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Au Burundi, ce barrage a été conçu et construit par un seul homme  
Au Burundi, ce barrage a été conçu et construit par un seul homme

And then there was light

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The hydroelectric dams hand-built by Peres Niyonsaba have provided dozens of households in his district with electricity. The 33-year-old Burundian student now plans to extend his project to other provinces.

The small hydroelectric power station of Mageyo was built on the Muhunguzi River in the Mubimbi district, 20 kilometres away from Bujumbura. This impressive feat of engineering becomes yet more awe-inspiring when one learns that is the work of one man alone – and a student, at that.

Wood logs and sandbags
Peres Niyonsaba is always happy to explain how he built the earth-filled dam using rubble, wood logs and sandbags, and how the dam and turbine are connected by additional structures.

“First there’s the feeder canal built from pierced barrels that are attached together; then the surge tank stabilizes the flow of water through the penstock and into the turbine, which then produces the electricity with a generator,” explains Peres. He makes it sound like child’s play.

Off to the movies!
On both sides of the small power station, electric cables have been strung along wooden poles to dispatch the electricity into homes, shops and – last but not least – the cinema.

“My dam produces 10 kilowatts of electricity which lights up at least 43 homes in the area, and this number grows daily,” says Peres. In a radius of one kilometre, several businesses are now dependant on 'his' electricity. These include hair salons, battery chargers, welders and photocopiers.

Philippe Harerimana is busy recharging 20 car batteries. He is still amazed by, and grateful for, Niyonsaba’s efforts. “Today I am able to earn a few dollars thanks to his small hydroelectric dam,” he says.

Farther up the street, a hairdresser praises the young man’s action. “His projects should be supported by the government so we can develop even further,” he says.

Currently, this village is the only in the commune, including the district’s capital, to have electricity.

The money will come
It would take a government body years to complete the construction of a hydroelectric dam. Peres built his in less than two months. “Construction work on my dam began on 16 June 2013. By the first of August, the first home had electricity,” he says. 

The young electrical engineering student plans to expand his project and produce 50 kilowatts to bring electricity to more homes and cover at least four more areas in his commune. He estimates the costs at 130 million Burundian francs (approximately 60,000 euros).

But Peres is not worried about finding the funds. “The money is in certain people’s pockets. First there must be a project, followed by the ability and will to make it happen. Funding comes third – since there will always be money,” says the young man to explain his optimism. 

Projects galore
Niyonsaba also plans to expand his enterprise beyond his locality. A study has already been conducted on two rivers in the Bubanza province in western Burundi and in the central province of Gitega. Meanwhile, another small 15-kilowatt station is nearing completion in the north-eastern province of Cibitoke.

Peres and electricity have become inseparable. While most of his peers have different hobbies, his only interest is electricity. “Electricity is always on my mind. It’s in my dreams at night and in my thoughts during the day,” says Peres.