The road to Zantiebougou, nearly 200 kilometers south of Mali’s capital Bamako, is unpaved, difficult to navigate, and the only way in and out of the small village. The commute gets trickier at night when pitch black darkness descends on the area.
So most people head to Mamadou Diane’s bed and breakfast for a cold beer and food before retiring for the night in their own room, which has a fan, adequate light and provision to charge a cell phone, all powered by a mini-grid covering the village.
Diane, who was first introduced to solar panels in 1995, took a big leap of faith when she started selling them to her neighbors in the early 2000s, enticing them with the possibility of being able to watch the Africa Cup of Nations football games without interruption and in the comfort of their homes.
The risk paid off.
Today she is one of several women entrepreneurs in Zantiebougou who run successful small businesses and support their families. National grid electricity is over a hundred kilometers away but Diane’s business is thriving, thanks to a mini-grid powered by solar panels during the day and by diesel in the evening.
Only one in three Africans have access to electricity and all of the deficit is overwhelmingly concentrated in rural areas and Sub-Saharan Africa, where nearly 600 million Africans still lack access and where electrification is barely keeping pace with population growth.
Recognizing the need to set up alternate solutions, the World Bank has been working to expand access to modern energy services in rural Mali. That has been crucial for many rural households, where a large majority still meet their energy needs by using kerosene and dry-cell batteries, which are extremely expensive and unreliable.
For some like Diane, it has also meant a new lease on life.
At her bed and breakfast, she has two refrigerators stocked with drinks and food in a small room that doubles as a restaurant and gathering spot for locals. Diane sells food to the local prison and is also able to store produce longer, often selling it for a profit when supply is scarce.
“I am building my own house and want to buy more land and expand my business,” Diane said. “In Bamako, a man is usually the breadwinner and supports his children. For me, it is the opposite. I am even sending my brother to school in Nigeria.”