1 July 2008

Uganda: Let the Poor Have Their Own Energy Sources


Uganda is endowed with renewable energy resources. The total estimated electric power potential is about 5300MW. These resources however, remain largely unexploited. Renewable energy is the key to a sustainable energy future.

This is the future where people will have power over their sources of energy production and use. Uganda should shift towards energy sovereignty where control is in the hands of communities. Such energy sources would not only be mega structures such as huge hydro power dams but small community based stations that are basically owned by the beneficiaries.

To ensure that this happens the government should prioritise the development and implementation of new technologies that address direct energy requirements and the needs of the local communities. And these new technologies are renewable energy technologies such as solar, biomass, geothermal and small hydro power stations.

The government has done something such as rural electrification strategy, setting up the rural electrification fund, and liberalisation of the energy sector where women are considered.

However, women are considered more as users than implementers and technicians. It has also tried to put up good plans and policies as far as energy is concerned. Some of these include the energy policy, oil policy, biomass demand strategy and the renewable energy policy. But these policies have remained dormant and therefore not much impact has been realised.

It is obvious energy is a vital factor in Uganda's economic development, but today the country faces many energy-related challenges that threaten to undermine the economic progress we have so far achieved.

In rural areas, access to energy services remains very poor as the appropriate mechanisms are still missing. Only 5% of the rural population is connected to an electricity supply and 93% still rely on biomass for cooking.

The power utilities in Uganda have failed to provide adequate levels of electricity services to the majority of the region's population, especially to rural communities and the urban poor.

Provision of electricity is largely confined to the privileged urban middle and upper income groups as well as the formal commercial and industrial sub-sector.

The financial performance of most utilities in Uganda has remained unsatisfactory. The electricity tariffs have continuously increased to an extent that the people especially the urban poor and rural people cannot afford electricity even for just lighting.

Government is now under a decentralised process which is considered effective in encouraging local initiatives in the development process by giving people more power in decision making and involving them in problem identification, resource mobilisation and utilisation, project design and implementation and evaluation processes.

However the sectors that are represented at local level are: health, education, water, agriculture and in some cases environment. The energy is not represented at local level and its planning is done centrally.

Energy planning lies on large energy infrastructure initiatives- power stations and transmission lines. The central government's capacity to address energy sector development initiatives at the local level is limited. This has led to continuous exploitation of local communities in as far as electricity tariffs are concerned.

The Uganda Power Electricity Transmission Company and the Uganda Electricity Distribution Company continue to seek to raise power tariffs so as to achieve reliability, quality and demand. But they have failed to realise that the increase of electricity tariffs, leads to higher demand for wood and charcoal in both rural and urban areas, as fewer people will afford electricity as a source of energy.

Let the people own and manage the sources of power. With that, efficiency and transparence is a sure deal.

The writer works with an energy organisation, AFIEGO

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