Pictures by Firelight Reveal Africa’s Energy Crisis

In the West African country of Benin, life after dark is an exercise in ingenuity.

When the sun sets in the West African village of Gbekandji, Benin, all but the bare necessities of daily life wind down with it. This scenario is played out across Sub-Saharan Africa, where an estimated 609 million people—six out of ten—live without access to an electric grid, preventing them from reaching modern standards of development. As encapsulated by the World Bank in its 2017 State of Electricity Access Report, “energy is inextricably linked to every other critical sustainable development challenge—health, education, food security, gender equality, poverty reduction, employment, and climate change.”

<p>Vendors sell their wares at a nighttime market.</p>

Vendors sell their wares at a nighttime market.

Photograph by Pascal Maitre

Photographer Pascal Maitre chose the country of Benin as one of the backdrops for this larger story since it is a stable country where the reality can be seen clearly, uncomplicated by political unrest or environmental disaster. Children do homework, women give birth, vendors sell their wares, by the light of kerosene or solar powered lanterns. And while the scenes are bathed in a warm glow, the shadows speak of the potential risks to public safety and health when emergencies arise. "For these villagers, the lack of electricity is their biggest problem," says Maitre.

Pascal Maitre’s photographs are published in a new book, Quand l’Afrique s’eclairera (When Africa lights up). You can see more of his work on his website.

Read This Next

Grief drove a photographer to India. She found joy.
Why do we age?
What causes earthquakes?

Go Further

Subscriber Exclusive Content

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet