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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 October 2005, 11:58 GMT 12:58 UK
Living in a city without power
Street in Freetown at night
Some children in Sierra Leone have never seen electric light
Residents in the Sierra Leonean capital, Freetown, told the BBC's Mohammed Fajah-Barrie what it is like not being able to have light at the flick of a switch.

It is not unusual for certain parts of the city to go for weeks without electricity or power. And even when it is available it will, at most, last for five hours.

The country's power supplier, the National Power Authority (NPA), attributes the shortages to old machines breaking down. They have promised that the situation will improve once the long-awaited Bumbuna Hydro-electric Project is completed in 2007.

Read the resident's accounts below and use the form at the end to send us your comments and experiences.

Foday Conteh, 27, student

Foday Conteh
Foday worries that he will have trouble with his sight in the future

I have just been promoted to the Honours year of my degree, but I must confess that it has been through difficult circumstances that I have reached this level.

Freetown's lack of power and electricity makes learning very hard.

Nearly every night of my entire 17 years of educational life has been spent studying by candle light. And I know that it will remain so until I complete my degree course.

Strain

Studying with candles makes my course much harder - and expensive, as I am always having to buy more candles.

Sometimes I find it difficult to understand what I am studying - I often have to strain my eyes to see what is written in the books.

The occasions when I have had electrical light do not compare - having a clear picture of what is written in the books makes me feel very happy while I study.

Fire

Almost two years ago I awoke suddenly in fright to find my calculator and books completely burnt.

I had fallen asleep studying. I was lucky.

Water usually pours from my eyes when I look at my books for long periods and I'm afraid that I will experience sight problems in the future.

Feyi J Asgill, 37, owner of a printing and internet business

Feyi Asgill
Feyi's business is running at a loss

Currently, I'm running my business in an extremely difficult situation as I am not making a profit because I have to spend so much cash generating power for my business.

I need to run my business 24 hours a day, seven days a week because subscribers to my services need to be able to have access whenever they want.

As there is virtually no power and electric light in Freetown I have to run a generator at least 12 hours every day, including Sundays, after which a battery back-up system takes over.

Feyi's internet cafe in Freetown
Feyi says that if he increased customer charges they would stop visiting the cafe to go online

It costs me a lot of money to use the generator as I have to buy five gallons of fuel each day. The cost of fuel rises often.

Hope

I can't increase my customer charges because if I do they will stop using my services.

And so I am running at a loss, all because NPA cannot supply my business with electricity.

I look forward to making a profit in 2007 when the Bumbuna Hydro-electric Project is completed.

Alfred Tucker, 38, supervisor at the national stadium and a hotel complex

Alfred Tucker
The company Alfred works for does not have the cash needed to pay their power bill

The scarce power and electric light in Freetown has brought our business seriously down.

In fact, we have been cut off by NPA for more than a month now because we cannot settle our arrears.

We are losing customers everyday now because they cannot enjoy our air conditioning and hot water facilities.

Expensive

Freetown's National Stadium and Hotel complex
The stadium can't afford to generate electricity for the flood lights

We do have two generators but they are very expensive to run.

One is 150kVA (kilovolt ampere) which consumes 15 gallons of fuel in just two hours, while the other is 75kVA and needs five gallons per hour.

Just a few days ago, some pastors from Nigeria came to us and wanted to organise a crusade at the stadium's main bowl.

But they had to go elsewhere because there was no electric light. We are not in a position to generate electricity for the floodlights.


Send us your comments and experiences using the form below.

This forum is now closed. Thank you for your comments.

Your comments:

"Black out" as it is commonly called in Sierra Leone is now normal in Freetown. We've gone for so long without electricity that we've got used to it. Our sources are candles, "pa lamp", kerosene lamp, generator or "kabba tiger". With the increase in fuel price, we can afford light only every other day.
Adrian Wright, Freetown, Sierra Leone

Nearly four generations were born in the dark
Chea Wesseh, Liberia
The issue of power cuts has become a daily sport for most African countries, especially my country, Liberia, where nearly four generations were born in the dark. Power cuts will always be a problem, since African governments do not give priority to electricity.
Chea Wesseh, Harper, Liberia

I am an aid worker in Sri Lanka and Sierra Leone - both countries are recovering from the effects of civil war and both conflicts ended just over three years ago. In Kilinochchi Sri Lanka, the most bombed town on the island, mains power has been restored down the main street and new wires were being installed down side streets when I was there last week. Houses with mains power are connected most of the time. In Sierra Leone, mains power in the east of Freetown is on four to six hours per month. How come?
Ronnie Fleming, Maidenhead, UK

Sierra Leone has been in this situation for over twenty years. 60% of the people in Sierra Leone have never slept in a house with electricity. Out of the twelve districts we have in Sierra Leone, only two have electricity (Bo and Kenema). I am appealing to the government, the people of Sierra Leone have suffered too long. Try and do something about this electricity. Investors are not coming because of this problem.
Gibrilla Turay, Charlottesville, USA

I am a Sierra Leonean who spent 21 years learning in Sierra Leone. I must confess that during the late 70s and early 80s I was able to read my lessons using electricity in big towns like Bo, Makeni, Freetown etc. but it was not in the villages. My later school days at St Edwards Freetown and university days in Fourah Bay College were the worst since I had to use candles or sometimes lamps to study.

That has created a serious eyes problem for me. Blackouts were the norms that any time we did see light the children would shout "light don cam". Now I am doing a masters programme in Sweden where there is 24 light. It created such a sharp contrast for my eyes that I had to see a doctor to ask for his advice.
Ahmed Timbo, Sweden

This is very common in most West African countries and nowadays even in the Guinean capital Conakry. 50% of the city has been without power for almost half a year and 25% of the city has been without power for almost a year or more now. Private businesses do provide their own power through generators to run their businesses. There are now even people that have established a phone charging business i.e. you go to them, you pay and they charge your phone as there no power in most part of the town.
Chernor Sall, Lero, Guinea Conakry

I am a Sierra Leonean working in Malawi. It is a very serious situation in Freetown. After leaving Freetown for over 20 years, I went back home in 2004 to get a job for the short while I was staying in Freetown. I can count the number of times I saw light. It affected me a lot to the extent that now I have to use glasses in my new job. I hope that in 2007 we will have constant light. If Malawi, a landlocked country, can give light for 24 hours a day, I don't see any reason why Sierra Leone cannot afford to.
Augustine Foday, Lilongwe, Malawi

Oh yes we are tired of this company called NPA. Why for the past two months have we had no light? Freetown is becoming a graveyard at night.
Sylvester Sahr Kapindi, Sierra Leone

All you have said about Sierra Leone is true but this problem cuts right across Africa. How can a continent with abundant energy resource be the darkest continent and even when the power is available it is too expensive for the ordinary man. One major problem is that almost all electricity companies in Africa are owned by the government and are an easy source of party political funds and haven of corruption. This is why I say unless we change the whole system of governance in Africa our people will remain poor even if the rich West pour in billions of dollars. All will go into the pockets of politicians! What a shame.
Trevor Simumba, Lusaka, Zambia

It is disgraceful to say that it is over three good months now I can't see a light from our NPA. What troubles me most is when I get home from work, I can't have a rest at night at all. For every door you step through there must be a Tiger generator with different sound, and when more than four of them Tiger generators start, the whole compound is full of noise.

I can recall these kinds of black-outs during the days of APC. But all the same, thank God for the Tiger generator company thus they have made a lot of money in our country. Long live Sierra Leone. Long live Bumbuna Hydro-electrical Project which we are dreaming about being completed by 2007.
Shamo, Freetown, Sierra Leone

Because of the poor electricity in Freetown and other parts of the country, that is why we need a change. We don't need the same old guards again to continue to lead us in darkness.
Claudio Kamara, Somerset, New Jersey, USA

The problem is with the past and present government. As long as they are comfortable, the welfare of the masses is nothing. The press is the only thing the people have. They should be vibrant with the sole objective of seeking the rights of the people of Sierra Leone at the hands of those insensitive monsters they call politicians. The press is alive because the country exists - I believe they know that but should do more.
Anthony Macarthy, Sierra Leonean in Alexandria, USA

I was visiting my home country for three weeks after being away for 12 years. I was shocked at the degradation of electricity and all the amenities that go with it. I never saw an iota of light all through my stay in the land that I treasured so much. What a shame to the leaders - while the president was basking in his nice and warm mansion, I was busy fighting the night away with mosquitoes.
Santigi Kargbo, Fort Drum, New York

Sierra Leone has been plagued by power cuts for the best part of the past 40 years. There's a Bumbuna project, which was started in the 60s and is still to be completed! We are waiting patiently, but this has gone beyond a joke. How can we talk about attracting investment if we expect investors to generate their own electricity!? It is no coincidence that the symbol of ideas is a light bulb!
Abi, Freetown, Sierra Leone





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