Energy is the sinequanone condition for the development of agriculture, health, education. But today, 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa do not have electricity, making it one of the least electrified regions in the world. With demand growing much faster than the output of national grids, millions of new people are without electricity every year. As for those who have access to it, they are faced with some of the highest prices on the planet and numerous cuts. Furthermore, one of the main sources of energy in Africa is biomass (organic plant or animal matter), the use of which often causes very high air pollution and serious consequences for the health of populations. It is therefore urgent to find diversified energy solutions, quick to set up and sustainable. In this context, renewable energies represent an opportunity for the continent. Civil society initiatives relying on resources such as wind, water or sun to meet energy needs are growing. To deepen the subject, we met Cherif Haidara, a young Franco-Malian entrepreneur, founder of Afrika Solar. This company offers ecological, economical and sustainable solar lamps, made in Mali using recycled materials. An interview conducted by Fanny Dauchez.
Why did you choose the energy sector?
For me there are four determining sectors for the development of the African continent: agriculture, mobility (bridges, roads …), water and energy. Before launching Afrika Solar I organized a conference on renewable energies. On this occasion, I was able to take stock of many solutions that existed such as solar pots, solar ovens… My idea for a lamp follows! I think that private initiatives such as Afrika Solar can play a role in meeting the energy challenge in Africa alongside governments and international organizations which remain essential.
What are Afrika Solar’s main challenges?
Our first challenge is human, we need to recruit and train motivated and responsible young Malians. We also have a financial challenge: borrowing rates are very high in Mali. Finally, concerning the sales of solar lamps, our challenge is to reach Malian residents.
While the diaspora responds favorably to our approach, the local population has a harder time appropriating the notion of sustainability. Indeed, the latter tends to take into account only the purchase price to the detriment of profitability in the medium and long term. Remember that solar energy is free and constantly renewed, unlike most other sources of energy. In addition, our lamps are more reliable because they are independent of electricity cuts and more respectful of the environment since they are made with recovery material. We still have to make our local prospects aware of these issues.
What are the next steps for Afrika Solar?
There is competition so we need to innovate and we are always looking for inspiration for new products.
Afrika Solar Lamp
You spent a lot of time in China. Can this inspiration come from there?
Through the association that I founded Cap Afrikasia, I organize trips to China to encourage young Africans to better understand the Chinese market and to be inspired by it. We have a lot to learn from China. Beyond our culinary similarities known as rice and spices, we should be able to identify common issues such as the fight against pollution. An example is particularly close to my heart: the city of Chongqing is a city that was very polluted but where the local authorities are making very important efforts to make it greener. There are initiatives there that we would benefit from adapting in Africa.
Afrika Solar claims “made in Africa”. What is the value of this name for you?
There is real know-how, especially craftsmanship, which deserves to be valued by initiatives such as Afrika Solar. With our lamps we promote woodworking. I am convinced that “made in Africa” has a bright future, even the Chinese want to make it!