Gao, the largest city in northern Mali, has experienced much instability since its liberation from Islamists in 2014. As a major trading hub for the desert region, Gao’s diversity of people and economic activities makes it an important city for the region. The objective of the solar streetlighting project in Gao is to enhance public safety and boost the legitimacy of the authorities by increasing their capacity to effectively engage with the communities they serve and delivering tangible public services. The EnDev project partners with the Norwegian NIS Foundation, which installed 72 solar-powered street lights along six key roads inside the city in February 2018.
The impact of the project was immediately apparent, as shops, restaurants, stores, workshops, dressers, bars and drugstores were reported still open at two in the morning. The number of people on the street after nightfall had increased dramatically as a direct result of the street lights. Local residents report that the longer opening hours have led to increased economic activity, as shops and consumers alike benefit.
Even though only some streets were selected for the project, while others which had made a similar request were not, there was no negative reaction from local residents from other parts of town. The project’s limited scope means that new public lighting cannot be installed in all the city’s neighbourhoods. The NIS worked closely with the Gao major stakeholders. This included the Gao municipality, the regional director of energy, the energy provider EdM, district councils of the selected streets, as well as a women’s organisation, a local youth association, local notabilities, the regional director of urban planning and the water company SOMAGEP. Nevertheless, despite such extensive consultations, poor communication resulted in a rift between the city council and the mayor. This meant, NIS had to negotiate with the mayor to find to a solution acceptable to all parties. Eventually, they agreed on the EnDev project targetting six streets.
Weak governance structures
This episode highlights the risks often associated in working with weak governance structures, where personalities are more influential than the institutions they represent. These weak structures are particularly vulnerable in conflict-affected areas, like northern Mali, and actively negotiating the complex political landscape is often more challenging than the technical aspects of a project. For the implementation to be successful, one valuable lesson needs to be taken into account. That is that inclusivity can create opportunities for a particular group to exploit a project. For this reason, project leaders need to be prepared to balance the need for involving multiple stakeholders and to manage the pros and cons of their involvement.
EnDev aims to achieve sustainable energy access for at least 21 million people worldwide by 2021. The strategy of EnDev is geared towards developing and promoting sustainable pro-poor markets for energy services and off-grid products, as well as sustainable social welfare measures ensuring energy access for people who are neglected by market activities. In the various projects, inclusion of vulnerable groups is at the heart of the EnDev approach.