The Cameroon electricity crisis

Cameroon is undergoing its most severe energy crisis. Power outages can easily span days or weeks, even in Douala, its biggest city.

We obtained data concerning 8,337 power cuts in the country from August 2012 to March 2013. It is presented on a map, together with the most important events. Zoom to Yaoundé or Douala to see the power cuts for each neighborhood.

Outages are just part of the story. When the power flows back on, the tension on the line is often vastly over the 220 Volts limit. Home appliances cannot support such high tensions and often go up in flames when the power cut comes to an end. The best bakery of Douala was lost to fire due to a power cut in February.

The heart of the problem lies in the deal made between the electricity utility, AES-SONEL, and an aluminum smelter, Alucam. Although the government retains a majority stake in both, they are run by US-based AES and UK-based RioTinto, respectively.

As the US ambassador made clear in 2009 in this cable published by Wikileaks,  Alucam signed a very advantageous contract with AES. Under the terms of the contract, AES must deliver a growing supply of electricity to the smelter of face heavy fines.

A new gas-fired power plant was due to open in late 2012 at Kribi and to add about 20% (200 MW) to the Southern grid of the country. The plant finally opened in late March 2013. In between, it is possible that the terms of the contract between AES and Alucam required an increase of the deliveries to the smelter, based on the expected additional capacity from Kribi.

It is impossible to know precisely how bad is the electricity situation in Cameroon. Contracts are hidden from public view. No open data exists. Public officials refuse to quantify their statements.

This is why we launched Feowl, a data collection initiative. Since last November, it polls inhabitants of Douala to assess precisely the extent of the power cuts.

The map was drawn by @nicolaskb and @annelisebouyer of Journalism++, using the marvellous tools provided by the no less marvellous CartoDB. You can download the data here. The data represents all complaints received by AES SONEL on its toll-free hotline. The actual number of power cuts is much higher.