Monrovia still in the dark despite power pledge

One of Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s promises the day she took the oath of office in January was to urgently restore the electricity supply to the capital where power was cut off 16 years ago during the war.

Among the ”key objectives and deliverables in the first 150 days of our administration” is the restoration of electricity to Monrovia”, she said on January 16.

”We must meet out commitment to restore some measure of electricity to our capital,” she stressed.

But as she clocked up her first 150 days in office on Thursday Liberia’s seaside capital, with its war-blackened buildings, remained in the dark.

Only privately-owned diesel and petrol-powered electrical generators light up a few buildings across this city of one million inhabitants.

Faced with the mammoth task of reconstructing infrastructure destroyed between 1989 and 2003 when war ravaged the country, the government has now postponed by a few weeks the day when the first watts will flow into the capital to July 26, the country’s independence day.

”On July 26, electricity will be provided to the principal streets of central Monrovia,” the government said in a statement last week. Initially at least 3% of the capital will get powered up.

Other key service areas such as hospitals and small businesses should also get electricity at around the same time.

”This will be the beginning of the electrification process,” it said.

Hydro-electrical supplies were knocked out in 1990 shortly after the 14-year civil war broke out.

The city’s mains power generators have since been renovated and on Wednesday the country took delivery from Ghana of the pylons to carry the current.

”The European Commission has given $3,1-million for the urgent electrification programme currently in progress,” said Information Minister Johnny MClain.

In January, the European Union donated $80-million for both water and electricity supply schemes.

Ordinary Liberians, who have for the past 16 years made do with candles and kerosene lamps — had decoded Johnson-Sirleaf’s promises to mean that by now all would have electricity in their homes.

”This is very frustrating. We must learn to fulfil promises. We trusted this woman because she said she was bringing us light,” complained Arthur Gray, a university student.

”Why promise us if you know you will not fulfil it? This is just a big disappointment,” he said.

Other Liberians have adopted a weary wait-and-see attitude.

”I think there is no more need to promise Liberians about electricity supply because this is overdue,” said a university professor.

”Making another promise is like an insult to me. Let the government just go ahead and work on this wonderful electrification promise. The day we see it [then] we will believe it.

”Even a baby can no longer consider a promise from the government about electricity,” he said.

On May 31, Vice-President Joseph Boakai admitted the 150-day promise would be impossibe to fulfil.

”Even if you are a magician, you can’t tell me that with all the light poles knocked down, all the transformers removed, no wires, you can restore power in full in 150 days,” Boakai told reporters.

Hotels and other businesses as well as international organisations operating in Liberia have over the years relied on electrical generators.

The EU has been the sole donor so far for electricity generation, though China is believed to be interested while the World Bank has sponsored feasibility studies.

Liberia has also been without treated tap water since 1992. – AFP

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