Studying at the airport

It’s exam time in the desperately poor nation of Guinea, so Gbessia International Airport is crowded with students who come each to study by the airport floodlights. The Guardian reports:

Groups begin heading to the airport at dusk, hoping to reserve a coveted spot under the oval light cast by one of a dozen lampposts in the parking lot. Some come from over an hour’s walk away.

“I used to study by candlelight at home but that hurt my eyes. So I prefer to come here. We’re used to it,” said 18-year-old Mohamed Sharif, who sat under the fluorescent beam reviewing notes on Mongolia for the geography portion of his university entrance exam.

Only about a fifth of Guinea’s 10 million people have access to electricity. Those who do experience frequent power cuts.

. . . “My parents don’t worry about me because they know I’m here to seek my future,” said Ali Mara, 10, busy studying a diagram of an insect’s cephalothorax.

They sit by age group with seven-to-nine-year-olds on a curb in a traffic island and teenagers on the concrete pilings flanking the national and international terminals. Few cars disturb their studies.

Those who live too far to get to the airport study at gas stations or sit outside the homes of families who can afford a generator, “picking up the crumbs of light falling from their illuminated living rooms.”

Ruled by a dictator for 23 years, Guinea has rivers that could provide hydroelectric power; the country also is rich in minerals.

Via Nothing To Do With Arbroath.

About Joanne


  1. Walter E. Wallis says:

    But, JJ, electricity might spoil their unique, colorful culture.

  2. In the current issue of Spectrum

  3. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Hmm… I wonder if Bill and Melinda Gates could go low-tech for this one…. thousands of LED flashlights with extra batteries!

  4. …don’t know what happened to the previous comment. Trying again:

    In the current issue of Spectrum, a reader responds to a recent article about small-scale hydropower in Africa:

    “I was the senior electrical engineer on over 10 U.S. hydroelectric projects with output of less than 15 megawatts and on 15 to 20 non-U.S. projects with output below 50 MW…I have always marveled at the small footprint and short construction schedule for a small hydro project—and the joy it brings to the surrounding community.”

    This post vividly demonstrates his point.

  5. Walter E. Wallis says:

    I have always suggested 1500 watts per family would cut disease in half.

  6. Trouble is, small hydro only makes sense where labor costs are low since the unit-cost of electricity responds strongly to the economies of scale.

    That’s the reason all the small hydro dams in the U.S. are abandoned. There’s only one thing they can do – make electricity – and they can’t do it as cheaply as a big dam or other big power production technology. The same thing’ll happen in Uganda once conditions are right.

    Deirdre, po’ folks don’t need Bill and Melinda to buy them LED lights. They just need access at an affordable price. A political situation that allows for capitalist economic expansion will take care of the former and technology will take care of the latter.

  7. “The same thing’ll happen in Uganda once conditions are right”…probably true. But large-scale hydro development (or thermal, or nuclear), with an operational grid to support it, can only happen given some minimal level of governmental stability and competence. Small-scale hydro is something people can do for themselves.

  8. SuperSub says:

    Walter –
    I agree… these children must be saved from the Western devil that is electricity! Look at how our culture is making them suffer by having to study for these tests!

  9. > it, can only happen given some minimal level of governmental stability and competence

    Those are pretty much the necessary conditions.

    Representative government’s an important ingredient as well, longer term. Authoritarian regimes can build a dam they just can’t run an economy very well. The essentially criminal nature of authoritarian regimes means they inevitably devolve into kleptocracies.