Soccer-Turn off lights to keep TVs on, Congo's World Cup viewers told

KINSHASA, June 19 Thu Jun 19, 2014 10:23am EDT

KINSHASA, June 19 (Reuters) - In a bid to keep television sets on for the full 90 minutes, World Cup viewers in Democratic Republic of Congo are being told ahead of each match in Brazil to turn off their lights and refrain from turning on electric cookers.

Even though Congo's national side did not qualify for the tournament, football fans across the nation of 65 million crowd around TV sets for each match, putting the country's creaking power grid under intense strain.

"We know the technical constraints of our energy system mean that our supply cannot meet demand," said Eric Mbala Musanda, managing director of state power firm SNEL.

"In circumstances like this we know ... we needed to ask these clients to limit that demand," he told Reuters.

While television networks elsewhere in the world provide pre-match analysis on the up-coming clash, cameras in Congo's state broadcaster RTNC pan to SNEL officials in the studios so they can spell out steps to reduce the demand, and therefore the risk of power cuts.

The Congo River, which arcs across the vast nation, means the country has the hydro-power potential to light up most of the continent.

But existing power stations at Inga, a dam in the southwest, are in disrepair so just nine percent of Congolese have electricity and power cuts are common across the country.

"We can't understand how SNEL, which has the dams at Inga, can get to a point like this where it says we can't turn on our lights at home," said Kinshasa resident Michel Wanj who resorted to watching games projected on a large outdoor screen by the U.N. peacekeeping mission.

SNEL has set up 16 large screens in towns across the country and promised another 12 for the capital in an effort to allow people to watch matches in an energy-efficient way. (Editing by David Lewis)

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