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Electricity shortages drive Nigerians to the streets

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Sunday Alamba/AP

(Read caption) A man refuels a small generator on a store rooftop at Oshodi Market in Lagos, Nigeria

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Yesterday BBC Hausa reported that protesters turned out at the office of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN, formerly NEPA) in Sokoto, a major city in Northwestern Nigeria, to voice their anger over electricity shortages. Electricity generation is one of Northern Nigeria’s main problems. Electricity shortages cause a number of other problems for individuals, families, and businesses.

I think protests such as these, not just in Nigeria but across Africa, are something to keep an eye on. I do not believe that the “Arab spring” has started to sweep south in any major way (I think the uprisings in places like Burkina Faso are mostly proceeding according to their own rhythms), but I do think that many sub-Saharan African communities have economic grievances that will come to the surface this year, as they have in the past and as they will in the future. Electricity and other daily problems can cause real anger. Last summer saw weeks of street demonstrations in Senegal over electricity shortages there. Rising fuel and food prices this year have heightened tensions in places like South Sudan and Uganda.

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Different governments attempt different solutions to electricity crises and associated problems. Nigeria now plans to privatize much of the power sector by the first quarter of 2012: “Nigeria is selling four thermal and two hydro power plants and 11 electricity distribution firms as part of a drive to end chronic power shortages.” New subsidies are also in the works for 2012.

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2012 isn’t that far away. But in the meantime, discontent with the status quo continues.

Alex Thurston is a PhD student studying Islam in Africa at Northwestern University and blogs at Sahel Blog.