Young men from Akparé in northern Togo are drawing attention to the complete lack of electricity in the town, by playing night-time football the only way they can: with flashlights and lanterns. That’s despite the fact that they live a stone’s throw away from a power plant.
Akparé, which is located 180 kilometres north of Lomé, is not hooked up to the power grid. Yet only a few kilometres away, the Nangbeto hydroelectric dam provides power to several large cities in Togo and Benin, and generates nearly 150 gigawatt hours per year.
Residents of Akparé have reacted to what they deem to be an injustice by organising several protests. During their most recent protest, on November 6, 2013, the Togolese police sprayed the crowd with tear gas and injured six people.
John Messan Fontodji is a spokesperson for Active Youth for the Welfare of the Akparé Canton (JABECA). He regularly takes part in protests demanding electricity for the residents of his city:
“We’re not used to protesting in Akparé, it’s a calm area of Togo. When the conflict in November resulted in several people being injured, the youth of the city decided to find an alternative, non-violent way to get the government’s attention.
“Here, we have a good football field, but we can’t play once night falls because there’s no electricity. It’s extremely frustrating: most young people are unemployed and they have nothing more to do when the sun sets. Accordingly, we decided to organise this game [in the evening of December 24] with headlamps and flashlights to set out the limits of the field. It’s a way of showing just how ridiculous the situation is.
“I’m 30, and yet the only electricity I’ve ever experienced in my city came from generators. When one of us has enough money to purchase a generator, we share it with our families and friends, who use it to recharge their phones and computers, or to warm up. And since we overuse them, they quickly break down.
“I’m an activist for the Union for the Republic [editor’s note: Unir, the party of Faure Gnassingbé, Togo’s president] and during the legislative elections of 2013, I supported the party’s candidate, who promised to bring electricity, running water, and better roads to my city. Six months later, we still have none of that. When a father doesn’t provide food or any other distraction, a child feels abandoned. This is how the people of Akparé feel”.
According to John Fontondji, Akparé’s case is not an isolated one: he alleges that the 44 villages in his canton are in similar situations.Unir spokesperson Pierre Gbenyo Lamadokou told FRANCE 24 that he was unaware of the problems experienced by residents of the region. He says that in Togo, “as in all other democracies, such as France, members of parliament are not the ones that deal with connections to the electrical grid”. According to him, the executive branch should deal with these problems. Togo’s Ministry of Mines and Energy did not respond to enquiries from FRANCE 24.
The protests spearheaded by Akparé’s youth have been replicated elsewhere: in Tsadomé, a small village 125 kilometres away from Lomé, residents organised a rally named “Ezan foot” [night football] lit by lanterns, residue of burnt palm nuts, and flashlights. Like Akparé, the village is not connected to the power grid even though high-voltage lines run across it, bringing electricity to larger cities like Kpalimé and Womé.
Post written in collaboration with FRANCE 24 journalist Alexandre Capron (@alexcapron).