On the 23rd December, 2021 President Julius Maada Bio and his delegation were in Kenema in the Eastern Region to commission and light up the Kenema sub-station of the West Africa Power Pool(WAPP). At the commissioning ceremony, the president thanked relevant stakeholders and reminded the people of the actions he took to ensure that the place was illuminated.
“Ahead of other parts of the country, Kenema has an energy supply that will go on for 24 hours. If you have phones, check if this power has reached other places with the connection. No, none of these places have been lighted up yet, only Sierra Leone has been lighted-up,” he said in Creole.
At an event in Port Loko a few days later, former President Ernest Bai Koroma waded into the discussion on WAPP while commenting on some national issues.
“I was pleased when the president launched the West African Power Pool. It shows that government is a continuity, we have to be humble to accept that and be proud to know that. We are happy for people that have benefitted from the project that we started and this government has commissioned…that thankfully all of us that started it as Head of States are still around…and how I wish we were to give our blessings,’’ he said.
These remarks by the former president Koroma have triggered a huge controversy between ruling and opposition party supporters with each side claiming ownership or credit for the project. Interestingly, it was the outspoken politician and former Minister of Gender and Children’s Affairs in the Ernest Bai Koroma led administration, Dr. Sylvia O. Blyden, who started the onslaught against her former boss. She posted a document on her Twitter handle chronicling the history and foundation of the WAPP by ECOWAS during the 22nd Summit in 1999. She went on to post a video explaining that former President Ernest Bai Koroma was nowhere near the presidency when the WAPP project was launched by the heads of states in 1999.
Reactions to the claims and counterclaims by the two leaders have come in thick and fast, including this piece on Facebook. There is also another link to a video on the same matter shared by a Facebook user which “urged the SLPP to stop the lies on WAPP.”
About the West African Power Pool (WAPP)
The West African Power Pool Project is a specialised initiative of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) covering 14 out of 15 regional countries in the West African zone. It was formed during the 22nd Summit of ECOWAS Heads of States as was stated by Dr. Sylvia Blyden. It was created on 5th December 1999 following an agreement to have in place a regional energy policy. However, the WAPP master plan that was later prepared identified priority projects which are currently being implemented. One of such priority projects is the Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea (CLSG) interconnector project.
Like the Electricity Distribution Supply Authority (EDSA), each of these countries has a power generation and distribution company that helps facilitate the CLSG process.
Photo credit: WAPP website
Clearing misconceptions; addressing claims
Whilst the WAPP project itself was brought to the fore in 1999 as an ECOWAS initiative, it is important to note that the CLSG covers the four countries and had its operational foundation in 2009. The formation of the priority project of CLSG gave birth to the Transmission Company otherwise known as TRANSCO. The Heads of States of the CLSG countries agreed to establish a special purpose company called TRANSCO CLSG which means Transmission company Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. This transnational company was tasked with overseeing the implementation of the project with emphasis on financing, constructing, maintaining and developing the inter-connection line among member states as established on the company’s website.
A governance structure was set up for TRANSCO with ministers of respective countries forming part of the steering committee. TRANSCO was officially launched on 5th September 2014 and the respective heads of states by then commissioned the launch of TRANSCO, with Ernest Bai Koroma representing Sierra Leone.
Even though Mr. Koroma can lay claim to being part of the commissioning presidents of TRANSCO, it does not make him a founding president of WAPP. As an ECOWAS transnational project, successive governments over the years have had their part to play from the founding leaders since 1999 to date.
In effect, former president Ernest Bai Koroma was right to say governance is continuity and that he has been part of the project, but he was wrong to refer to himself as part of the Heads of States that started WAPP. The president of Sierra Leone by 5th December 1999 when the project was launched was late president Ahmed Tejan Kabba.
President Bio in his words claimed “Kenema ahead of other parts now has energy supply that will go on 24 hours.” However, since the commissioning of the project on 23 December 2022, Kenema and Bo (East and Southern) Sierra Leone are still experiencing power outages which one resident discloses on this facebook post.
Whilst Kenema is just one substation out of the five needed to be completed in Sierra Leone, the CLSG entire program falls under the category of ongoing projects styled as “Under Implementation” on the Ecowapp website, meaning it is not a completed project.
It is important to state that Cote D’ Ivoire remains the primary station, which may soon be selling power to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea under the Purchase agreement signed with the Vice President of Sierra Leone, the Energy minister, Alhaji Kanja Sesay and a representative (Director) of the Electricity Distribution and Supply Authority (EDSA), Ing. James Rogers, in attendance at TRANSCO headquarters in Abidjan.
The West African Power Pool is financed by grants, loans, and by the governments of the respective countries. The Late President Kabbah oversaw the launch of WAPP in 1999, Former president Koroma commissioned TRANSCO CLSG in 2014 and current President Bio is overseeing the final processes of implementation in 2021. But it was untrue for President Koroma to assert or refer to WAPP as a project his government started.