Will Rural Electrification Programme benefit Ugandans?-2012

Monday, September 30th, 2013

Will Rural Electrification Programme benefit Ugandans?-2012

Will the Rural Electrification Programme benefit Ugandans?

During her budget speech this year, the minister of Finance, Ms Maria Kiwanuka allocated Shs. 1.3 trillion for the energy sector. Part of that money will work on the 400 schemes under the rural electrification project.

We do appreciate that our government realized that energy is the engine for the economic growth and development and a vital input into all the productive and social sectors of the economy. The government focused on the rural areas because over 80% of the population there lives without electricity. Indeed that is why in all the developed economies, the major war did not start with the fight against economic poverty, diseases or illiteracy, but it was fight against energy poverty.

According to the new report, almost all the new districts have been connected to the electricity including Sembabule, Kaberamaido, Kanungu, Oyam and Kibaale. Other areas in the western Uganda that have electricity include Kayonza, Buhweju, Rugyeyo, Mazizi, some parts of Mbarara district, some parts of Ntungamo district, and some parts of Kabale district.

A report by the Rural electrification Agency (REA) indicates that new diesel generators have been installed in districts of Moyo, Adjumani, Moroto and Kalangala. A total of 426 grid extension projects country wide have been implemented to support social and economic projects in communities and institutions for rural transformation. According to the report, also another 22 schemes are in the final stages of completion. And 7566 solar PV systems were installed under since the starts of energy Rural Transformation (ERT) program me in 2001.

REA’s target was to achieve at least 10% electricity access for the rural Uganda by 2012 and the overall vision of universal electricity access by 2035. However rural electrification is still dreadfully far from achieving its target. The programme was at 6% in 2009, the same rate at which it still is today. The government instigated the rural electrification strategy and plan (RESP) in 2001 with an aim of increasing rural access to electricity which was then at 1%.

In addition, the whole rural electrification programme is being done without proper care on the best electricity can be relevant to rural people where over 60% of the population still live below the poverty line, no formal education, famine and other problems.

So, if the government was to carefully analyze the conditions under which the majority Ugandans especially in rural areas lives. It should be understood that the current high tariffs, high connection cost ushs 1m for say two poles, are too high for the poor to whom rural electrification programme intends to help out of the poverty trap.

The question to investigate is; can the rural electrification programme benefit Ugandans? Is it relevant to the poor if you consider the tariffs, connection or installation and operation costs, poverty and value for money?

Erecting the electric poles on the road side will not make a difference as one needs to have the pole 200meters from his house to access electricity. Only few people in rural areas can afford the connection fee. Therefore, the “equal access to electricity”, which is the programme target is unlikely to occur.

The supply of electricity power to rural areas is viewed as a means to alleviate poverty in rural areas. However, it remains the most wanting commitment from the government which has privatized the electrification process.

Therefore, to achieve the primary objective of the Rural Electrification Strategy and plan, which is to reduce inequalities in national access to electricity and the associated opportunities for increased social, welfare, education, health and income generating, our government needs to form a cluster to improve rural electrification. For stance, the government can work with the private sector, academia to ensure more investments in the sector.

There is a need to rethink our power development strategies and de-programme and re-programme the power sector reform that has been there for more than a decade now.

Last but not least, unless government help the rural people by giving them subsidies or setting different tariff level for rural communities, it will be difficult for them to use electricity to improve their livelihoods.

Doris Atwijukire

Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO)