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ENERGY-WEST AFRICA: Togo and Benin Make Electricity Provision a Joint Endeavour

Noel Kokou Tadegnon

LOME, Dec 8 2004 (IPS) - News that an agreement has been signed to supply power to electricity-starved parts of northern Togo and Benin has been welcomed by residents of these areas.

The 8.8 million dollar accord was initialed last month by the West African Development Bank (BOAD) and the Benin Electricity Community (CEB), a Lome-based group that includes representatives from Benin and Togo.

According to the CEB, the project will allow construction of power lines connecting northern regions of Togo and Benin to electricity grids in the south of the countries. At present, northern Togo and Benin experience regular power cuts that disrupt the lives of residents, and undermine economic activity there.

“Our hope is that the project will be finished soon to alleviate our suffering,” Ousmane Akpaki, a shopkeeper in Kemerida, northern Togo, told IPS.

In all, 692 kilometres of cable will be installed, 345 kilometres in Togo between the cities of Atakpame, Kara, Dapaong and Mango. The remaining 347 will be in Benin, between Djougou, Natitingou, Parakou, N’Dali and Bembereke. The lines are expected to be in use by October 2007.

CED executive Kossi Ametogbe Sowou says the rate of access to electricity in northern Togo and Benin, which now averages about 10 percent in the two regions, may reach up to 30 percent after the project is completed.

“This project will improve and increase the availability of electrical power and reduce the importation and use of diesel fuel,” he told those who attended a presentation aimed at providing information about the project to the public.

The president of BOAD, Boni Yayi, predicts a similar increase of power use in northern Togo and Benin: “It will allow for a permanent 20 percent increase in access to electricity, while it will lower electricity costs for consumers.” At present, the cost per kilowatt/hour of electricity in these two areas varies between about 11 and 13 cents, according to consumers interviewed by IPS.

Sowou claims the project will also promote economic activity, increase the number of available jobs in the areas – and improve local transportation, since roads will be built for the electrical wires to be installed. Perishable medical and food products that are difficult to store in northern Togo and Benin may also become more widely available.

“The agreement…shows our firm intention to support regional integration in the very strategic energy sector,” said Yayi.

The CEB was created to produce, buy and market electricity in Togo and Benin. Current production involves the use of gas turbines and the Nangbeto Hydroelectric Dam in Togo. The CEB also buys electricity from the Volta Region Authority in Ghana and the Cote d’Ivoire Electric Company.

At the beginning of 2004, Togo and Benin also launched a project to build a hydroelectric dam in Benin on the Mono River, which flows between the two countries. CEB officials say the project is aimed at producing energy at reduced cost, and decreasing dependence on petroleum products. The total cost of the initiative is put at about 162 million dollars.

The two countries have called on foreign donors to fund the dam. Chinese Vice-President Zeng Qinghong announced a loan of about 36.7 million dollars for the project during a visit to Togo last June.

Electricity woes have also beset other countries in West Africa.

As IPS reported earlier this year, aging equipment and falling water levels at two hydroelectric dams in Cameroon have taken a toll on power distribution in this state, and businesses there have complained that lack of electricity is eating into their bottom line. Plans have been made to build two new dams, at Lom-Pangar and Natchigal, to alleviate the energy shortage.

A study by the Inter-Employers Group of Cameroon and the Manufacturers Association of Cameroon predicted growth of four percent growth in Cameroon this year – down from the 4.2 percent and 4.8 percent of 2003 and 2002 respectively. Business executives say the uncertain supply of electricity is a major factor behind their expectations of lower growth.

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