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People in Madagascar Are Fed Up With Power Cuts Leaving Them in the Dark

Staircases leading to the Independence square, Antananarivo, Madagascar by Bernard Gagnon CC BY-SA 3.0

Staircases leading to the Independence square, Antananarivo, Madagascar by Bernard Gagnon CC BY-SA 3.0

Madagascar is facing a power crisis once again, but this time politics isn't solely to blame.

The country has been enduring prolonged power cuts on a regular basis for several years. This phenomenon, known as load-shedding, is certainly not new, but in recent years it has escalated out of control, fundamentally undermining the country’s economy and infuriating its citizens.

Jirama, the national company responsible for the distribution of electricity throughout the country, is running out of explanations for these shortcomings. The Energy Ministry recently confessed that no fewer than 80 of the country’s towns are without electricity. The minister himself didn't survive these repeated failures for long and was sacked. Mada Tribune, a user-driven online news platform, explains the background to Energy Minister Richard Fienena’s dismissal:

Le délestage continue ses ravages. Dernière victime en date : le ministre de l’énergie Richard Fienena qui vient d’être limogé en conseil des ministres du 22 octobre 2014. L’actuel ministre de l’économie, le général Herilanto Raveloarison, assure l’intérim à la tête du ministère de l’énergie jusqu’à nouvel ordre.

The load-shedding continues to wreak havoc. The latest victim is Energy Minister Richard Fienena, who was dismissed by the Council of Ministers on 22 October 2014. The current Minister of Economy, General Herilanto Raveloarison, is standing in as head of the Energy Ministry until further notice.

Richard Fienena - ex-ministre de l'énergie malgache - domaine public

Richard Fienena – former Malagasy Energy Minister. Public Domain

The government probably had no choice. Malagasy citizens are demanding an explanation for these repeated failures, and the minister was a convenient scapegoat. But this level of dilapidation of the network is causing many deficiencies at the decision-making level of Jirama, the government and other electricity providers. One thing is sure, residents are sick of it, as collected by Lantoniaina Razafindramiadana for L'express de Madagascar:

«Les coupures d’électricité gênent nos activités, alors que la facture flambe pour des raisons qu’on ignore », s’est exclamée Julienne une mère de famille qui habite à Soamanandrariny sur une radio privée. Quelques minutes plus tard, d’autres usagers dans d’autres quartiers dont Ambohipo et Anala­mahitsy sont intervenus pour interpeller la Jirama.

“The power cuts are hindering our activities, while energy bills are shooting up for unknown reasons,” exclaimed Julienne, a mother who lives in Soamanandrariny, speaking on a private radio station. A few minutes later, users in other areas, including Ambohipo and Analamahitsy, joined in to question Jirama.

Jirama - domaine public

The headquarters of Jirama, Madagascar’s power and water company. Public domain

Internet users are also expressing their anger. Several Facebook pages decrying the failures of Jirama have been created. On the page Jirama Délestage (Jirama Load-Shedding), we find that rebellion is also brewing in the town of Port Berger:

Port berger koa karaha zegny facture mindangagna jiro tsy mandeha

In Port Berger, the electricity bills are enormous, yet we have no power!

Poster de la page Jirama Delestage sur Facebook - avec permission

“Jirama Load-Shedding – enough is enough!” Poster on Facebook page Jirama Délestage. Used with permission

On the page “Jirama Trop Nul,” which has more than 4,500 likes, another Facebook user described a surreal situation

Savez-vous chers abonnés (pas d'autre choix) que certaines petites villes et villages à quelques kilometres seulement de Tana subissent des coupures de 20 heures d'affilée depuis qu'il a commencé de pleuvoir!!! Et la, pas de responsables ni de services à contacter. Mais puisque ce ne sont que des petits gens, personne ne s'en préoccupe.

Did you know, dear subscribers, that some small towns and villages just a few kilometres from Tana have been suffering 20-hour-long power cuts since the rain started!!!! And there are no officials or services to contact. But because they’re just little people, nobody cares.

Structural and economic reasons

So what are the reasons for all these hitches? As is often the case, the main reasons are economic. Jarima frequently points out that in order to fulfil the needs of the whole island, the company needs a significant quantity of diesel oil. However, the current price per barrel in Madagascar is reported to be too high for Jirama to fuel all its generators.  Madatsara, a Malagasy community blog, gives the details of this problem and the company’s options:

 En effet, le gasoil vaut de plus en plus cher même si la Jirama, en tant que gros  consommateur, peut négocier les prix. Le prix à la vente de l’électricité issue d’une centrale  à gasoil vaut 17 cents d’euros par kWh, contre 13 à 15 cents pour le fuel lourd et  5 cents pour l’hydroélectricité.

Diesel oil is becoming more and more expensive, even though Jirama, as a major consumer, is able to negotiate the price. The selling price of electricity from a diesel oil plant is worth 0,17 euros per kWh, compared to 0,13 to 0,15 euros for heavy fuel oil and 0,5 cents for hydroelectric power.

The price of diesel oil, however, is not the only challenge faced by Jirama. The almost insolvable debt that it has incurred over the past 10 years from many funders remains the main stumbling block. This debt has left Jirama completely at the mercy of numerous financiers, the most important of them being the businessman Hussanein Hiridjee, who is the principal shareholder of two key companies in Madagascar — Telma (telecommunications) and Jovenna (hydrocarbons).

The fact that Hiridjee could influence the future of Jirama worries many Internet users, as Hiridjee also owns the company Electricité de Madagascar (Madagascar Electricity). La Nation, a brand new online news portal for Madagascar, explains

Hassanein Hiridjee, propriétaire de la société Electricité de Madagascar, se frotte déjà les mains. Les difficultés de la Jirama à satisfaire les usagers seront la meilleure occasion pour lui de mettre la main sur la société nationale d'eau et d'électricité. Tout est juste question de jeu de mots. Le ministre Fienena Richard, un proche collaborateur de Hassanein Hiridjee, a laissé entendre que la Jirama ne sera pas privatisée, mais des syndicalistes ne veulent pas le croire.

Hassanein Hiridjee, owner of the Electricité de Madagascar company, is already rubbing his hands together in glee. Jirama’s problems with satisfying users will be a great opportunity for him to get his hands on the national water and electricity company. It’s all just word play. Energy Minister Fienena Richard, a close associate of Hassanein Hiridjee, has indicated that Jirama will not be privatised, but trade unionists do not believe him.

In fact, contrary to popular opinion in Madagascar, Jirama is no longer the only company producing electricity in the country, as the company points out on its website:

La Jirama est une société anonyme de droit commun détenue entièrement par l'Etat Malagasy. Elle est dirigée par un Conseil d'administration auquel répond le Directeur Général. Il est nommé par le Ministère chargé de l'énergie. Depuis 1999 et la libéralisation du secteur de l'électricité, la Jirama n'est plus seule dans la production électrique. Elle conserve toutefois le monopole du transport et de la distribution

Jirama is a public limited company wholly owned by the Malagasy government. It is managed by a board of directors, to which the chief executive is responsible. He is appointed by the Ministry for Energy. Since 1999 and the liberalisation of the electricity sector, Jirama is no longer the sole producer of electricity. However, it retains the monopoly on transport and distribution.

One of the companies producing electricity is the French public works company Henri Fraise, which has been established in Madagascar for 60 years. The Fraise company uses numerous generators for its installations on the island. When Jirama realised that it could not fulfil the needs of the whole country, an agreement was concluded with the Fraise company for the lease of their generators. It would seem, however, that this agreement is no longer financially viable, as explained in All Africa:

Il reste cependant que ces problèmes dits de pièces sont tous similaires, de district en district, si bien qu'ils accroissent le doute. Le fait est que la société Fraise renâcle à la besogne. Ainsi en va-t-il de certains groupes électrogènes retirés, semble-t-il, pour des défaillances techniques.

However, these structural problems (with Fraise’ s power generators) seem all very similar from district to district leading to increased mistrust between Jirama and Fraise. The fact is that Fraise company is doing the job (of helping Jirama) grudgingly. It seems that this may be the reason why some power generators were deemed out of service due to (apparent) technical failures.

 It is clear that finding a solution to the problems of Jirama and load-shedding in Madagascar in general will not be an easy task for the new Energy Minister. Meanwhile, Malagasy citizens will have to be patient and hope that the light at the end of the tunnel is not just wishful thinking.  

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