10 March 2016

Cameroon: The Right to Be Informed


That electricity has gone off unannounced in many homes in Cameroon today takes few by surprise. Rather, what makes news is when a day passes by without any such cut (s). The same observation goes for water where taps run dry for weeks or even months in major cities and where the population is compelled to solicit other sources of supply, some of which are highly disease-prone. The country has been into this situation for decades and all the time the hopes of the people are raised as to the fact that the situation will soon be over. As this is happening, management continues to change hands from SONEL through AES SONEL, to Actis and now ENEO as far as electricity is concerned and from SNEC to CAMWATER/Camerounaise des Eaux (CDE) as concerns water supply. At each stage of engagement, the new company coming in puts consistent supply and improved services in the centre of its commitment.

The concern of the government in signing any of these agreements with the various companies is to see, for instance, a consistent extension of the distribution network both for electricity and water, significant reduction in technical and commercial losses, increase investment, professionalized management and improved customer service among others. In effect, what Cameroonians want is nothing less than steady electricity/water supply. They want to say goodbye to rampant cuts. They want electric energy that is affordable and accessible to all. Cameroonians no longer want to entertain a situation where they are suddenly deprived of watching TV programmes, listening to the radio, ironing their dresses as a result of electric cuts. Children are tired of crisscrossing neighbourhoods and combing valleys containers on their heads in search of water with doubtful quality.

The good thing however is that many Cameroonians are aware of the hurdles responsible for this state of affairs. Many know that the infrastructures are outdated and need serious revamping. Ask any Cameroonian and he or she will readily tell you that several electric poles are broken down. Installed equipment which the various companies inherited from SONEL is old, dilapidated and ill adapted. The population has been made to understand that the dry season makes the rivers to run dry reducing the quantity of water that turns the turbines in hydroelectric installations. All this is what might justify the rampant unannounced cuts here and there, load shedding and connection difficulties, among others. This is where the challenge is for any company taking over electricity management in Cameroon.

Perhaps the greatest of the challenges for ENEO, CAMWATER and CDE is how to manage the shocks that are flowing in the veins of the population. What story will they tell a family that sees its children deprived of studies as a result of sudden electricity cuts? What about things stocked in refrigerators that get spoiled on energy cuts? The danger in all these is the complete absence of information. In fact, there is a communication vacuum which authorities managing these two important utilities need to fill. Since there seems to be no hope as to when the situation will change, consumers simply want to have a disconnection schedule that will enable them take alternative measures and scale down the shocks. Consumers may be deprived of the right to know the reasons behind the poor and low energy and water supplies but they at least have the right to be informed of when they will swim in darkness and weakness dry taps.


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