Friday, November 2, 2012

Uganda: Bujagali power dam a painful paradox

Uganda: Bujagali power dam a painful paradox
Deo K Tumusiime 2012-11-01, Issue 604

The cost of electricity in Uganda remains unaffordable to most
citizens, yet the government has kept on using taxpayers� money in
power projects that hardly bring any relieve to consumers.
Only seven years ago when Uganda was still operating on power
generated by the age-old Owen Falls Dam, Ugandans paid about 171
shillings for domestic power consumption. Interestingly, Ugandans have
nothing to celebrate as yet about the commissioning of the 250KW
Bujagali Power Dam as the cost of domestic consumption has shot to
over 500 shillings per unit. This is getting terribly ridiculous.

The government of Uganda must quickly get back to life and appreciate
the plight of the ordinary citizens in this country. Many people today
have cookers but cannot cook because of the exorbitant charges; and
even when the gospel on the use of so-called energy savers has been
whole-heartedly embraced, there is hardly anything reflected on the
monthly bills. Besides, a recent plan by government to distribute
energy saving bulbs soon disappeared, possibly due to corruption like
has happened with many other well-intentioned projects. I even wonder
why these bulbs should have been distributed through UMEME, a business

There is nothing as painful as government spending so much of tax
payers� money on an investment that does not relieve the ordinary
citizen�s pain at all. Well, one may say that the coming of Bujagali
has reduced on load shedding, but surely is this all Ugandans expected
from the bargain? Doesn�t the government realise that the higher the
cost of electricity, the more the cost of doing business and therefore
the more the poverty in the country? How can a legitimate government
be so careless about its people?

I have been hearing programmes like rural electrification and
improving the standards of living. However, of what use is it to erect
poles in the rural areas when the citizens are unable to foot the
bills for its use? I called UMEME recently and was told that according
to their estimates, on average, a domestic consumer should pay about
50,000 shillings per month. Question: how many Ugandans can afford to
pay this, on top of the myriad other utility bills?

I think the government of Uganda was so quick to bend towards
capitalism, because majority of the population is still quite poor.
In the end, the public utility infrastructure that has been handed
over to private investors is only benefiting a small percentage of
citizens. We need to re-think our strategies, otherwise projects like
Bujagali will continue to be received with indignity, and could be a
starting point to a crumbling state rather than setting ground for
Uganda to toe into the next tier of development.


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