Intermittent power outages are nothing new to Niamey’s long-suffering residents. However, protracted blackouts that started a week after the coup d’état have severely tried their patience.
The poorer areas of the metropolis break out in relieved cheers when lights, fridges, and tools finally hum back to life after being forced to be off for hours each day.
The electric sewing machines of Issa Adamou’s workshop are silent in the Dan Zama neighborhood. As he settles in during the lengthy wait, their owner casually swats insects with a fan.
A chorus of frogs sings to a bunch of young people while they are passing the time at a “fada” (club) down the street, drinking tea in the dim light.
The neighbors of Niger imposed economic penalties on the coup leaders when the military seized control on July 26. However, they also stopped sending electricity to the Sahel region’s impoverished nation.
That has been a big setback because 70 percent of Niger’s power is imported from Nigeria.
The Nigerian network wasn’t exactly dependable. One of the world’s poorest nations, Niger, was affected by the blackouts there.
However, the meager domestic production units that the state-owned power provider Nigelec now relies on are far from producing enough energy to feed the city and its two million residents.
Kadi Moukaila, the owner of Fada, is unimpressed.
Customers remark that they no longer have access to chilled drinks, she laments.
On the opposite bank of the Niger river from Dan Zama, in the city of Gawaye, lives 70-year-old Elhadj Tidjani, who is furious.
“You can’t hear the call to prayer from the loudspeaker at the mosque because of these damned power cuts,” he complains.
In the more affluent areas of the city, an army of generators roaring up stores, gas stations, pharmacies, and opulent mansions signals the beginning of each day’s blackout.
When night falls, street merchants congregate around solar-powered streetlamps in neighborhoods like Dan Zama and the neighboring Lazaret, or they advertise their goods by the light of more expensive torches made in China.
One of the tea-drinking clique in the fada, Aziz Hama, believes Niger will continue to function normally.
“We’re used to blackouts. We can hold out for ages. Nigeria will have to find another way if it wants to put pressure on our country,” he says.
Mohamed, a barber from Dan Zama, also tries to remain sanguine.
“Sourou, sourou (“Be patient”),” he tells the restless gaggle of children waiting for him to shave their heads.
He has invested in rechargeable solar-powered shavers so he can carry on working regardless but business is much slower.
And, a mechanic by trade, he worries how long Niger can hold on.
“For the moment the power cuts last about four to five hours. We can cope with that.
“But what if one of the (Nigerelec) turbines goes?” he says.
These budget cuts are unfortunate. The attacks, which relate to the jihadist insurgencies ravaging portions of the Sahel belt spanning Africa from west to east, are driving up prices, adds Moukaila.
They are making it challenging to find supplies.
Owner of a pharmacy in Niamey, Moussa Abba, is taking no chances.
“As a backup, we purchased a new generator. These power outages aren’t typical, he says.
Frozen food vendor Halidou Jika claims he now only keeps the bare minimum of supplies “so I don’t have to throw loads away” if the cold chain fails.
France and the United States have sent troops in Niger as part of Western measures to counter the Islamist strikes that have weakened the Sahel since 2012.
However, there is growing anti-French sentiment in former West African colonies like Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso, and Russian influence—often through the Wagner mercenary group—is expanding.
Souley Kanta, a warehouse worker in Niamey, believes that the Nigerans “are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to end neo-colonialism.”
The anniversary of Niger’s independence from France was also utilized by coup leader Abdourahamane Tiani to warn that the upcoming weeks and months “will be difficult for our country.”
At the end of August, a new 30-megawatt solar power plant outside Niamey will start operating, which Nigelec hopes will make things simpler for its consumers.
It was constructed with a loan from France and a grant from the European Union.