Excitement as Kiang Prepares for its First Ever Electricity Supply
Ansumana Jarju, the Alkalo (village head) of Masembeh village in Kiang was at home when he heard on radio that the foundation stone for the long-awaited OMVG Energy Interconnection sub-station would be laid in Soma.
His immediate reaction was to jubilate, with his family.
“It was big news. We were just celebrating, embracing each other and thanking God for making this possible. We have been praying for a day when Kiang would have electricity. It was hope all along. But once it was announced that the president was coming to lay the foundation block, hope became reality,” he says.
Last week, President Adama Barrow officially laid the foundation stone of the Gambia River Basin Development Organisation’s Energy Project in Jarra Soma for the construction of a hydro-electric sub-power station to provide electricity in Kiang and other places.
Masembeh, like every single village in Kiang never had electricity supply. For any outsider who ever visited the region, among the easiest things to see would be children studying using kerosene lamp and women hiking long distances to fetch firewood for cooking.
Sitting in front of his mud-brick house, Jarju points to a corner where he keeps kerosene lamps, candles and solar hand lamps used for lighting up the house when it’s dark. “We’ve always been using kerosene lamps and candles here. It’s very sad that an entire region hasn’t had electricity. Our kids were born into this darkness and we struggle to explain to them that we’ve never had electricity.”
For Ebrima Yaffa, a former head of Masembeh’s development committee, the electricity problem in Kiang was compounded by the region’s defiance in the face of dictatorship during the former regime. Ex-President Jammeh was on record for saying that Kiang would never benefit from electricity or any other development project under his tenure.
“We were always defiant as a region. Yahya Jammeh told us that there’d be no development for us unless we voted for him and we refused to do that. That’s why he installed electricity from Foni to Jarra and jumped Kiang. There was an opportunity for us to get electricity by supporting him and voting him but we refused to do that. We refused to sell our soul and dignity even when it meant we stayed in the dark.”
Yaffa is thrilled that regime is no more and Kiang is set to have its first electricity supply.
“We are delighted. This is a dream come true. We’ve been neglected throughout as if Kiang wasn’t part of The Gambia. We must commend President Adama Barrow for ensuring that Kiang also gets electricity,” he says.
Naaba Kanteh, 53, is a petty trader who sells baobab juice and other local beverages in different villages in Kiang. Currently, she travels all the way to Soma to store her goods in refrigerator. Now she’s hopeful that the electricity supply in Masembeh will boost both her production and earning.
“I go to Soma to get some relatives who have freezers to store my goods for the next day’s business. It’s been tough. I can’t wait for us to be connected to power grids. I’ve always wanted to expand my business but without electricity at my disposal, that’s not possible. Now there’s electricity coming and when it’s here, I’ll expand my business into a much bigger one. I can’t wait,” Kanteh tells The Chronicle.
In Kaiaf village in Kiang East, the Alkalo, Sanna Sanneh describes the laying of the OMVG foundation block as the best news for Kiang, lamenting that everything without electricity has been a struggle – from getting cell phones charged to lighting up houses.
“It was like living in hell. Things that were easy for people in other parts of the country were challenges for us.”
“Electricity will open the door for prosperity in the region. Most of our kids that are in the urban areas and they’d love to come back to set up entrepreneurial projects. Electricity will make that possible.”
Landing B. Sanneh, the Chairman of Mansakonko Area Council which is responsible for Kiang, describes the electricity project as a life changing initiative.
He says “the lack of electricity has slowed down the growth and development of Kiang”, adding that with electricity, the region and its people will strive for economic growth and prosperity.
OMVG is a sub-regional institution comprising of The Gambia, Senegal, Guinea Bissau and Guinea Conakry, set out to address and supply member states with clean, renewable and low cost energy as well as boost the electricity market by sharing of hydroelectric resources in the sub-region.
The sub-station in Soma is expected to provide electricity to at least thirteen districts in The Gambia within 2019.
Experts have raised the issue of the environmental impact of this project. But Lamin Dibba, the Minister of Environment said a lot of environmental impact studies have been commissioned especially how the project impacts on ecosystems and mangroves. He added that the studies focus on impact on the river and the environment.