Solar Satisfaction In A Congo Town Without A Power Grid

The inhabitants of Butembo rely increasingly on solar energy, allowing households to save money and be self-sufficient.

Butembo's main street
Butembo's main street
Kennedy Wema

BUTEMBO — These days, Butembo dazzles come nightfall. Everywhere, lights illuminate houses while hundreds of others twinkle along the town’s main arteries. And yet, this important economic center of Congo’s North Kivu province isn’t connected to any official power grid.

“We used to have generators bought by the consumers’ association, but two years ago we started using solar power,” explains John Tchipenda, an electrician who specializes in renewable energies.

In the neighborhoods, many roofs have solar panels attached to them. “Back when diesel generators imported from China were successful, burglars would often cut the cables, leaving whole parts of the city in the dark,” recalls Mustari Vangi Sivavi, who, like many other residents, now uses solar energy. “That way they could go about their business undisturbed. That made people think.”

Robert Shayighanza, another electrician, says it’s not difficult to fulfill the demand. “The traders being the same, they import the solar panels and the batteries depending on the orders.” To discourage thieves, residents install alarms on the panels.

"The good thing about solar energy is the responsible attitude that goes with it,” Tchipenda insists. “We don't waste energy anymore. Now we save it.” Because they’re aware that they can run out of energy if they’re not cautious, people are cautious with their energy use. “The children know now that they can’t leave the lights on when they leave their rooms and that they need to turn off all appliances in the living room before they go,” explains Kakiranyia Jean de Dieu, a parent who converted to solar energy two years ago. “It’s very educational,” he says.

Freedom under the sun

The other advantage of solar energy — and another reason for its success — is the autonomy it gives people. Users depend only on themselves, without having to wait for an electrician to decide for them.

“As soon as the device is set up, you know it belongs to you alone and you can do whatever you want with it,” says Mutsuva Silvestre. “But with generators, we could only have electricity from 6 p.m. until 10 p.m., and at the end of the month the bill was huge. Sometimes, electricians even turned the generators on and off as they pleased,” he claims.

Urban environmental services officials are pleased with this shift towards renewable and non-polluting energy. Karungu Mahamba, who heads this service in the neighborhood of Kimeni, is confident that within 10 years, the entire city of Butembo will use solar exclusively. According to their statistics, more than 5,000 homes already use it, but only for light and television. “In order to have enough power for household appliances, you need to invest over $1,500, maybe even $3,000,” Robert Shayighanza explains. “In any case, in the long term, it’s still cheaper than having to buy fuel for a few hours of electricity.”

Experts, however, have warned that solar panels don’t last forever. “It’s true that they’re efficient, but if they’re not well managed, the battery can get damaged pretty quickly, and then you need to get a new one,” Tchipenda says. “That’s why we teach our clients to manage their energy responsibly.”

The market has also become a victim of its success: To supply the growing number of people who want to convert to solar energy, some sellers are importing cheap, counterfeit panels that don’t last. Specialists are therefore recommending that customers seek their advice before purchasing solar panels.

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Preparing a COVID-19 vaccine booster in Huzhou, China.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Ciao!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Brazil's senate backs "crimes against humanity" charges against Jair Bolsonaro, the UN has a grim new climate report and Dune gets a sequel. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt explores "Xi Jinping Thought," which is now being made part of Chinese schools' curriculum.



• Senators back Bolsonaro criminal charges: A Brazilian Senate panel has backed a report that supports charging President Jair Bolsonaro with crimes against humanity, for his alleged responsibility in the country's 600,000-plus COVID-19 deaths.

• Gas crisis in Moldova following Russian retaliation: Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, has for the first time challenged Russia's Gazprom following a price increase and failed contract negotiations, purchasing instead from Poland. In response, Russia has threatened to halt sales to the Eastern European country, which has previously acquired all of its gas from Gazprom.

• New UN climate report finds planned emission cuts fall short: The Emissions Gap Report 2021 concludes that country pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions aren't large enough to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 °C degrees this century. The UN Environment Program predicts a 2.7 °C increase, with significant environmental impacts, but there is still hope that longer term net-zero goals will curtail some temperature rise.

• COVID update: As part of its long-awaited reopening, Australia will officially allow its citizens to travel abroad without a government waiver for the first time in more than 18 months. Bulgaria, meanwhile, hits record daily high COVID-19 cases as the Eastern European's hotel and restaurant association is planning protests over the implementation of the vaccination "green pass." In the U.S., a panel of government medical advisors backed the use of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for five to 11-year-olds.

• U.S. appeals decision to block Julian Assange extradition: The United States said it was "extremely disappointed" in a UK judge's ruling that Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, would be a suicide risk of he traveled across the Atlantic. In the U.S., he faces 18 charges related to the 2010 release of 500,000 secret files related to U.S. military activity.

• Deposed Sudan prime minister released: Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has been released from custody, though remains under heavy guard after Sudan's military coup. Protests against the coup have continued in the capital Khartoum, as Hamdok has called for the release of other detained governmental officials.

Dune Part 2 confirmed: The world will get to see Timothée Chalamet ride a sandworm: The second installment of the sci-fi epic and global box office hit has officially been greenlit, set to hit the screens in 2023.


Front page of the National Post's October 27 front page

Canadian daily National Post reports on the nomination of Steven Guilbeault, a former Greenpeace activist, as the country's new Environment minister. He had been arrested in 2001 for scaling Toronto's CN Tower to unfurl a banner for Greenpeace, which he left in 2008.


Chinese students now required to learn to think like Xi Jinping

"Xi Jinping Thought" ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university, reports Maximilian Kalkhof in German daily Die Welt.

🇨🇳 It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education. The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader. Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself.

📚 Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

⚠️ But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation? The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


"I'm a footballer and I'm gay."

— Australian soccer player Josh Cavallo said in a video accompanying a tweet in which he revealed his homosexuality, becoming the first top-flight male professional player in the world to do so. The 21-year-old said he was tired of living "this double life" and hoped his decision to come out would help other "players living in silence."


Why this Sudan coup d'état is different

Three days since the military coup was set in motion in Sudan, the situation on the ground continues to be fluid. Reuters reports this morning that workers at the state petroleum company Sudapet are joining a nationwide civil disobedience movement called by trade unions in response to the generals' overthrow of the government. Doctors have also announced a strike.

Generals in suits At the same time, the military appears firmly in control, with deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok allowed to return home today after being held by the coup leaders. How did we get here? That's the question that David E. Kiwuwa, a professor of international relations at the University of Nottingham, takes on in The Conversation:

"Since the revolution that deposed Omar el-Bashir in 2019, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

Economy as alibi For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council. This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy.

True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19. Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse."

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


471 million euros

Rome's Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi, better known as Villa Aurora, will be put up for auction in January for 471 million euros ($547 million). The over-the-top price tag is thanks to the villa having the only known ceiling painting by Renaissance master Caravaggio.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Who wants to start the bidding on the Caravaggio villa? Otherwise, let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com!

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