from The New York Times..
July 1, 2013
DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania — Alex Adrian, a carpenter at Yasir Ahmed Hardware, proudly brought out his newest purchase on Monday afternoon, a small lamp with a square solar panel to charge it.
He still had the receipt for 45,000 Tanzanian shillings, or about $28, pay for roughly two full days of work here. Two days of work, that is, unless the power goes out, as it often does. In that case, work stops and no one gets paid. At home, families have to skip meals.
A few minutes earlier, nine workers had huddled around Mr. Adrian, watching President Obama’s arrival at the airport in Tanzania on the tiny screen of his phone. The discussion turned to how the United States could help their country. The answer was unequivocal and unanimous: Electricity.
“We know we have natural gas supplies in this country and we want to use them to provide affordable electricity for work,” Mr. Adrian said. “All we need Obama to help us with is a reliable supply of electricity.”
Mr. Obama has begun a new push to bring power to the two-thirds of sub-Saharan Africans who have no access to electricity, one of the cornerstones of his policy for the continent. That would mean light for schoolchildren to do their homework after sunset and refrigerators to keep food from spoiling. It would also mean more jobs and more development.
“Electricity is the heart of my business and of the development of Tanzania in general,” said Dotto Said, 50, the supervisor at Yasir Ahmed, which sits along the four-lane Nelson Mandela Road in the neighborhood of Mwenge, a stretch of storefronts selling paint, water tanks and office supplies.
Phil Hay, the World Bank’s spokesman for Africa, said that for the continent “to keep growing at this extraordinary rate it depends on more electricity,” adding, “That’s good for small traders, shopkeepers, businesses, for lighting roadways, for traffic lights.”
Yasir Ahmed’s workshop provides jobs for 35 people who make wooden doors, window frames and metal gates for the local market. There are stacks of wood and piles of piping and rebar. The men worked outside, shaded by a corrugated metal roof, but they still sweat from the exertion. Sawdust drifts are ankle deep in some places.
“Tanzania has some of the most talented artisans and technicians,” said Mr. Said, “but we use very old, outdated equipment, mostly from Italy, from the 1960s and ‘70s.”
In the metalworking area, the men operating the grinding machines wear sunglasses instead of goggles to protect their eyes from sparks. “We don’t do enough because the power is not reliable,” said Abdul Nganga, 35, a welder. “We don’t work to our full potential.”
Africa is rising, the experts say, Africa is booming, but it is relative. The challenge of moving beyond selling natural resources and agricultural products is apparent.
Businesses do not have connections to foreign markets and do not export as much as they would like. The situation in the country “has improved from bad to better,” Mr. Said said, “but there is still room for improvement.”
The solar lamp allows Mr. Adrian’s 7-year-old daughter to study at night without her father having to worry that if she knocks over the kerosene lamp she will start a fire, another small improvement. “Life is getting better for those who are hard workers,” Mr. Adrian said, “except for those depending on electricity.”