By Denis Jjuuko
For the cynical, my wife and I are the most romantic couple in the world! Several times a week, we have a candlelit dinner or simply sit outside the house for long hours to enjoy the stars, moon, and of course crickets chirping.
As we watch the sky, sometimes we see satellite flares which our six year old daughter, Nakazigo, interprets as “God taking a selfie!” or “God has a very powerful torch.” And she says she hates these candlelit dinners and watching the sky.
I hate it too because nothing for me takes away the beauty of light. The candlelit dinners we have at home are not because we are hopeless romantics. It is because our electricity in this part of Kira Municipality, less than just 15km from the main Post Office in Kampala is the most unreliable in the world. Anything takes away our electricity. Yet some neighbours from another supply line always have power.
I rarely call the distributor because they send me one complaint reference number after another. I have friends who work with the distributor and I call them several times a week to help out. Sometimes I don’t even want to call them not because it would disrupt our candlelit dinners but because I feel I am bothering them. One of them sounded frustrated last week and asked why the company doesn’t solve this problem forever.
Sometimes this unreliable distribution spoils our electric appliances but also it destroys the gadgets the distributor installed at the top of the poles ensuring that some houses on the street sometimes have and others don’t until the distributor replaces the parts. Sometimes I am happy this unreliable electricity has damaged the distributor’s parts! It is called being frustrated or karma if you wish.
I have been seeing campaigns and threats to protest over a proposed electricity dam to be built over the Murchison Falls (or Kabalega Falls), which apparently will displace treasured wildlife and put the ecological system of River Nile into turmoil. With Isimba Dam launched a few months ago, the country currently generates 1,138mw of power. When Karuma Dam comes online in December this year, it will produce another 600mw. With 1,738mw, we will have enough power to light up the country.
Yet many families will continue having forced candlelit dinners because investments in reliable electricity distribution aren’t matching investments in generation. When it rains, power is off or it starts flashing like car indicators. The transmission lines fall down as they wish. Transformers blow up at slight provocation making life really hard for everyone. Actually it is always a surprise if your electricity remains on during a heavy downpour!
Since we are now fine with generation, our conversation should shift to transmission and distribution. How can we have reliable power? What investments do we need in this area? Isn’t it time to push the likes of Bonang Power and Energy if they are worth the ink of this article to look at investing in transmission and distribution instead of proposing dams over some treasured falls?
Yet when we talk about transmission and distribution, we should not simply limit ourselves to electricity. Water is another a problem. Parts of Kira Municipality, less than 20kms from one of the biggest fresh water bodies in the world have no piped water or where the pipes exist, they have been dry for years. Water boosters are promised every few months. Managers at water offices have mastered the words “in two months time” when you ask when water distribution will normalize.
Although I have limited myself to Kira Municipality, you can say that about almost everywhere in the country.
I was recently in the north and a ‘basinfull’ of mangoes (about 10kgs) was going for Shs2,000 if you stopped to ask while driving a fancy SUV. If you were using public means or some rickety car, the price was Shs500 with lots of nyongeza (bonus). Less than 200kms away in Soroti, a fruit factory needs these mangoes and other fruits but the distribution is not as good even when the roads are glittering like silver fish.
In rural Masaka, a bunch of Matooke doesn’t cost even Shs10,000 yet in Kampala, less than 150kms away, the same size is sold at Shs30,000.
Telecoms talk about their 4Gs networks all the time but we all know the internet is slow and unreliable almost all the time and yet very expensive. There are areas in the country today where you can’t access Internet or even make a telephone call.
Distribution of almost anything in Uganda continues to be a challenge and investors instead of going for dams could consider investments in transmission and distribution for almost all sorts of utilities, services and goods.
The writer is a Communication and Visibility Consultant. email@example.com
** The Murchison Falls, which might give way for a new electricity dam