West African Countries Cope as New Mali Power Plants Abridge Electricity Challenges

Written by Soumaila Diarra

Riparian countries of the Senegal River have joined efforts to build power plants to face their growing electricity needs, while fossil fuel bills rise. As international partners urge to cut subsidies in favor of social services, sharing investment proves necessary to developing countries of West Africa.

Mali, one of Senegal River riparian countries, was asked last week by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to gradually cut subsidies allocated to the national electricity company, Énergie du Mali (EDM).

Encouraging Cooperation and Cutting Subsidies 

“The subsidies given to the electricity company are higher than the budget of the ministry of health. They must be gradually reduced to save more money that can fund building schools, health centers and other social services,” IMF executive director Christine Lagarde told AFKInsider at a press conference in Bamako.

According to Bakary Traore, a university teacher of economics in Bamako, the Malian capital, the West African country is facing a deep electricity crisis as its growing population gets concentrated in big cities.

“The solution is cooperation with neighboring countries to reinforce multilateral initiatives like the organization created to share development projects on the Senegal River,” Traore said.

Felou and Gouina Hydropower Plants

Last December, Mauritania, Senegal and Guinea — which complete the shortlist of the four riparian countries — inaugurated a new hydroelectric power plant in the Malian village of Medine.

“Felou Power Plant is located in the region of Kayes and one of its particularities is the social advantages — as locals haven’t been displaced,” he added.

According to a press release from the Malian government, 52 percent of its electricity is transmitted to Mali, which is hosting the power plant. Senegal and Mauritania merely receive the remaining 48 percent.

“Guinea doesn’t receive energy from Felou Power Plant though it is a member the [riparian countries organization] OMVS — Organisation pour la mise en valeur du fleuve Sénégal. But a similar project in the same area will compensate that,” Ousmane Maïga, an engineer at the Malian ministry of Energy told AFKInsider.

Senegal River riparian countries launched the construction of another power plant in the same western region of Mali last December.

“Gouina Hydropower Plant will be finished in three years and will produce 140 megawatts, which could be shared by all four riparian countries of the Senegal River,” Maïga said.

This power plant, which will be 64 km (39.8 miles) upstream from Felou Power Plant, costs 230 million Euros ($313.5 million USD) is financed — up to 85 percent— by China Eximbank, according to the Malian government.

Hope For the Future

Kabine Komara, high commissioner of the riparian countries organization, said the two power plants represent happier prospects for these West African countries.

New electricity projects are also ongoing outside of Mali in other countries like Guinea, given the name of West Africa’s ‘water tower,’ and where most of the region’s rivers take root.

“Guinea gets a potential of 1000 megawatts and only a quarter of this is used currently. Mauritania also discovered natural gas, and is willing to share it with the other countries at lower price,” said Komara.

Being a landlocked country, Mali’s electricity projects on the Senegal River represent communication opportunities — navigation possibilities are being offered despite wrecked rapids and falls, according to Malian president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

“We are looking for funds to make possible navigation between Saint-Louis (in Senegal) and Ambidédi (in Mali),” president Keita said at the Felou Power Plant inaugural ceremony.

Beyond the importance of the power plant for governments in the riparian countries of the Senegal River, locals are particularly interested. Ibrahim Sarr, mayor of Hawa Dembaya — a commune in south-western Mali — thinks the villages of his municipality will benefit.