Football fans in Mali are holding their breath. The Eagles, qualified for the final phase of the African Cup of Nations (CAN) which began on Saturday January 13 in Ivory Coast, will enter the competition on Tuesday January 16 against South African Bafana Bafana. But the broadcast of the meeting could suffer from the incessant power cuts affecting the country’s major cities. A nightmare for supporters who criticize Energie du Mali (EDM), the public electricity supplier, for not doing enough to stem load shedding. “I hope EDM has the Eagles’ CAN schedule. I really hope so…” quips Abdoul M. on X (ex-Twitter).

In Bamako, the Malian capital, “power cuts can last 5-6 hours, sometimes even 10! If we have light at night, we don’t have it during the day and vice versa,” explains a 31-year-old entrepreneur. No sector, no neighborhood is spared, to the point that EDM is nicknamed “Evil Energy”. “Even the wealthiest people equipped with generators are not getting by,” observes Abdoul Wahab Diakité, president of the Free Association of Malian Consumers.

The exasperation is such that the interim president, Colonel Assimi Goïta, assured in his speech to the nation delivered on New Year’s Eve that “the transitional authorities have initiated actions” to stem the power cuts, regretting a situation “following several years of mismanagement”. In the process, legal proceedings were initiated against several former EDM managers.

On Wednesday January 10, around ten executives and former employees of the public company, suspected of “forgery and use of forgery” and “attack on public property”, were placed in police custody. Former energy minister Lamine Seydou Traoré – forced to resign in May 2023 after demonstrations against the scale of power cuts – and a former director general were also summoned by the brigade of the national economic and financial center.

A colossal debt

But the problem is not recent. In difficulty because of a constantly increasing demand for electricity, EDM suffers from its growing dependence on fossil fuels. The Malian network has long relied on electricity from dams and hydraulic power stations, but, due to lack of investment, it now mainly runs on obsolete thermal units. Infrastructure whose hydrocarbon supply was undermined by the surge in oil prices in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

At the end of October, the Minister of Energy and Water Bintou Camara denounced on national television “trafficking” in tanks from power plants running on diesel. The diverted fuel would be resold to gas stations and businesses. “The diversions are gigantic. Senior EDM executives as well as junior employees, such as tank drivers, are involved, confirms Omar Témé, spokesperson for the Malian Association for the Fight against Corruption and Financial Delinquency (AMLCDF), which investigated the subject. State services have been the main sites of corruption since the 1990s. The military in power are doing what they can to put an end to these mafia-like practices. »

According to a report from the Office of the Auditor General (BVG) published in July 2023, “irregularities” already existed between 2019 and 2022 within the administrative management of the company, 100% owned by the State. In particular “a lack of control over the governance of the board of directors, the absence of criteria for the choice of directors and weak supervision of office compensation”. According to RFI, “the unjustified, so-called “additional” invoices from EDM would have amounted to 18 billion CFA francs” in 2022.

The debt of the public company is currently around 600 billion CFA francs (some 915 million euros). Due to the increase in thermal production costs, the company now sells its electricity at a loss so as not to impact Malian households. With, on average, a deficit of 50 CFA francs per kilowatt sold, it finds itself in a disastrous financial situation and can no longer pay its suppliers.

Turn to hydraulics and photovoltaics

Like the Ivorian Electricity Company (CIE) to which EDM owed “170 billion CFA francs” in November 2022, according to statements by Patrice Achi, then Prime Minister of Côte d’Ivoire. Because of these unpaid bills, the CIE, which delivered 100 megawatts to Mali as part of an electricity interconnection agreement between the two countries, has reduced its supplies by 70% since December 2023. Further worsening the load shedding.

To improve the financial situation of the electricity company and avoid an increase in tariffs, the State adopted measures such as “the cancellation of part of the tax debt to the tune of 24 billion CFA francs and the clearance of EDM’s debt vis-à-vis [the Burkinabé group Sopam Energie], for an amount of 21 billion CFA francs,” underlines the BVG report. Measures which have still not borne fruit.

Ultimately, the transitional authorities hope to emerge from the crisis by turning to hydraulics and photovoltaics, which are still under-exploited. Projects are being studied with Russian partners, said Energy Minister Bintou Camara. Furthermore, Mali and the Russian atomic energy agency Rosatom signed, in October 2023, a memorandum of understanding for collaboration in the field of nuclear energy.