Over the past few weeks, I’ve done my fair share of travelling over the country. I’ve been to Lira, Arua and Kapchorwa as well as a host of places closer to Kampala. Of the places I’ve visited, I’ve only stayed overnight in Arua and Kapchorwa. The two places are as different as can be with Arua being mostly flat in terms of terrain and fairly hot (at least while I was there). Actually, the weather has been so hot recently that the major sources of water have all dried up with dire consequences for the population: no pumped water supply and severe electricity rationing (the regional hydro plant is operating off greatly reduced river flow levels). On the other hand, Kapchorwa’s terrain comprises beautiful hills with the seemingly endlessly long Elgon mountain forming a stunning backdrop to most of the views. It is breathtaking even for someone like me who hails from a slightly more beautiful part of the country (Kisoro). As far as weather is concerned, it is cold and rainy. Arua is also a large and busy town whereas Kapchorwa would probably be best described as a small rural town.
Contrasts aside, it is interesting to note that while I was in the two places, I found two depressing things that the two places share in common – firstly, an overabundance of mosquitos and secondly, a chronic shortage of mains electricity…
The mosquitos in the guest house I stayed in in Arua were the loudest I’ve ever heard. So annoying was their whine that I embarked on a hunting spree shortly after getting into the room. Sadly however, that wasn’t enough and I had to endure the blood suckers’ symphony the whole night. Never have I been so grateful for a good mosquito net. Back home (Kira), we have mosquitos as well. But they tend to be seasonal and are usually tiny emaciated creatures that we hardly pay any attention to. Of course, we use nets which is why we hardly ever see any malaria attacks within the household. But the Arua ones were so loud and aggressive that they got me thinking hard about malaria and it’s horrific impact on our country. One tends not to think about certain things when they’re not being affected by them and I’m no different. So I went off to Google to get a quick overview of the current situation. The very first link I came across was a 2016 New Vision article confirming that not only is malaria still the leading killer in our country but that we are the “world champions” in case incidence statistics. Then there was this that, unsurprisingly (given what I was seeing/hearing), informed me that Northern Uganda was currently the region most affected by malaria in the country. In Kapchorwa a day or so ago, I encountered similarly sized mosquitos although not as aggressive or loud. The question on my mind is – what exactly will we have to do to eliminate this vector for once and for all?
Now – let’s talk about electricity. Ever since Bujagali Dam was commissioned, we’ve been assured we have more than enough power to meet the nation’s demand. Indeed, a year or so ago, our household’s long serving inverter backup system was decommissioned after serving us faithfully for close to seven years. Power supply was then so stable we didn’t need to replace the worn out batteries. Unfortunately, the erratic supply over the past 3 months is making us reconsider this decision. But what I’m calling erratic in Kira is nothing compared to what I found in Arua. This is a region that has historically been spared Jinja power supply related loadshedding because it has its own hydro power station (Nyagak). Even the last mile distributor is not UMEME as I had mistakenly assumed but rather an entity called WENRECO that also runs the generating stations and transmission. (My initial assumption was that they only handle the generation with UETCL and UMEME reprising their roles as elsewhere). Unfortunately for them, the aforementioned adverse weather has resulted in a drought that’s caused the hydro plant water flow to drop precariously. As a result, they’re having to rely on the (expensive) thermal plant a lot more. This in turn has forced them to introduce a daily loadshedding programme. While I was there, loadshedding was running from around 2200 to 0730hrs. However, even during the day, the droning of small generators all over town told a story of their own. Of course, one cannot rely on 2 nights experience to jump to conclusions especially since this was a crisis I had personally not heard anything about so I inquired from the locals. Sadly they confirmed that it had been ongoing for months by then and proffered the drought explanation. Kapchorwa on the other hand is on the national grid but it too hardly had any power during my 24 hours there. Again I asked the locals I interacted with whether this was typical. Their answers would have been funny if it weren’t tragic. One said they suspect UMEME thinks they are too primitive to need power while another laughed long and loud. My host told me they never expect continuous supply during rainy seasons – something which any UMEME customer would identify with. Again, I previously had no idea that things were this dire in some parts. One of my personal peculiarities is that I am somehow always a lot more productive when I travel and so I always maximise such opportunities to work deep into the night. This wasn’t possible this time since the generator/solar supply in both places respectively was switched off early. I have two questions on my mind following my experience: First – exactly how much are we losing in terms of productivity as a nation as a result of our inability to provide consistent power to consumers. I run a small ICT business and I’m livid. What about those that run medium & large businesses especially in the manufacturing sector? Secondly, given the terrible drought in the North that has brought power generation AND piped water supply to a near standstill, how can it be that the most common commodity lines up along the northern highways is charcoal?