When Someone Is Helping You Wash Your Back, Wash Your Front

Flag of Liberia

It is indeed a national shame and disgrace that Liberia, well drained by six (6) principal rivers, the Mano, St. Paul, St. John, Cestos, Sanquin and Cavalla rivers including several major creeks, rivulets and streams is now being supplied power from the neighboring Ivory Coast whose hydroelectric potential is by far less than that of Liberia. 

According to reports, Mr. Amidou Traore, head of the Ivory Coast national electricity utility (Côte d’Ivoire Energies) has assured the uninterrupted flow of electricity from its dam. But from hindsight and from the current state of affairs between both nations, we should be well aware that such could be mere political talk.

Again the question arises, what if, just what if something went wrong and power supply is interrupted? Currently, relations between Liberia and the Ivory Coast are said to be frayed. 

Recently, there was an armed attack on a military barracks in Abidjan allegedly carried out by Liberian mercenaries. Prior to that, a convoy of 17 vehicles was intercepted at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Yamoussoukro, the political capital of the Ivory Coast.

Several occupants of the 17-vehicle convoy widely described by the Ivorian media as Liberian mercenaries were arrested following a search and discovery of arms and thousands of voting materials on board the vehicles. 

An angry mob set the entire convoy ablaze and pounced on the suspected mercenaries. They were however rescued from the mob by state security forces which had them detained. The mercenaries were said to be linked to Ivorian businessman of Burkinabe extraction, Ousman Bamba. 

The said Ousman Bamba is reported to have close relations with President Weah and has at times travelled with him on official delegations, according to informed sources.  The response of the Liberian government to that incident was rather belated and this is said to have strained relations even further. 

Thus, in the event that power supply is interrupted for whatever reasons, it would mean that Liberia is going to pay a heavy price for its reliance on others when it has the potential to provide for its own needs and those of others as well. 

According to feasibility studies, Liberia has a huge hydro-electric potential which remains untapped.

Prior to the outbreak of the civil war, the Liberia Electricity Corporation had prepared a plan calling for the construction of mini hydro dams around the country which, together with the Mount Coffee dam, could produce enough electricity to meet the country’s needs as well as to export to neighboring countries.

Just what went wrong with those plans? Why have they since been shelved? What does the Ministry of Mines and Energy have to tell the public about plans to have Liberia become self-sufficient in the production of electricity to meet its current and future needs?

Currently, according to reports the reconstructed and expanded LEC Mount Coffee dam is producing adequate power to supply Monrovia and areas beyond. However much of what is being generated is not being distributed for reasons that remain unclear.

According to LEC authorities, power distribution is being undermined by a high rate of power theft. To counteract this, teams are deployed to search and remove illegal connections and arrest and prosecute those suspected of power theft. However, those measures have failed to address the problem.

But local communities attribute blame to LEC officials who, they believe, are involved in the theft of power. They maintain that to even get connected to the grid, one has to pay LEC workers aside from the official fees one is required to pay.

But according to analysts, the main cause of the power theft problem is the very high cost of electricity which at 60 US cents per kilowatt is the highest in Africa and perhaps the entire world.

People need electricity and if the cost is far above their reach, they will find alternative means to acquire it even if it means stealing it. It is not surprising that so many deaths by electric shock have occurred from desperate individuals’ (power thieves) attempts to connect to the power grid.

When the Chinese government offered to reconstruct the Mount Coffee dam for free, President Sirleaf rejected it and instead accepted a proposal from a US company to do so under the framework of the Millenium Challenge Fund. 

The mere cost of its feasibility study was almost the cost of reconstructing the dam which was initially assessed at US$5m.  

Under the arrangement, LEC is managed by a team of expatriate and Liberian nationals. Its managing director and deputies are appointed by the President and it maintains a local staff of engineers and technicians. However, real power and decision making rest largely in the hands of expatriates, whose salaries are by far higher than those of their Liberian counterparts. 

And unlike their Liberian counterparts, expatriates are paid from the very same Millenium Challenge grant for the reconstruction of the Mount Coffee dam. Although state corporations are required under the law to publish annual reports including income and expenditure reports, the management of the LEC has consistently failed to do so.

All its operations remain shrouded in secrecy. The grant period has since run out and the LEC has failed to qualify for a second grant. Analysts say this can be attributed to severe shortfalls in revenue projection based on the exceedingly high cost of US$60 cents per kilowatt hour. 

Perhaps the power now being supplied may come at a cheaper rate, much lower than the LEC current rate of 60 US cents per kilowatt hour. Should this be the case, ordinary Liberians will stand to benefit. It will also be a testimony to the impactful difference that interregional economic cooperation can make in the lives of the Liberian people.

That said, it behooves us to guard against complacency. It also imposes on us the obligation to develop to the fullest our very large hydroelectric potential and also export power to our neighbors. “When someone is helping you wash your back, wash your front” -- an old saying.