Dr Bachir Ouedraogo won a scholarship from the Sustainable Consumption Institute at The University of Manchester and he went on complete his PhD in MACE in 2012 looking at the impact of climate change, renewable energy and population on the future energy demand for Burkina Faso. In 2015 Bachir was elected to the National Assembly of Burkina Faso and earlier this year he was appointed as Minister of Energy.
Dr Bachir talks to Policy@Manchester’s Chris Peters about the achievements he’s made in the role over the last six months, advice he has for researchers wanting to get involved in policy, and what he misses about living and working in the city of Manchester.
“You’ve been in your role as Energy Minister for 6 months – what’s been your greatest achievement so far? And what do you see as the main challenges in the next six months?”
“My main achievement has been to promote solar energy, not only for urban areas, but for rural areas too. We’ve just started a project that will provide solar energy for more than 200,000 rural households. We’ve got a project for a solar back up system – about seven billion CFA (roughly £9.5 million) – which will allow people to have continuous access to solar energy.
Another project I’m really happy with is bringing energy for production to rural areas, for example for irrigation systems and food storage. In collaboration with the mining sector, we’ve agreed a deal whereby surplus vegetables, eggs and milk etc., produced by the rural population, will be purchased by the mining sector. In addition, we have secured a couple of projects that will improve the grid in the more rural areas of Burkina Faso – which in some places wasn’t good.
Finally, the MCC, which is the Millennium Challenge Corporation with the United States, has succeeded in securing roughly $400 million for energy storage and improving the grid capacity. So, a couple of projects that we’re really happy with. However, there are still many challenges and my objective is that by 2020 we’ll be able to have at least 50% of the population with access to electricity, meaning 80% of the urban population and 30% of the population in rural areas.”
“Policy@Manchester works to encourage and help researchers at UoM to engage with and inform the policymaking process. How do you ensure your work as Minister of Energy is informed by the latest science?”
“I’d say that’s why I came to Manchester! I wanted to discuss what collaborations there might be and how I can keep in touch with the researchers here. In my Ministry I’m going to have a focal point for The University of Manchester, for the purposes of collaboration, so that we can find out more about the research that you are doing. I’d also like to look at giving you the possibility of bringing students to Burkina Faso so that they might be able to implement their research.
So that’s why I came today, to tell you that I’m really grateful for the education that I got from The University of Manchester, I know the quality that there is here, and I want that to benefit, not only me as a Minister but also Burkina Faso as a whole, by having the possibility to collaborate.”
“What advice would you give to current researchers at The University of Manchester who are keen to engage with policymakers?”
“Well the advice I’d give would be based on my own experience. My PhD research was based on the current situation in Burkina Faso. I was looking at how we might be able use solar energy to reduce the consumption of energy in public buildings. So, my advice would be to look at the little things we can do. I know we can’t reinvent the world. You have to be focused on what you can do and continue doing that and look to find ways to improve standards of living and get people out of poverty. With the quality of education provided at The University of Manchester, and the quality of the teaching, the rest will follow, but you have to be driven by the aim of improving standards of living and doing something for humanity.
“You’ve got a research background, but do you think more politicians should have a research background? Has it helped you in your role?”
“Yes, I think so. It’s important that more politicians have a research background. It’s a process, you first understand what you are thinking is not always the truth and you need to listen to others. You need to expose your ideas so that others can criticise it. For example, when you publish a paper, people will smash you and you’ll feel like people are against you – but that is a good process. Politicians need to realise that you’re not the most intelligent, you’re not the best of the best, you need to collaborate with others, you need to have this process of doing research, and you need to do your homework! At the end of the day, the little resources we have need to be spent wisely for the benefit of the population, and for that the research process, the scientific method, can help.”
“What made you choose the University of Manchester for your PhD?”
“First of all I was interested to see the student life, and also the quality of teaching here. The multi-disciplinary approach that we had, that was something that really pushed me to choose The University of Manchester. It gave me the option of collaborating with others, in other disciplines which gives you a much better overview.
Also, the City and the football team – that was something that was really good for me, as a young guy who liked football – it was a factor in my decision!”
“Ha! There is only one team – it’s United!”
“Final question, what are the three things you miss most about Manchester?”
The City and the city life. I miss it a lot. Obviously the football and the student life! Also the good spirit that we had. I don’t know if it’s the same for everybody but when I was doing my PhD we had a group which was really like a big family. It’s a pity that everyone has to make their own way.
I miss the access to online resources. It’s something I miss a lot. When you’re at The University of Manchester you have access to hundreds of millions of books and papers online, quality publications, and it’s a pity that we’re locked out of these resources.
I miss Manchester as a whole, I won’t miss any opportunity to come back. It feels like a second home. I owe a lot to Manchester and to The University of Manchester. I’d like to thank my supervisors, the teachers and all my colleagues who helped to have a good PhD experience here. It really was an amazing experience and it will be forever in my mind and Manchester will forever be in my heart.
I would like to wish good luck to everyone and to all those researchers here, I would say, take the opportunity, take your chance, this is one of the best universities in the world, and it offers a really bright future to those who give time and study and follow what’s required of them.
If I wasn’t at the University of Manchester then I wouldn’t be the Minister of Energy in Burkina Faso. The University played a great role in my career and I’ll be forever grateful for that.”