Institute of African Studies - Columbia University

Cuthbert A. Onikute

The Leitner Family Research Fellowship enabled Columbia graduate student in urban planning Cuthbert A. Onikute to conduct research in Guinea-Conakry. The following is his account of his summer research.

The Leitner Family Fellowship funding I was awarded in the summer of 2012 allowed me to explore two issues in Guinea-Conakry.  Following research into the potential of waste management and energy creation through Biogas I wanted to explore if the deployment of a biogas waste system would be possible on a city level without substantial technological and economical investment.  If so, how would it be best implemented.  To do this, I first learned how two cities in Guinea were managing their waste, the Capital – Conakry, and one of its largest city’s – Kankan. 

In Conakry, which is a collection of ‘Commune Urbaine’ similar to New York City’s boroughs but with more power, I had conversations with local government officials responsible for waste system, national level government officials, and some of the individuals in collecting waste around the city.  The government has contracted out the work of collecting and disposing of waste, through a PPP system with various small businesses.  All of them discussed the difficulty of managing the waste system given the limited resources they have.  An additional problem was that the rapid growth of the city has overwhelmed the current city dump both filling it and bringing it closer to the center of the city.  With no place to put waste, it often goes uncollected in the streets and the situation was only expected to get worst as the waste clogs up the system that allows for the free flow of water to the seas.  Two young children were swept away during heavy rains when water and debris made it too difficult for them to get to school.  Currently the government is looking to solve their waste issues in the city.  Top of their list, is how can they obtain benefits from through biogas, either from tapping the existing landfill or by integrating it into the new system whenever it becomes operational.

In Kankan, the largest Commune Urbaine in the Kankan prefecture of Guinea, I spoke government officials, the sole operating waste collector in the city, and brick makers.  As the government is funded from the national level, the issue of insufficient resources was the primary concern raised.  The waste collector was additionally frustrated because the government only required fees and other charges while not providing any benefit.  A substantial amount of waste had been dumped throughout the city and was simply piling up, as the trucks to carry them to the city’s landfill went not functioning.  At present the brick makers required six lorries of cut wood to thoroughly fire the bricks they casted.  Research undertaken in both Kankan and Conakry have suggested the percentage of organic household waste, waste necessary for biogas creation, was in abundance and that given the sizes of the markets cities like Conakry and Kankan has the volume necessary to feed a reasonably large Biogas generator system.  If you consider fecal waste, which in Conakry is partly managed through a system, the volume only increases. 

Following these interviews and site visits it is clear that the issue is not whether a system is viable, that answer is clearly yes.  The real question is how to appropriately site the system to maximize its benefits to the local community.   Interestingly, given the manpower required to make this system operational, Biogas has the potential to foster economic development at every stage of its life.  Additionally, the health benefits of cities with streets free of decomposing organic waste, waterways clear of debris, and a waste system that does not threaten the drinking water of communities cannot be overstated.

Student Spotlight