Uganda’s West Nile Sub-region has been gripped by talk of secession to Southern Sudan, triggered by unreliable power supply. At the center of stoking the raging fires are mainly politicians from the region and outside it. Much as the uproar is justified since the issue of power has remained outstanding for some time now, the opposition politicians have been unnecessarily spinning it, looking to milk all the political juice they can sip from it and so long as it can remain outstanding.
Such is the seriousness of the problem of power in this locality that it is likely to deny the ruling NRM party support at the subsequent elections should the Powers-that-Be, fail to fix the same well before 2026. This is well exemplified by the Arua City Mayor, Samuel Wadri Nyakua, who asks the Powers-that-Be to move fast and fix the problem or else wait to suffer a big political backlash at the next elections. The fact that patients are losing lives during power failures, as the same is attested to by the District Health Officer, Dr Paul Onzubo, means the locals aren’t merely going to continue giving votes to the ruling NRM Party candidates without the government correspondingly putting an end to the outstanding big issue.
The business community, majority of whom have been footing the campaign funds for the NRM Party candidates, feel now utterly betrayed by the government which seem to be doing nothing to provide reliable power yet it’s the key driver of smooth economic activities.
Arua City business community leader, Moses Obeta points out that the government had better move quickly and stop the erratic power problem, or else, forget about receiving meaningful taxes from the area as a result of absence of meaningful business activities in the area. Be that as it may, the government has yet again shifted the deadline of connecting the sub-region to the national grid by a period of six months.
The government had pledged to finally switch the area to power which is secure, by this month of September. The same government is now talking of March next year to do what President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni has for close to a decade now, been pledging to do during campaigns. The fresh deadline pledge nearly drove the West Nilers nuts. No sooner had the new deadline been communicated, than the public anger boiled over to untold levels. This is when majority of the disgruntled people here started to threaten to go to South Sudan. Rather than remaining home only to be treated as third rate citizens.
The news that was unpalatable to the eardrums of a huge section of the residents across all walks of life, was delivered by the Parliament’s environment and natural resources committee Chairman, Hon Emmanuel Otaala. The committee members had pitched camp in Arua City to listen to the public concerns when the Chairman released the shocker of the fresh March, 2023 deadline. It is understood the project of switching the Sub-Region to the national grid, is still rocked at sixty-seven percent overall. Apart from the slow progress of connecting the Sub-Region being undertaken by the three international contractors, another private thermal firm contracted as a stop-gap measure known as Electro Maxx, has also come under attack over the sporadic power issue.
The same company has been turned into a kind of bogey for the failures of the government to carry out its social contract of providing power which is secure to West Nile. The central government contracted Electro Maxx in 2009 amidst untold power outages sparked by a massive drought which left water bodies almost empty, to again be able to drive hydro power. Electro Maxx had been doing the same job in Tororo when the government, looking to appease the electorates in West Nile ahead of the 2011 election, now quickly rushed them into demobilizing some of its generators and take them to West Nile, to try to avert the problem.
The firm quickly did as it had been instructed without prior to receiving the demobilization costs as they would apply in situations such these ones. By April of 2009, having reached West Nile in January, the firm had managed to stabilize the power sector and business had returned to considerably normal. It is understood that Electro Maxx’s contract was restricted to generation of power as the same is true of the contract of Uganda Electricity Generation Company Limited (UGECL). After UGECL has duly performed its contract of generating power, Uganda Electricity Transmission Company Limited (UETCL), would now transmit the same to the end user.
It’s not quite clear as to who is being contracted currently by the government to carry out the bit of transmitting power in West Nile, after the same has been now generated by Electro Maxx. In the ideal, the same would be transmitted by UETCL which is contracted by the government to nationally transmit the power, the same having been now generated by UEGCL. There is another firm being contracted to carry out the business connected to power in West Nile. This one is known as West Nile Rural Electrification Company (WNREC).
Other than that, we have been, honestly, unable to establish if this firm is the one obligated to transmit the power. Or else, is also, just in the business of generating power, as the same is true of Electro Maxx. The rest of the factors strictly remaining constant, it would appear, the problem in West Nile currently has got a lot to do with the transmission of power, as opposed to generation of the same. Otherwise, if those supposed to generate power are generating the same, why is it that the power so generated, is not reaching the end user, as it is supposed to?
That is pertinent a question to answer on the way to finding a stop-gap workable measure as we wait for when the central government is going to finally be able to connect the sub-region to the national grid. In the meantime, the government is enjoined to seriously talk to the three contractors currently working on the process of switching the place to the national grid, to stop dragging their feet, but to step their efforts in order to solve this problem once and for all.
West Nile is such a strategic place lying on the transit route to the virgin and massive markets of DRC and Juba. We simply can’t, poor as we are, afford to miss the golden chance of producing goods for those sleeping giants which are generously waiting for us to go ahead and just do that. We understand as well that the price of power is another added problem. We know where to put the fault. Pricing of power is a function of the State which it performs through the Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA).
Fairly expressed, pricing of power takes into account the prevailing fuel prices on the world market and the cost of the dollar itself. Fuel is a key issue since generators used to generate thermal power run on fuel, and also, fuel is bought in dollars from the world market, yet, our remains still in the ground. Overall, government has a social contract to supply power to its own people. That known, the same government must do everything possible to keep that contract, or else, political problems will ensue soon or later.
- Mr. Stephen Kasozi Muwambi is a seasoned crime investigative writer, majoring in judicial-based stories. His two decades’ experience as a senior investigative journalist has made him one of the best to reckon on in Uganda. He can also be reached via [email protected]
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