The air is wet. The ground is dump. It’s the kind of day that farmers greet with a wink at the heavens. The rains are here. And it’s a lot of rain. This rainy season is however different. It was meant to last till April. Its now May. According to the modern day rainmakers and soothsayers in Entebbe it may go on till June. Or July. It’s a case of too much of a good thing. In the Rwenzoris, those proud mountains to the west, streams have turned into rivers and rivers have burst their banks.
Nearer in the city where the grey weather is no cause for celebration. Kampala floods regularly that some spots have fun names like Kalerwe creek and Bwaise Bay. On Sunday, it rained most of the afternoon and a little more in the evening. At around 9, with “Game of Thrones. Season 3” about writhing with dragon fire the telly went off. So the evening turned into a candlelit affair with the radio. The next morning the rain continued to pound and the power never returned. And so I tweeted to the electricity monopoly Umeme (@UmemeLtd)
Shortly afterwards with the battery on my computer at 48 percent I received a response from Henry Rugamba in my inbox. Henry is the sophisticated PR man that Umeme hired recently
The email said
Saw your tweet and consulted, can you respond to me on the questions raised below and see the comments made
The email was copied to Evelyn Agaba who I don’t know but who shot off a rather efficient sounding response to the tweet, which Henry had forwarded to her. In the past my tweets have resulted in like responses. Umeme tweeted back. So this was taking things to another level so to speak.
Good morning Henry,
We did not experience any feeder outages feeding this area yesterday. We might have to advice the customer to avail us with more details of location and tel contact so we can have the team rectify the problem.
The next couple of hours were interesting. I exchanged eight emails with the Umeme call center. Power (and internet connectivity) is essential to my work which increasingly especially on rainy days done at home. So with an eye on the battery this is what happened next.
Good day Sir/Madam
We would be very glad to help and restore power supply to you.
However, we need more details so that our technicians know where to
go.Please avail us:
The account numbers for the respective premises
The telephone contacts for follow up purposes and,
Directions to the specific premises affected.
We look forward to serving you better
Jane and I spoke on the phone. And more emails.
Thank you Angelo for the positive response.
I have logged the complaint on reference number 1006279
Serving you is a pleasure.
I asked what happens next now that I had an important sounding reference almost like a police case file.
The technician has been informed and will rectify the problem as soon
as he can.In the mean-time I will follow up and keep you updated.
The folks at Umeme got me to speak to a technician twice. I later met him outside our house. The meeting was short. After speaking to the neighbors about the blackout he surmised it could be an area issue. He then radioed the nearby station and was informed it was a “planned shutdown” which apparently neither we nor the good folks at the headquarters were sufficiently aware of.
Good afternoon Angelo
The technician says the fault on the line has been rectified.
However there is a planned shut down for some on going work,
that may go on to about 6pm then power will be restored.
please bear with us
The efficiency at Umeme still reveals some distances to go. But clearly the power monopoly is making an effort. At least in my case. The rains this season are apparently record breaking. I was told later that Lake Victoria from whence Uganda generates its cheap hydroelectricity had risen to its highest levels since 1964 at 12.11 metres up from 9.5.
Seasonal rains in the early part of this year had boosted power from smaller hydros besides the Bujagali power dam. Investments in electricity production have been undergoing the usual drama of procurement graft ( the latest was the signing off of Ayago hydroelectric power dam to a Turkish company Mapa Construction despite years of earlier investment by the Japanese government. In true dramatic fashion technocrats were summoned to seal the deal off at State House after a private jet carrying the Turkish investors had landed much to their consternation and confusion the word goes).
The more interesting aspect of the rains in May is that demand for electricity has actually fallen believe it or not. As I was having my room service moment with Umeme officials from the Water Resources department of the ministry responsible had approached their counterparts in the generation and transmission companies (which together with Umeme form the 3 sisters in the sector) asking them to release water from the power dams. Their request has not been granted because despite the opportunity for more power generation demand was not there (it has shrunk reportedly by 10MW in the last two months). Plus electricity officials are worried that releasing more water ( spilling) may become political with Uganda’s feisty politicians likely to ask embarrassing questions ( Cabinet is considering a report on Umeme in fact)
This throws open the much taunted growth in electricity demand in Uganda. Is demand really stagnant? Is infrastructure to deliver power to new customers the problem? How can a country starving for power have low demand? The last time I raised the question about these projections the Ministry of Energy took out full-page newspaper ads to contest. No doubt cheaper power is necessary but perhaps a more important is to have clarity on real demand alongside the effort being made to keep customers like yours truly satisfied.
Now am off to pay my bill. Over to you.
Uganda’s electricity regulator http://era.or.ug/