Redressing the Electricity Distribution Inequality in Uganda

Sam — By Sam from Uganda

This project was completed as part of a special course on electricity in partnership with the Enel Foundation.
Eight year old Irene Mirembe Rose is a Primary Three Pupil at Mother Manjeri Primary in Kampala, Uganda. Her mother, Sandra Namisango, wakes her up at 5:40 AM to prepare for her school. She takes a warm bath from a water heater, brushes her teeth, and dresses up to have her breakfast, which is quickly prepared on gas. Her school bus picks her up at 6:00AM. By 7:00AM, Irene is at her desk starting the day’s lesson, which lasts until 8:00AM, when the class closes for a thirty minute tea break. They resume from 8:30AM to 10:30AM, and then have another 30 minute’s break. Class resumes at 11:00AM, and stretches until 1:00PM, for a one hour lunch break.
The Afternoon Class begins at 2:00PM and ends at 4:00PM. Irene then spends thirty minutes revising and getting coached by her teachers before she is given homework. She is then given 30 minutes to play with her friends, and at 5:00PM, she boards the school bus for a thirty minute’s ride back home. By 6:00PM, Irene is done with her homework and is tuned in to her favorite TV Channel, Nickelodeon, watching Thundermans. At 7:30PM, she takes a warm shower, eats her dinner, says a prayer, and she is in bed by 8:00PM. Irene’s school is consistently ranked amongst the top 5 schools in Uganda for the past five years, and by 12 years, she will be through with her primary education with an assurance of excellence and a bright future.
Fifteen year old Rachel Namubali is a Primary six pupil at Namukubembe Primary School in Kantenga Village, in the rural District of Luuka in Eastern Uganda. Rachel wakes up at 6:30AM when the sun is starting to rise and heads to the garden to help out her mother with farm work. She comes back home at 7:30AM to clean up and prepare foodstuffs that she will eat while at school, because her school does not provide meals. Rachel’s class normally starts at 9:30AM, because her teachers have to first attend to their gardens too. Rachel’s school program depends on the attendance of the Teachers, but majority of them are inconsistent at school.
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Rachel gets back home at 5:00PM, and she has to go to the bush to look for firewood that her family will use for cooking, since it is a feminine role in her society. She is also supposed to collect water from the borehole that her family will use for the night and in the morning after digging. Rachel is expected prepare dinner which should be served by 7:00PM, before darkness sets in. By 7:30PM, Rachel’s household is in bed because the small kerosene lamp cannot provide them with light for a long time. Luuka District has consistently ranked amongst the worst ten performing districts in the Primary Leaving Exams, and should Rachel fail to pass, her family will either marry her off or send her to the city to work as a house maid.
Rachel’s household is among the 78% of the Ugandan population who live in rural areas. By 2014, only 4.4% of the rural households had access to electricity on the national grid and majority of them were relying on wood fuel and kerosene. Uganda’s biggest challenge has been lack of finances to extend the grid to rural areas, yet that is where the majority of the population lives.
Uganda currently has 850 Megawatts of installed capacity, of which approximately 645 MW is hydro and 101.5 MW is thermal generating capacity. The government is building more hydropower facilities like the 600 MW Karuma hydro and the 183 MW Isimba Falls hydro project, but less than 20% of the Population are on the grid. Uganda has one of the lowest electricity consumption rates in the world, and it was estimated to be at 8OKWh per capita in 2012.
Agriculture employs 69% of Uganda’s population and about 90% of the agriculture is done in rural areas. Lack of electricity in rural areas has greatly affected the farmers and as a result, the contribution of agriculture to Uganda’s GDP stands at just 26%, despite being the biggest employer. Many rural families waste a lot of productive time collecting firewood for cooking, their rural labor force ends up being semi-illiterate because they cannot progress far in education, many financial institutions that would have rendered credit to the farmers don’t want to set up in areas that don’t have electricity, and the biggest percentage of Uganda’s population has ended up being poor, thus Uganda’s position in the Low Income Nations.
Uganda needs to reverse the current electricity distribution pattern, which entitles electricity to only a few urban dwellers at the expense of the majority in the rural areas. Access to electricity will facilitate rural productivity and improves household welfare, which would lead to accelerated economic growth in Uganda.
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