail.com.


About the Conference
The IEEE PES Power Africa Conference 2016 theme is “Electrifying Africa: Affordable Energy Enabling Socio-Economic Development.” You can find out more about the conference on our website: http://site.ieee.org/powerafrica .
The IEEE PES Power Africa Conference 2016 will be held in the beautiful city of Livingstone, Zambia, at the Avani Resort, where we will have the Victoria Falls as our backdrop. It will be a huge reminder that the bulk of power generation in the country is hydro. Zambia is going through a power crisis at the moment. This conference hopes to speak to the crisis and the overall power and energy challenges in Africa.


The country of Zambia ; Photo Credit: www.our-africa.org

Join us in learning about electrification and power in different regions of the African continent. Leave lots of comments and join us for discussions on Facebook and LinkedIn. We will have a webinar in the coming months. So, look out for updates on our website and social media.

Women in Power in Africa: Likonge Makai Mulenga in the Zambia Mining Industry


Ms. Likonge Makai Mulenga in front a substation she worked on.

Our first interview is with Mrs. Likonge Makai Mulenga, a powerful female power engineer in Zambia making a positive impact in her community. She oversaw a power reliability project on replacing the oil circuit breakers with vacuum circuit breakers at a substation, from 2008 to 2012. She stands in front of a substation in the image. Her work has been publicized in a number of newspapers in her hometown, including The Independent Observer Zambia.

UO: Hi Likonge. Thank you for doing this interview with us. This interview kicks off the blog, and will be beneficial as we continue to plan our 2016 IEEE PES Power Africa conference. It is exciting to talk to another female power engineer, but one working on the African continent. Before we talk “technical”, tell us about Zambia. What part of Zambia do you live in and what is it known for?
LM: [I live in] the Copperbelt Province, known for copper mining.

UO: What do you love about this region? What do you want foreigners to know about it?
LM: The Copperbelt Province has the biggest open pit in Southern Africa ? and wettest mine in the world.

(UO: An image of the Kagem Open- pit in Zambia is included. The Copperbelt Province, where Likonge lives, is said to be about a 10 hour drive from the Livingstone area, where the Power Africa conference will be held in June 2016.)

Compared to other colored gemstone operations, the pit at the Kagem emerald mine is massive. Blasting is used to remove the topsoil and waste rock that covers the emerald-bearing ore. Photo by Vincent Pardieu/GIA.

Compared to other colored gemstone operations, the pit at the Kagem emerald mine is massive. Blasting is used to remove the topsoil and waste rock that covers the emerald-bearing ore. Photo by Vincent Pardieu/GIA.

The Pit at the Kagem Emerald Mine. Photo Credit: Vincent Pardieu/GIA (Gemological Institute of America Inc.)

UO: Likonge, you are growing professionally here. Currently, you work in the mining sector. What does your position entail?
LM: I am in charge of energy management. I am also an assistant engineering superintendent at Concentrator for Konkola integrated business unit.

UO: How and why did you get into power?
LM: I was selected to study electrical engineering despite not applying for it for my undergraduate degree. And since I had always wanted to do something feasible and impact the society, I took the challenge. I have always desired to see all Zambians have access to basic needs like water, food and electricity.

UO: What is the industry like for female power engineers?
LM: It is challenging because you are mostly surrounded by male engineers, so you have to prove yourself equal to the task.

UO: You recently earned a Master’s degree in power engineering and won a contract with IEEE Smart Village -a top non-profit humanitarian initiative changing lives by powering/empowering off-grid communities. Tell us about it.
LM: The Master’s degree gave me ?a good understanding of clean renewable energy. This made me work on a project to help teach Zambian rural communities techniques on biogas cooking and lighting. This is an alternative and more environmentally friendly option than using fossil fuels and wood fuels. I wrote a paper on this and presented it at GHTC -2013, where I met Dr. Robin Podmore, President of IncSys. He connected me to then IEEE Community Solution Initiatives now called IEEE Smart Village. With their help and sponsorship through Kilowatts for Humanity, I have managed to form an NGO called LiChi’s Community Solutions Ltd with the objective of providing off-grid power to rural communities. Our aim is to reach out and work with communities in order to improve their livelihoods. If a community has access to electricity, other developments follow to improve their lives

UO: Did you find out about IEEE through the initiative?
LM: I found out about IEEE through my supervisor for a specialisation project I undertook while I was in Norway? as part of my Master’s degree studies.

UO: How is this IEEE Smart Village opportunity helping you aid your community?
LM: It is helping me realise my dream of positively impacting the people who are unable to access clean energy. The two communities I have started with are deeply appreciative of the work IEEE is doing to improve their lives.

UO: What do you hope the IEEE PES Power Africa electrification conference being hosted in Livingstone, Zambia next June will do for electrification in Zambia?
LM: People will be well informed on other alternatives to energy from the hydro power generation the country has had since time immemorial. It will encourage diversity to other sources of energy; also research technologies and research developments.

UO: Thank you, Likonge, for sharing your story. What else would you like the world to know about you and your projects?
LM: I have a passion to help rural communities and would be grateful for any help from well-wishers towards improving standards of living for communities who have no access to clean energy, water, education and health. I believe once people have access to electricity, other needs like access to education, water, health etc. are easily attained. This shows that when you give energy to a person, you give life too. Access to clean energy is a key ?to all other development achievements.

UO: We wish you the very best in all your endeavors, Likonge. You are an inspiration and we look forward to seeing you at the conference in June!
LM: Thank you Urenna, it will be great to meet you at the conference in June too.

Contact Likonge at likobus(at)yahoo.com.

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Voice of the Masses on Local Energy Security

The masses, living in developed parts of the world, are dependent on established, large-scale (statewide, nationwide etc.) power utilities for power supply. In a majority of these areas, unavailability of regular
power is inconceivable. (Pay particular attention to frustrations and outcries to power utilities during storm-outages). In other parts of the world- for instance, most parts of sub-Saharan Africa- regular power supply from
“established, large-scale power utilities” does not exist. The inhabitants would need to generate and supply their own power so as not to depend on these utilities.  This is what I am calling “local energy security”: use of solar panels/PVs, own/small-scale wind mills, etc. to power own residences. I am avoiding the use of the phrase “rural electrification” because it gives the impression of electrifying rural regions of a country. Yet, the electrification problem applies in both the urban and rural areas of sub-Saharan African countries.

The following question was posed to a few people. Their responses follows:-

UO: “How do you think solar energy/ PVs can help create energy security in rural or urban homes in your part of Africa?”

Emeka Richard Ochu, an Energy Economist with the Research Department of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Head Office, Abuja Nigeria, answered

ERO: “Achieving energy security in Nigeria requires that we focus our energy generation mix to suit our natural endowments. Asides from hydro and gas, we also possess ample sunlight, especially in the Northern part of the country, which can be harnessed using PVs to improve power generation in Nigeria. Even though PVs can be installed to generate electricity, the technology is still evolving globally.  There is another key issue of cost/benefit analysis, which involves calculating the huge cost input per KWH, which seems non-viable. Very recently, an energy company in the US just developed a least-cost PV, which can be used to encourage private property owners and estate developers to install modular PV stations for their buildings or estates.  The government could also incentivize such developers and private homeowners in any way possible asides from clear-cut subsidies like it was done in Israel. This will encourage investment in least cost PVs by private sector.”

Chika Nnamani, Managing Director of Enitona Hotels, Aba, Nigeria, a forward-looking hotel catering to the needs of Aba citizens and their guests.

CN: “Most Nigerian homes and businesses have power supply for a few hours a day, so INVERTER and LITHIUM BATTERIES (or more superior kind) will be an advantage in creating energy security. Some Nigerians have also attempted to use monocrystalline solar panels at home but the initial COST is still very high .Solar panels are currently  used more in areas like street lighting and public water bore holes. ”

Hannah Kabir, Managing Director of Creeds Energy, Abuja, Nigeria, a professional renewable energy company.

HK: In Nigeria, over 60% of the population are without access to energy, majority of whom reside in rural areas. In urban areas, households may be connected to the grid but remain underserved. Solar energy can be deployed as backup power for urban areas in form of rooftop solar to replace diesel generators to some extent. Decentralized systems can be used to supply power for rural locations where extending the grid is not economical since the country has good solar irradiation across the states.

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A Politician’s Perspective on Electrification in Zambia: Chipoka Mulenga

I enjoy conversing with friends and acquaintances living in different parts of Africa. However, I find myself often frustrated when discussing solutions to certain problems on the continent: a large number of them are quick to point their fingers at the government even for such mundane things as keeping their own business surroundings clean. Thus, I am enthused when I meet outliers- those who start with themselves to improve the community.

In this post, we hear from Chipoka Mulenga, a young (at least relative to those he calls “the freedom fighters” of the ’50s) solutions-driven politician. Nkem asks him about his perspective on electricity and electrification in his part of Zambia, and how his role as a politician can help drive development. A photo of Chipoka with members of the community as they receive cement for renovation of collapsed school is shown.

Chipoka with community receiving cement for collapsed school. Photo credit: Chipoka

NVN: Tell us about yourself.

CM: My name is Chipoka Mulenga, I was born on the 10th November, 1981, in a copper mining town called Mufulira. I attended primary school at Pamodzi primary school from 1989 to 1995, passed my national General Certificate in Education (G.C.E) exams to qualify for junior high school, and went to Chankwa Junior high school from 1996 to 1997. The following year, I was accepted to high school, Mufulira high school. I spent three years at high school (1998 to 2000) and in 2002, I was selected to study a bachelor’s degree in Land Economy which I declined, as I only had little knowledge on the program. I settled for a diploma in Land/ mine surveying. I am currently doing my post graduate in Civil Engineering to be completed next year 2016. My father – Mr. Aston Mulenga- worked as a mechanical engineer for the mining industry until his time of retirement, a year before I graduated from Copper Belt University as a Surveyor. After graduating, I worked for municipal council as an intern before I got a job offer from the county’s biggest copper mining company.

NVN: What is your position in the country, what does it entail and how essential do you think it is to the society at large?

CM: I belong to a political party called National Restoration Party (NAREP), founded six years ago by a corporate lawyer and Oxford graduate – Mr. Elias Chipimo. I am a member of the National Executive Committee, currently acting as Party spokesperson, and presently, I am campaigning for a parliamentary seat in next year’s general elections. It is a very essential position to society because it acts as a mouth piece to the society on social and polity injustice by the government.

NVN: So, what inspired your decision to become a politician?

CM: Well, from a young age, I have been a keen follower of Zambian politics. However, it was not until three years ago (2012) that I decided to get actively involved in national politics, especially after seeing the successive governments have not kept most of their campaign promises to the poor Zambian people. Also, I realized that all the major political players in my country who were freedom fighters from as far back as the 1950s, never gave a chance to youths to participate in governance issues. They still want to hold on to power and corruption has continued to characterize the political Zambian stage. There is civil injustice, poverty and limited access to human basic needs such as education and health; women continue to give birth from home and raise children without access to good health; and most Zambians have even lost hope in voting as they think all politicians are the same and just use voters to have access to national treasures. I am intent on defying this as a belief. Leadership is not about the accumulation of wealth, but service to the people. 51 years after political independence, my country still lacks in many basic needs. And while God has blessed us with almost every natural resource you can think of: Copper, gold, emeralds, water, wild life, semi-precious metals, uranium, etc, these resource are never benefiting the locals. Instead, it is enjoyed by a few foreign powers; and all this is due to corruption and unconcerned political leaders of their people.

NVN: What would you count as your major achievements so far?

CM: This is not an easy question to answer; however, I find satisfaction in offering services and helping the vulnerable people. I spend much of my weekends helping rural communities, that gives me a peace of mind and contentment . It also makes me realize what an opportunity of joy politicians are missing out on.
You see here, pictures of community schools and foot bridges my family and I are helping renovate and build.
Each time we help the community, they always wear smiles on their faces that speaks volumes and touches my heart joy and sadness at the same time. With my wife’s engagement in rural electrification projects, I cannot explain how much excitement people get, but you just need to see it for yourself to understand.

Chipoka in white shirt talking to the community about importance of protecting their property before handing them bags of cement for reconstruction of the school. Photo credit: Chipoka.

NVN: It is pleasant hearing about your engagement with the community. Are you satisfied with the level of electrification in your society as well as the country? Why?

CM: No am not! Only 25% of Zambians have access to electricity. Utterly unacceptable! This is all because of failure by past successive governments to invest in note power generation plants. The worst part is overdependence on hydro power when we have ability to invest in other alternative clean energy sources such as, biomass, solar, wind, etc.

NVN: OK! Would you say the power sector in your country has improved over the years? Why?
No, it has not. It has actually worsened. With increased population both in domestic and industrial demand for power, all from one source, the power supply has become erratic with load shedding as order of the day.

NVN: What would you say are limiting factors to the further growth of your power sector?

CM: As it stands, there are no deliberate policies in my country to support individuals or institutions to come up with alternative power sources. Individuals entirely depend on government to offer solutions as opposed to being solution oriented themselves. Universities are underfunded and have not invested in research, hence most graduates have no idea of how to come up with alternative energy sources but just depend on the existing hydro power where they get to work as maintenance engineers.

I advocate for citizens to stop over-dependence on government for energy solutions; rather, be the solution to government’s failures.

NVN: In light of this, what effort is the government making towards tackling the limitations?

CM: There is a project they have embarked on called the Rural Electrification Project, It is encouraging the use of alternative energy sources. However, like I mentioned earlier, it is characterized by corruption, therefore, how it is being done isn’t well known by locals besides seeing most foreign nationals being awarded contracts.

NVN: Do you think the laws and decrees currently operating in your country are favorable to the growth of the power industry?

CM: Quite honestly, it leaves a lot to be desired.

NVN: Ok. So, what role have you played, or are you playing? How have these efforts improved power supply and how have the results impacted the society so far?

CM: Personally, I have not played any national role on energy. However, my political party has engaged the government on several counts on how to curb the energy crisis in the country and on growing the economy while controlling the growing inflation rate. We have the ability to become energy super powers of Southern Africa. Zambian politics, like in any other country, needs a lot of funds to reach out and campaign. Nevertheless, political parties like mine, find it very challenging to reach out to the people within the limited financial resources we have. We depend on individuals (including me) to support party activities.

I feel that the few of our suggestions that have been implemented were not done effectively; hence, no positive effect on society yet.

NVN: But, do you think more can be done?

CM: Yes, a lot can be done. Transparency and policies to encourage innovation from the local community by government are needed. Foreign nationals that come with expertise must partner and train locals. For how long shall we depend on the West? What Zambia needs most is to tap knowledge from the developed nations as opposed the continued financial loans we are getting.

NVN: Do you think your society will benefit from a conference on electrification in Africa? How so?

CM: At the moment, my country is in a serious energy crisis. A conference of this nature will be beneficial. Energy conferences will be important for my country as long as lessons are implemented as they are to be.

NVN: This conversation has really been illuminating. Thank you Chipoka.

UO: Indeed, illuminating, Chipoka. You mention a number of things of interest to the conference, including policies and in a sense, skills development: ensuring that foreigners brought in to help with the energy crisis train the locals. Between the conference and your wife’s work on electrification, over time, I expect you will be armed with the knowledge to play a more technical role in the power sector, in line with your political aspirations. All the best to you, and thanks for your time. We hope to see you at the conference.

Foot bridge connecting communities. Photo credit: Chipoka.

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Prof. Jorry Muyetwa Mwenechanya of the Rural Electrification Authority, Zambia: On Career Choices

Shortly after I made a request for recommendations on respected power and electrification experts in Zambia to interview, the first name I received was Prof. Jorry Mwenechanya. Fortunately, he was delighted to grant me an interview, an opportunity that gave me a revelation on why he is highly respected. His personal stories certainly serve as a guide for young Zambian engineers towards making important career decisions – academic or industrial. We will receive three parts to the professor’s interview in the next weeks. This first one is on career choices.

Prof. Jorry Muyetwa Mwenechanya

UO: Dear Prof., it is an honor to talk to you. What region of Zambia do you spend most of your time in and what do you love about the region?

JMM: The honour is mine, and I thank you and the IEEE for this opportunity to share some thoughts on aspects of the Zambian electricity industry. I also want to congratulate you on being selected to chair this international meeting. I am especially hopeful that your example will inspire young women in the profession. Zambia and the rest of Africa need to tap into the talents of our women folk more than is currently the case.

I live in Lusaka and that is where I still spend most of my time. I was born in Mindolo, a mining township in the City of Kitwe, which is in a region of Zambia known as the Copperbelt. It is about four hundred kilometres north of Lusaka. I first came to Lusaka for university studies and did not plan on staying on here. I fully expected to return to Kitwe, or at least Copperbelt. This was partly because the mining company paid for my university education on the condition that I would work for them for some years after graduation. The term was ‘bonding’. My scholarship grant agreement had a bonding clause, but other things intervened. My mind was quite set on an academic career, despite the enticements of a guaranteed job in the mines, and despite the very good prospects at the time. So, Lusaka is where I live with my family. It is an ever-growing city, extremely dynamic. Driving around, I am often surprised by fully developed areas that I have never seen before. They spring up as if from nowhere. For the work that I do, Lusaka is the place to be, although I do visit the Copperbelt fairly often.

UO: Please tell us about yourself and your occupation.

JMM: I suppose in the conventional sense of employment, I have been retired since I left the University of Zambia in 1998. I then held the position of Deputy Vice Chancellor. Before that I had been in the School of Engineering for about eighteen years, rising in the academic ranks and holding the positions first as Head of Department and later as Dean of Engineering. The University of Zambia was where I graduated with a degree in electrical engineering. Then I went to the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology where I obtained Master’s and PhD degrees. As Deputy Vice Chancellor, I continued teaching a senior class and took on a postgraduate student. To my disappointment, I eventually had to give up regular teaching, but maintained a leg in postgraduate student supervision.

In 1992, I was elected President of the Engineering Institution of Zambia. I was also Fellow of the UK Institution of Electrical Engineers, as it then was, before it merged with the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. Later, I represented the IEE in Zambia and helped with processing membership applications. Actually, I also joined the IEEE about this time, my main interest being in the wide range of journals. But over time, the IEEE membership lapsed.

After leaving the University, I did not in fact retire; I went into full-time consultancy. This was not such a major transition because I had done many consulting assignments before leaving the University. The poor environment for research in the University – no research groups, no research students, high commitment to teaching – gave little space to conventional academic research. The closest we came to it was applied research related to industrial investigations. I did some interesting work for the national utility, the mining industry and manufacturing companies, so I established a firm that has kept me busy ever since.

Presently, I am preoccupied with utility regulation, primarily electricity, gas and water. The issues revolve around pricing, investment, expansion of access and the environment. Across the continent, a mood prevails for the reform of utilities in order to improve financial and technical efficiency, and to increase system capacity. And of course, the vast majority of the population cannot enjoy full citizenship without electricity. Electricity is an enabler of equal enjoyment of basic rights by citizens; access to health and education, for instance – and the opportunity to lift oneself out of poverty. Thus, one sees a continuous demand for policy advice, capacity building and project related work.

I am currently Chair of the Rural Electrification Authority. This part-time work is extremely meaningful to me, and I guess to anyone who has a genuine appreciation of national development.

UO: Please share your journey to becoming a professor in your field and what motivated you to pursue a career/PhD in the energy/power industry. It could serve as advice to young people getting into the field now.

JMM: The latter part of my journey is easier to explain than how I got into it. The choice of Power and Machines was more or less made for me. I had a mining scholarship and the mines did not support Electronics or Telecommunications. After I got the Bachelor’s degree from the University of Zambia, I opted to continue to higher studies and to become a lecturer. Why? I just thought I would not enjoy the routine work in industry as I understood it then. Financially, this was dumb. A job in the copper mines was there for the taking, and the pay was far higher than the salaries in the University. Nevertheless, I chose the University because it offered me an immediate opportunity to pursue higher degree studies.

I was the first person from Zambia to gain admission to the Master’s course at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST). Initially they were a little sceptical about the standard of my degree from the University of Zambia, which they had not heard of before, and I was provisionally listed as a postgraduate diploma student. But I obtained good results in the first part of the course, a taught part, and was consequently allowed to change my registration to a Master’s degree.

I returned to Zambia in 1976, and taught at the University for about a year, before returning to UMIST for a PhD, which I completed late in 1980. In 1981, I continued my career at the University of Zambia and rose through the ranks. The essence of academic advancement consists in research and teaching. There is also an element of community or public service of a wide variety. But mainly it is research and teaching.

As I mentioned, the latter part of my career can easily be explained; not so the first part. I can only enumerate the possible influences in choosing to become an engineer. I did not have the benefit of parental guidance. My father died when I was just starting secondary school and my mother was barely literate. The school I attended had no career guidance either. I think they assumed this to be the domain of parents. Fortunately, at the time I was confronted with the question of what to study, I had two examples ahead of me: a brother who was studying metallurgy in the UK and a sister who had entered the school of medicine at the newly opened University of Zambia.   These probably inclined me to the sciences rather than the arts and humanities. I suppose also that a childhood spent in close proximity to mining shafts, smelters and haulage trains could have affected me in some unconscious way. Of course it helped that I enjoyed Maths and Science, especially Algebra and Physics. It is easy to work hard at something that you like.

My secondary education did not prepare me well for a career in engineering – I had not done what was known as Additional Maths and I was missing technical subjects like drawing. Instead, I had studied English literature, European and British History, and Latin. Initially, the University admitted me into a science education programme for secondary school teachers. When I was told this, I thought about leaving the University. But since all science, engineering and medical students had a common first year, I was offered an admission to engineering conditional on my first year results. I had to work hard to clear this hurdle, and I succeeded.

The timeless advice to young people getting into the field: Engineering studies require a high commitment of time and of effort. If you work consistently hard, success is assured. With success come enjoyment and more success.

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#AllowPowerInAba: Mobilize Youth and Individuals to Improve Electrification in Africa!

I still have great memories of my childhood in Aba. I enjoyed school; including times I competed with friends for superior positions in Math and Science classes. I made some of my best friends there! While there were good times, we had challenges learning under dire power conditions: the ceiling fans in school spinning inconsistently for short intervals of time when there was “light”, attempting to cool the classroom in the very hot climate. At home, I observed my parents spend large sums of money on fuel to run our generator every night. My siblings and I, like most others in the country, endured the noise and exhaust fumes of the generator, in exchange for cold air to sleep at night.



Photo credit: Nigerian Watch

Aba is generally acknowledged and referred to as the commercial capital of Eastern Nigeria, West Africa. Decades ago, things were not heinously bad. Over time, however, as I have seen during my visits, the city has been run down, and it is certainly not as developed as a native would hope. We desire growth and development of our towns and cities, not dilapidation. It has been over a decade since I left Aba, but power in the city has not improved. It is still erratic and unreliable. People in residential homes and churches are dying from carbon monoxide poisoning on the regular as they most times run their generators inside their homes and churches to prevent theft. How many souls do we have to lose to this madness before we make actual efforts to change things?

Geometric Power, an independent power plant, took up the challenge of providing power to the Aba people. With partnerships from key power and energy players in the world including GE, the power plant was designed with pristine quality. I was fortunate to tour the site of the new power project a few years ago before the privatization of the power industry in Nigeria. I envisioned every Aba home lit, parents throwing purchased candles away so that their children would complete their homework assignments with the aid of electric bulbs rather than said candle stick, curbing the risk of homes burning down from open flare.


Photo credit: Geometric Power

I have held this hope since that day but my hope is still not a reality. For whatever political reasons (some claim regulatory holdup), Aba is still without regular electricity. Geometric Power has not been allowed to operate. I consider the situation similar to a child being forced to hold in her ‘pee’ indefinitely, until her parents certify a perfect place for release. It is incredible and unfair. How long is “indefinite”? Months? Years? Should the child wait until her bladder burst then? While the politics and charades are carrying on, people continue to die from smoke inhalation (thanks to diesel generators), fires (thanks to candles that fall and burn buildings while inhabitants sleep), and darkness (falling into ditches and sharp objects in the absence of light) among other things.

Fortunately, the issue is getting some international attention. Manji Cheto, Senior Vice President at Teneo Intelligence (global advisory firm) and a risk analyst on the political economy of sub-Saharan Africa, forwarded a news article on the Geometric Power story to me, sharing that she was following the story. I would imagine that GE, as a partner on the project, is concerned about the current affairs. With all the interest around the story, why are Aba indigenes not fighting harder for change?

The youth of Hong Kong engaged their government in talks through persistence. Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai spoke up to protect the beloved Uhuru Park in Kenya from being destroyed in favor of a 60-story complex for galleries, shopping malls and the like. She wrote to a remarkable number of international bodies, informing them of the plight of her people, and the project was eventually canceled about a year later. Nigerians were so outraged about Boko Haram’s kidnapping of over 100 schoolgirls that a #bringbackourgirls campaign, which started as a result, took social media by storm. Bringing back the girls was a hot topic during the 2015 Nigerian election campaigns. Certainly, something can and needs to be done about the power crisis in Aba as well as the hold-back of Geometric Power. Whatever the differences, government of Nigeria, please allow power in Aba! #AllowPowerInAba

UO: “How do we get the government in Aba and other regions of Africa to ensure citizens good access to electricity NOW and drive greater use of small scale PVs/renewables and other available means?”

Emeka Richard Ochu, an Energy Economist with the Research Department of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Head Office, Abuja Nigeria, answered

ERO: “Talks and media…there is a whole lot holding back our energy security than what the public knows. The political will is important, first. More targeted investment in the right power infrastructure, the whole value chain, from Generation to Distribution is important. Diversifying the energy generation mix is important. Getting the gas-pricing framework is important. Investment in pipeline infrastructure is important, since we can only generate taking advantage of our huge gas endowment. Policy consistency is key. Implementation is also important. Talks, media will enlighten the public and engagement with the government will even do better, if the political will is there. Sabotage also needs to be addressed squarely.”

Hannah Kabir, Managing Director of Creeds Energy, Abuja, Nigeria, a professional renewable energy company.
HK: I believe in non-violent advocacy, which may get the youth further than riots. Articulating clearly what is required and following up on it may eventually rally the government around the needs of the people. Making power and how it is generated a campaign/ election issue can also make candidates sit up on how they engage with their campaign promises or manifestos. Youths need to mobilize themselves without vested interests to be able to influence policies or government action

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#AllowPowerInAba Part II: Nigerian Government Raising Hope in Electrifying Nigeria

April 4, 2016

Just a couple of months ago, I shared sentiments about how Geometric Power Limited had been held back from supplying power to the city of Aba—the result of a dispute with the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (DISCO). If you missed it, scroll up or click here. Recall that the privatization of the power industry in Nigeria is recent: Prof. Bart Nnaji, the CEO of Geometric Power and the then Minister of Power under the Jonathan administration, played an instrumental role in this important phase of Nigeria’s history. I expected there would be challenges in implementation of privatization, but the particular dispute around power supply to Aba was unforeseen. However, in the last few days, there is finally good news and great hope for the people of Aba. The Geometric Power dispute with the Enugu Electricity DISCO has been resolved. Thanks to the present Vice President Yemi Osinbanjo and the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, and others who worked diligently on the issue.

The new development gives me GREAT hope for the future of Nigeria’s electric power industry. The 200 MW from Geometric Power is less than 5% of the country’s 2020 plans, but it is definitely a step in the right direction. It shows a strong, healthy interest in powering Nigeria for Nigerians. With access to electricity of most African countries at or way below 50%, as per the World Bank’s 2012-2015 Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) database, every step must be taken to bridge the gap to 100% access to electricity. Note that Nigerians’ access to electricity is around 55.6%; 32.7% in Somalia, 23% in Kenya, 22.1% in Zambia, and 5.1% in South Sudan, among others. It is conversations like this that we will have, formally through keynotes and plenary sessions, and informally over dinners, at the 2016 IEEE PES Power Africa Conference in Livingstone, Zambia this year. If you had not planned on joining us, I am hoping you now are: in the midst of great hope and encouragement. Register now with a few easy steps. Click on https://event-wizard.com/powerafrica2016/0/authentication to register. Then, send in your payment. This is a conference you don’t want to miss.

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#Raphael Onoshapor: IEEE Nigeria Section Chair


UO: Dear Raphael, you just got elected to be the IEEE Nigeria Section Chair. Congratulations. How do you feel about it? What is your role as section chair? What are the challenges and fun parts of the job?

RO: Its an honor to be given a chance to contribute to our great organization. The role of the IEEE Chair is actually refereed to as that of the CEO of the section. Effectively as the chair the vitality and the vibrancy of the section is my responsibility. In Nigeria we continue to have the problem of membership vitality, where it is common to see people who join IEEE are active for a year or two and then suddenly disappear. I am making it my business to personally connect with many of such people being academics and professional to ensure that we pull them back into the fold by involving them in conferences, seminars and even convincing them to be part of one of our mentoring programs.One of the fun parts of being the Chair of an IEEE Section is that we are given the chance to make friends who are from other parts of the world and best of all you get a chance to explore new countries  together from time to time.

UO: You’ve lived in Nigeria most of your life and traveled to other countries. What do you do and what would you like to see changed in the power sector in Nigeria? [After answering this question by text, please record it on audio]

RO: Unfortunately, the Nigerian power sector has been in its infancy for a little too long. Some of the actions which need to be taken are very basic and include initiatives that not only deal with the power suppliers but also with the consumers of electricity;  Nigerian citizens need to be informed about the need for prudent use of electricity and energy in general. One simple initiative which the IEEE Nigerian section is working on is to promote the need to promote the use of energy saving appliances and the building and use of solar power and other renewable sources of electricity where possible. Most Nigerians rely on the current grid solutions that are majorly based on fossil fuels for electricity supply. Apparently people can be independent even with power. Unfortunately, most Nigerians as is commonly the case in developing countries are not familiar with the option and benefits of renewable energy solutions.

UO: You have some type of connection to Zambia. Would you like to tell us about it?

RO: Yes. My Mother was Zambian and I was born in Twin-palm Lusaka in Zambia. Myself and my siblings have many fond memories as children in Lusaka and Livingstone. Zambia is a beautiful country which is very close to nature and I was very pleased when I was given the opportunity to vote for the next location for the PES conference in Africa and discovered that Zambia was among the options.

UO: What do you like about Zambia? How would you compare it to Nigeria?

RO: Well, Zambia and Nigeria are two very different countries. For sure I can say that Zambian’s tend to be patient people(sometimes too patient) while Nigerians are hasty people. Each of these attributes can be a good or bad thing depending on the circumstances.

UO: You know our conference will be in Livingstone in June. Do you plan on attending? Why do you think it will be beneficial for electric power enthusiasts to attend?

RO: Yes, I plan to attend the conference. We are even trying to seek for corporate sponsorship in order for some of our PES members in Nigeria to attend as well. It would definitely be a good forum for power professionals in Africa and I see a positive network developing after this conference.

UO: What tips would you like to give people about Zambia?

RO: Zambia sees quite a lot of diversity, especially key destinations like Livingstone. I think the only tip I can give visitors would be to tell them to hold their breaths and enjoy nature as it can only be seen in very few parts of the world. Victoria falls is a must see !

UO: There have been questions about how to get to Zambia from Nigeria and other regions of Africa. What would you suggest is the best way to get to Livingstone, Zambia? How long does it take to get there from say Nigeria? What’s the most hassle-free route? How does one enjoy the journey? What airlines you’ve flown there? [After answering this question by text, please record the most interesting part of it on audio]

RO: There are  a couple of other routes to get to Zambia but I went with South African Airways and recommend the airline because there are a variety of flights to Zambia. Some people who are adventurous may consider going by road from South Africa but I must warn that the drive from Lusaka to Livingstone is more than 5 hours so it can be an endless journey trying to get there from South Africa by road. There are no major threats but I also advise people to be continuous of security because its not humans but animals that snatch bags down there. You wouldn’t want to be asking an chimpanzee to give you back your bag, do you ?

UO: Thanks for your tips, Raphael. What else would you like people to know about you and how do they contact you about IEEE, etc.?

RO: Overall I try to be a simple guy. I play golf and hope that some of the other guys coming are golfers so we could have a round or two together at Livingstone. I tend to have a thing for charity too and so I  also look forward to doing any kind of charity in Zambia around the period of the conference.

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