As a short aside: If you have never checked out Global Voices before, you should. It is really fantastic. Citizen reporting from all corners of the globe at its best. A small utopian vision of how the world should be: all voices are equal, and all voices are heard.
Julie’s article is about electricity access in Cameroon, and is relevant to my work here at Practical Action for three reasons. If you want this blog in a nutshell, these reasons are:
1) We are both advocating for and working towards energy provision and services that genuinely benefit the urban and rural poor
2) We are both interested in finding ways of measuring energy access from the ground up
3) We have both featured photos in our blogs of giant electricity pylons sweeping past rural African villages (hers in Cameroon, mine from Kenya).
The Government of Cameroon, led by President Paul Biya, apparently have Big Ideas on moving up the ladder to ‘emerging market’ status by 2035. At the heart of this leap is generating electricity to drive growth. Or, more specifically, expanding the national grid through implementing large-scale projects such as the Lom Pangar dam hydro-power project.
However, as highlighted in another blog by Christiane Badgley, it is not clear that this project will meet the energy needs of poor Cameroonians, but will rather benefit big industry such as the country’s largest aluminium smelter, owned by a Canadian firm.
Understanding how (or if) energy reaches, and is used by, people in rural or otherwise marginalised communities is a key component of our series of Poor people’s energy outlook reports. As part of the 2012 report, we have also set up a Total Energy Wiki with Energypedia. The aim is to get people involved in a grassroots attempt to record and measure what access households and communities in developing countries have to different energy services.
Julie Owono is also attempting this in Cameroon, with her involvement in an interesting project called Feowl. This project is using a different method, but the ground-up approach at the heart of it is the same as our Wiki. Feowl is an online platform that seeks to record information sent in by residents of Cameroon’s largest city, Douala. The focus here is on electricity, and residents are asked to send in when they have powercuts, how long for and what the impact is. The platform aims to generate data to build a picture of who is affected, and how, by an unreliable or unavailable power supply.
Getting this information is critical for civil society to understand where gaps in energy supply are, and to advocate to governments and the private sector for change. I look forward to following the progress of Feowl, and also the Total Energy Wiki, and I hope that it enables us all to work towards less photos such as the ones Julie and I have featured in our blogs.
In reality, big ideas can often mean small gains for marginalised people and communities. However, as with everything at Practical Action, we believe that the right idea, however small, can and does change lives. Big data on small-scale energy access can do just that.