Reforming an African utility company

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Reforming an African electricity company requires tough love, persistence -- and a little luck. Just ask Jean-David Bile, a civil engineer in the central African country of Cameroon. Bile runs AES Corp.'s electricity operation in Cameroon, a national grid that is chiefly powered by two large dams and was formerly fully owned by the infamously corrupt government of Cameroon.

Bile is rooting out corruption at the electricity company, cracking down on customer theft, improving the flow of electricity -- and ending the practice of hiring people to satisfy the demands of politicians and traditional chiefs. His achievements don't always endear him to his fellow Cameroonians. Once, the chief of a village near his biggest dam implored him to hire some of his relatives. When Bile refused, the chief hurled a juju curse against him, but Bile still refused. "To implement dramatic reforms you have to be tough on your own people, or you'll never make it," he says.

Read Pascal Zachary’s whole article in EnergyBizInsider. Via Michael Giberson, who also reminds me of the movie "Power Trip". Mike describes the movie as:

One of the best documentaries I’ve seen… Devlin’s film tells the story of the efforts of AES Corporation to succeed as the new owners of the privatized electric utility in Tbilisi, the capital of the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. Again, this is not explicitly a political film, but the viewer comes away with a better sense of the nature of the human condition.

The film offers a perspective on capitalism and corporations hard to get in the Western world, because in the West so much of the institutional framework is taken for granted. In the beginning only 10 percent of Tbilisi customers were paying their electric bills, because they were used to power being “free” (i.e. provided by the government). Of course, electric power was also unreliable (unless you had good political connections). In “Power Trip” you can get a flavor of such abstract phrases as “institutional framework” and why they might matter to making the world a better place.

I have not seen it yet - though months ago had made a note to do so. Thanks for the reminder Mike. Anyone else seen it?

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