No Power for the People: Kampala's Erratic Electricity Supply Has Had a Significant Impact on Businesses across the Board. from Large Corporations to Small Companies, All Have Had to Adapt to Lengthy Power Cuts. Stuart Price Reports from the Ugandan Capital

Article excerpt

On the day that African Business visited the Paradise Internet cafe along Entebbe Road, business was brisk. Of the six functioning computers allowing users to surf the internet, write word documents or chat online, some machines had three people huddled around its VDU and keyboard.

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Waiting patiently both inside and out of the modest, open-front establishment, were perhaps another dozen individuals, eager to take full advantage of the electricity which was coursing through the mains.

But it is not always like this in Paradise. Since the introduction of a '24 hour on-24 hour off' electricity supply to Kampala, many businesses have been straining under the new schedule.

Fred Sebaggaala, the 20-year-old manger of Paradise Internet says they used to open from early morning until midnight, but since the introduction of the new load-shedding programme, they can only open while they are serviced with electricity from the national grid.

"It has reduced our income greatly as people work during the day," he says. "Now, when the power is off, they cannot come and use our services in the evening. I estimate our weekly income has been reduced by around 70% as a result."

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He adds that the business has not increased its prices as it would scare customers away. "Our only option during periods of no power is to close. Generators and fuel are too expensive for a small outfit like ours; it is an extra cost we cannot afford."

For such a small operation with modest earnings, the new schedule has hit it hard and there are few choices other than to just suffer the lengthy outages. "We are looking at alternatives and are planning to bring in more computers to increase our facilities when we have power. This is the only way we can cover the loss of revenue when the power is off," Sebaggaala adds.

But things could be about to change. From the beginning of 2007 the introduction of thermal power will account for 150MW of electricity in addition to the 135MW that is created by hydro-power. Originally, the combined capacity of Nalubaale and Kiira, the two dams which make up Owen Falls, was 300MW. They are currently only producing 120MW.

Uganda's current peak demand period requires around 380MW, while the Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA) estimates only 122MW is available.

Until earlier this year, the vast majority of Uganda's electricity was provided by the Owen Falls dam at the beginning of the White Nile which flows directly out of Lake Victoria. However, due to persistently below average rainfall over recent years, the level of water in the lake has reduced significantly, thus lowering the amount of water flowing out into the Nile and passing through to the hydro-electric power generating dams.

As a result, operational capacity has been reduced by about half, which has led to the current load-shedding programme of 24 hours on-24 hours off.

Who is to blame for the power crisis remains unclear. Accusations have been flying from all sides over who is responsible; from Mother Nature and the environment, to the government and incompetent management, to the colonialists and companies' bad planning when the two dams were designed and built.

What is clear, though, is that the Victoria Basin, the catchment area from which rainfall feeds Lake Victoria, is one of the most densely populated areas on the planet. And with rainfall persistently failing to reach previous and required levels--perhaps as a result of global warming and changing weather patterns--and with the population continuing to expand and grow, it appears there is not going to be any form of quick-fix solution to the current quandary and crisis. Alternatives are needed.

Concern over higher tariffs

With thermal power costing an estimated three times that of hydro-power to produce, tariffs are set to rise yet again for the consumer. …