No Power to the People!

Power problems have struck a heavy blow once again to the people of the North. Once again, Gulu (and indeed, the whole Northern part of the country), has been caught in the constant throes of rolling blackouts and endlessly dark nights.

In August and September, Gaëtan and I would often spend the weekends stuck in a rut, whining about the lack of electricity. Cuts were preordained to “maintain” and “upgrade” the grid. Power would be cut Thursday or Friday and not reappear until Monday morning or later. This went on every weekend. At our respective organizations, the shortened electric-fueled workweeks ate into slim project budgets, with trimming necessarily to purchase generator fuel. The weekend outages meant our phones would die, computers shutdown, and dark would descend at quarter to seven, unending until half past six or so.

We’ve been making the most off, taking the opportunity to read more (God bless the Kindle!)

More recently, after returning from our delightful dalliance in Mozambique, we learned and immediately experience the further erosion of already terrible power. We have had power for more than 24 hours consecutively once, I repeat ONCE, in almost three weeks! As I write, today is the first Saturday that we have had power for any length of time in Gulu since August.

The word on the street, as nothing criticizing such an important public service as electricity should dare make its way onto the pages of the press, is that the power company (we’ll call it POO-meme) has systematically cut power to the North during primary students’ qualification exams – effectively stamping out their chances of studying and excelling on their exams. This has reportedly been happening for years, according to Twitterverse sources. Whether this is a conspiracy theory or not, one thing is certain: the people of the North are suffering and they are angry.

Whisperings of another riot were on the lips of many. Last year there was a riot (it was really a protest) and the police diffused the heated gathering by shooting live rounds. One bullet struck a man in the buttocks, and rumours spread that he later died from the wound. Things are balancing toward a perilous tipping point. A few weekend ago, after power being gone for over 72 hours and no POO-meme communication, people lashed out and attacked a company vehicle.

We try to take these blackouts and embrace the experience, along with the frustration. We need to remember always, as hard as it is sometimes, that we are so lucky. So many others around us simply don’t have the means or access to electricity (Uganda was recently ranked by the World Economic Forum 135th on 141 countries in terms of access to power). It is still a luxury in this world and we mustn’t lose sight of that. We need to transform that frustration into positive energy that can buoy us into working harder to support the betterment of conditions for our Ugandan brothers and sisters around us.