By Okafor Akachukwu | 24/05/2016
Almost half a decade ago, billions of the world’s poorest and marginalized populations living in remote communities and urban slums including those in sub-Saharan Africa who do not have access to electricity now have some hope Like many other people in sub-Saharan Africa, many of Sierra Leone’s poorest and marginalized populations living in remote communities, who half a decade ago did not have access to electricity, now have some hope. There is a general air of optimism that soon they shall see with light bulbs and use home appliances powered with electricity, including having access to other well-being and livelihoods improvement services that come with having access to electricity. This optimism is fuelled by increased investments in energy infrastructure development especially in the deployment of decentralized, off-grid renewable energy solutions. One of such investments is the United Kingdom Department of International Development (DFID) Energy Africa Campaign, which was launched in October, 2015. Its aim is to help Africa to achieve universal energy access by 2030 through an investment portfolio of over £757 million using different mechanisms.
Two weeks ago, the first of the 14 Energy Africa Campaign agreement was formally concluded in Sierra Leone with an Energy Compact signed by UK’s International Development Minister, Nick Hurd and Sierra Leone President, Ernest Bai Koroma at an event to mark Sierra Leone’s Energy Revolution. The event which was organized by Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Energy and DFID with support from Adam Smith International, Sierra Leone Opportunities for Business Action (SOBA) and Power for All. The event also marked the launch of Power for All campaign operations in Sierra Leone, which is a campaign led by a network of actors in the renewable energy sector that “advances renewable, decentralized electrification solutions as the fastest, most cost-effective and sustainable approach to universal energy access”. According to its Director of Communications, Media, and Content, William Brent, Power for All will soon launch operations in Rwanda and Nigeria after its successful launch in Zimbabwe and Sierra Leone. President Koroma in his address during the launch committed to ensure that more than 50,000 homes will have access to solar units this year and 200,000 homes by next year. This is an interesting development that will complement and improve on the efforts of young Sierra Leonean renewable energy entrepreneurs and development actors.
One of such outstanding efforts is led by Smiling through Light, founded by a young female Sierra Leonean, Mariama Kamara, who is based in London. Mariama moved to London at age 9 and got back to Sierra Leone in 2011, to work in the development sector to improve and strengthen healthcare systems.
She got to learn about and witness the enormous energy poverty and decided to help change the situation. She subsequently setup Smiling through Light and with funding from Price Water Coopers (PWC), its first pilot project was successfully implemented. It has continued to work with a network of women to distribute and sell solar lamps and solar mobile phone charging units. Mariama’s work has not been without challenges.
She says that, “finding investment for the business has been my biggest challenge. It has been difficult to get financial support to grow the business. Financing for SME’s and challenges linked to the ‘missing middle” is an issue. And she asks, “How do we fill and support the ‘missing middle”? She also highlights the challenge of local content and knowledge transfer, “from my experience, I find that local entrepreneurs are not supported in the sector”. Mariama’s wish is to seek that more local entrepreneurs can have access to funding to enable them develop and grow the market, which accelerate adoption of renewable energy solutions.
It is encouraging that a lot of investment will be going into the sector which will catalyse growth, and help open up the space for participation. The hope of young entrepreneurs like Mariama is that these investments and increased participation will help solve the challenges is the sector. I also personally hope that organizations including Power for All will help remove these barriers to a successful Sierra Leone Energy Revolution.