No more power cuts in Chad?

Chad’s new oil refinery at Djermaya has opened on schedule.

Hopefully this should end the dark days (and nights) for N’Djamenois who are used to the city electricity supply going off for anything up to three months at a time. When I first arrived in Chad in 2008, I remember distinctly the eeriness of sunset, as I drove around the city and realised there really weren’t any streetlights. The only way to see was from strip-lights richer people had wired up to car batteries and hung over their compound walls, and the faint yellow glow of single motorcycle lamps. The hot season in April, when temperatures reached 50C, was almost unbearable without air conditioning or a fan, yet for most people this was simply impossible without noisy diesel generators.

Chad was stuck in the classic oil-producer’s trap of having no refinery – meaning all of the oil pumped from wells in the Doba region of the south was exported, and all its domestic consumption needs were met from imports of diesel from neighbouring Cameroon. As a land-locked country that relied on poor road links to get fuel from  Cameroon, it was easy to see how the smallest blip in the supply chain, or breakdown of ancient equipment in N’Djamena’s diesel-fed electricity generating plant could lead to total collapse.

As part of a deal that will see the Chinese National Petroleum Company extracting oil from the Ronier fields in southern Chad in the near future, the Djermaya refinery was jointly financed between the CNPC and the Chadian government. It seems five minutes since I was at the laying of the ‘premiere pierre’ in 2008, and I can’t wait to get back to Chad to see if the frustrating power cuts and fights at the petrol pumps have vanished. My journalist friends there tell me that fuel is already available for sale in the market at cheaper prices – I think a good example of how a straight-forward business deal has put Chad on the road to development.