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SNEL Goes on a Power Trip

July 17, 2012

Alex was taking a break with the sentinels outside the gate.  Matthew decided to go check on our neighbors across the street who had had a very bad morning and took Amelia with him to help cheer them up.  One minute after he walked out the gate, my cell phone rings.  It was Alex.

“Oui, bonjour Alex,” I sais, confused, since he’s only just outside.

“Madame, lock the gate, the militaire,” and hangs up.

Ohhhh, so THIS is Congo.


I wrote about our busy Friday in the post about Levi’s birthday.  One of the many things that came up that day was a reminder of the devastating corruption keeping this country impoverished and desolate.

SNEL is the power company.  It IS the embodiment of what is wrong with this country (at least on the west side…) and why Christ is the ONLY thing that can draw these people from their hearts of darkness.  SNEL, on the very outside, seems to be a power company.  They have offices downtown.  They shove a bill under your gate once a month.  You pay them.  You have power, about 60% of the time.  Oh, and the bill never comes on the same day.  And the rates are made up.  Literally.  The meter broke long ago and it’s not really worth it to get it fixed all the time, because chances are very good you’ll get ignored.  And your bill also has “back due” charges on it that are actually made up.  The little offices where you go to pay your bill (remember, there’s no mail system here) are often without power (ironic, no?), so they can’t enter that you’ve paid into their computer system, so often your bill says you didn’t pay them.

But it goes deeper.  The SNEL men that work in the neighborhoods to repair the power show up and have nothing.  No training, no tools, to uniforms, to materials.  Matthew said that to insulate the power line, they use tar and cardboard (that YOU have to buy).  The power cables…live, thick black power cables…are not necessarily buried and you often see them lying in the grass off the side of the road.  When the cable breaks, it’s just gets patched.  Maybe that’s not so bad, except that these cables haven’t been truly replaced since they were installed in the 1960’s.  They’re just spliced pieces of power cables.  Our neighborhood has power because the rich live here.  Our workers and their neighborhoods don’t even have power, because the lines were cut or stolen long ago.

When you pay your bill the money goes into someone’s pocket.  The men that work for SNEL may get paid, they may not.  Your street and your neighbors will pay for the materials and anything else you need to get your power back if something breaks.  We’ve done it once and we’ll do it again.  Just cash exchanged in the street.

I could keep going…but I think you have enough to chew on.

But then there was Friday.  Friday, our MAF neighbors across the street (where the antennae that Matthew built lives), were given a notice of unpaid bills…for the past twenty years.  If they couldn’t prove that each month, for the past TWENTY YEARS, has been paid, their power line would be cut.  Our neighbor directly across happened to be standing at her gate and they demanded immediate proof of payment even though they did not have a fabricated account statement for her house.

We are told this happens every few years and they pick on different people at different times.  The cause is usually that someone way up at the top of the chain notices the books look a little funny and asks someone lower on the chain why that may be.  Since their pockets are probably being lined, they say that people must not be paying their bills.  And SNEL goes searching for the cash.

Though, it’s not entirely unwarranted.  Political figures and powerful people (in our neighborhood) think they’re above paying their power bills and probably got away with it for a while.  This, too, is common.  The corruption is on both sides.

So, the MAF family at the house dug out their receipts.  They’ve only lived in the house for six years, but since it’s the one house that MAF owns here in Kinshasa, the paperwork has been well maintained.  They were able to find back nearly fifteen years and began sorting.  They had been given 48 hours, but it was the weekend, so surely there would be time Monday to get it sorted out…


Monday I had given the kids away for the morning, planning to pack up the apartment.  I decided I couldn’t carry all the bins on my own and took Alex with me.  While I packed, he did dishes and swept.  I was just getting ready to leave when my cell phone rang.  Matthew asked where I was and then told me not to go home.  SNEL was back at the house across the street, this time they’d brought armed soldiers and men with giant sheers to cut the power lines.  The wife was by herself, but to go home and be seen would mean getting harassed ourselves, something to be avoided.

So, I made a few calls and eventually sent Alex home (it’s a short walk) and went next door where Levi and Amelia were hanging out.  Matthew joined us for lunch and we decided that enough time had passed that it was safe to head home, though planning to just keep driving if we saw anything out of placed.  We knew Alex could handle any unwanted knocks at the gate, but he hadn’t seen any so thought they probably left the area.

We didn’t see anything and pulled into our gate.  An hour later Matthew decided to go see how they were doing and took Amelia to cheer them up.


I pressed End on my cell phone and RAN down the driveway.  Thankfully, Levi had just gone down for his nap, so I didn’t have to worry about him asking questions.  I quietly locked the gate as I heard Matthew’s voice with several others.  Nothing sounded too angry, so I felt a little better.  Soon I heard Alex’s voice as well, though it all took place in Lingala, so I was at a loss as to what was going on.  I hated not being able to see anything, but the voices stopped and I went back inside.

Matthew came home a bit later and Alex walked in behind him.  Between Matthew and Alex, SNEL and the soldiers with them realized that we weren’t worth talking to since we are only temporarily here in the neighborhood.  By the time the brief conversation was over, there were smiles all around.  Alex was exceptional.

The rest of the story of the MAF house is still not complete, but they do still have power.  They are working on the details and SNEL continues to demand several hundred dollars from fifteen-year-old power bills that were already paid.  The family could use prayers for resilience against the harassment and that soon it would be settled.

The politically-connected person down the street was not so fortunate.  They had not, in fact, paid their bill and one of our neighbors witnessed the SNEL workers with the giant sheers hand-dig up the line and cut a section out.  Just like that.  (And, yes, the electricity was off for the neighborhood while SNEL exercised their “power.”)

This is the state of this nation.  We are feeling blessed for electricity (though, it ironically went off during the writing of this post and has been off for 15 hours) when we have it and are reminded of the great need for hope when we don’t.  Please pray for this country and for the people who live under this corruption.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 17, 2012 0829


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