Improved security and governance through streetlights in conflict prone northern Mali

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Mali 2018/07/12

12 July 2018

Ensuring no one is left behind calls for identifying and addressing barriers faced by vulnerable groups in access to resources

Streetlight in Gao, northern Mali. ©NIS/Nouhoum Ganaba

Mali Streetlight,.jpg Streetlight in Gao, northern Mali. ©NIS/Nouhoum Ganaba

'Leave no one Behind’ is a key principle in the current SDG7 review at the High Level Political Forum (New York, 9-18 July 2018).

Gao is the largest city in northern Mali and has experienced much instability since 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 streetlights projects in Gao is to enhance public security and indirectly also the legitimacy of the authorities by increasing their capacity to effectively engage with the communities they serve, and to deliver tangible public services. The EnDev project partners with the Norwegian NIS Foundation, who installed 72 solar-powered street lights along six key roads inside the city in February 2018.

Impact

Once installed, the qualitative impacts of the project were immediately apparent: shops, restaurants, stores, welding workshops, sewing workshops, dressers, bars, drugstores and the like were observed being open at 2am in the nights after installation. The number of people on the street after nightfall had increased dramatically, directly as a result of the street lights. In discussions with locals, it was communicated that the longer opening hours led to increased economic activity, as both shops and consumers benefitted from the increase.

Strong reactions

Even though the streets benefitting from the project were selected in a participatory process, it did evoke strong reactions from some locals who were from different areas of town and who requested to also get support in those quarters. The limited scope of a project means that not every area in the city is going to benefit directly from new public lighting. Moreover, NIS worked closely with the stakeholders in Gao, including the Gao municipality, the regional director of energy, the energy provider EdM, district councils of preselected streets, Women’s organisation, local youth association, local notabilities, the regional director of urban planning and the water provider, SOMAGEP. However, despite such extensive stakeholder involvement for the selection of the project area, internal politics within the local government caused a rift between members of the city council and the Mayor himself, as there was not sufficient communication and discussion between the parties involved . As a result, NIS had to negotiate with the Mayor to get to a solution that was amenable to all parties. In the end, agreement was reached on six streets to be targeted by the EnDev project.

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 important than the technical aspects of a project, if implementation is to be successful. This provides a valuable lesson that sometimes inclusivity creates opportunities for some groups to attempt to exploit a project. In such cases, implementers need to be ready to balance the need for involving multiple stakeholders and then managing the pros and cons of their involvement. For more information on the country project, see the page Mali.

Activities beyond electrification

EnDev aims to achieve sustainable energy access for minimum 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, and sustainable social welfare measures ensuring energy access to those people that cannot be reached through market activities. Inclusion of vulnerable groups in the various projects, is at the heart of the EnDev approach.