This is Uganda My Friend

Life in Gulu has not been easy as of late.    Over the last couple of weeks we have been experiencing consistent power outages. Umeme, Uganda’s electric company is regularly failing to provide the city with power.  Light switches or power outlets have become useless contraptions.   Businesses like restaurants and grocery stores are however feeling the biggest pinch in their bottom-line.  While the cost of running a generator all day is not passed on to the consumer, it does affect quality control.  After several days of no power, most people feel suspicious about buying any dairy products, or ordering perishable items from a restaurant.  Generators run during the day, but naturally are turned off at close of business.

After the development of the highly anticipated 250MW Bujagali hydropower dam, blackouts or load shedding should have technically become a thing of the past.  Businesses and private consumers are however not feeling the benefits of Bujagali’s alternative power source.  Service delivery remains poor and is driving small entrepreneurs such as hair salons, grinding mills, and copy shops out of business.  Independent contractors who rely on operating welding machines or electronic equipment are also being especially hard hit.  Many who opt to run generators face revenue losses because of the high price of fuel.

To make matters worse, fuel shortages have plagued Gulu.  Fuel trucks are not arriving, thus forcing petrol stations to hike up their prices from 4,000 to 4,300 Uganda shillings per liter. On the black market, a liter can be sold as high as 6,000 to 8,000 Uganda shillings.

While the demand for electricity in Uganda is growing by 5.3 % per year, supply is failing to meet demand (Africa Infrastructure Country Diagnostics, 2011).  The World Bank estimates that the country has the third highest number of households without any form of power supply.

With only a month to go in my fellowship, I feel that I can tolerate inconveniences such as spending large parts of my day looking for means to charge my technologies, or returning home to a darkened hotel room.  When I ask my Ugandan friends how they deal with these disruptions, they just laugh and say….This is Uganda my friend. Does it make it any more acceptable?