Power cuts stop for football

In the poorer suburbs of the Guinean capital Conakry, power cuts are a regular problem, except when it's football time and the fate of the national team is at stake.

Jubilant football fans draped in the national colours did cartwheels in the streets on Thursday to celebrate a 2-1 victory over Zambia in the African Nations' Cup being played in Egypt and watched across the continent.

As the referee blew his whistle, promises to maintain power so Guineans could watch the big match on television appeared to have been kept.

Since Wednesday, state-controlled Guinea Electricity (EDG), Guinea's sole power supplier, had been running radio announcements to assure Guineans there would be no power cuts while the match was on, and for a full two hours after it.

One young football fan was shot and killed in clashes between police and demonstrators when televisions fizzled dead following a power cut in the rundown suburb of Matam on Sunday, shortly after Guinea's soccer stars took on and defeated South Africa.

On Wednesday night, the Governor of Conakry appeared on state television to ask residents to tone down celebrations that have been culminating in looting sprees in some districts.

"We hope that our national team will win the 2006 African Nations' Cup, but that is not to say that we must kill each other!" said Sory Bioubate.

Average annual income per head is a regionally respectable US $2,097, according to UN figures for 2005, but that income is not evenly distributed and the majority of Guineans struggle to get by on less than US $2 a day.

In the capital, clustered on a finger of land that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean, many houses do not have mains electricity - at least officially. Residents lash cables to power lines to light their homes and small businesses for free.

Coronthie market, where cash-strapped shoppers can buy tomato by the slice

Only 70 percent of electricity used in Guinea is paid for, according to Ide Gnandou, the country representative for the World Bank, which is about to launch a pilot project to increase revenue collection and electricity production.

"The electricity situation is frustrating as it's not an issue of a lack of electricity production - the capacity is there. There is already a 309 megawatt plant but it's only producing 130 megawatts as a result of technical weaknesses and mismanagement," said Gnandou.

"There isn't even a proper billing process," he added.

An initial programme in the downtown district of Kaloum chalked up a 30 percent increase in revenue over six months after EDG employees were sent house-to-house to encourage users to cough up.

But on the tumble-down market in one of the poorest suburbs, Coronthie, women traders with babies dozing in the shade of the afternoon sun couldn't fathom how they might rustle up the cash to pay another bill.

"I don't have the means to get by as it is," complained Awa, who sells rice by the cup on the side of a street where struggling shoppers buy tomato by the slice.