Africa: Why Uganda Should Applaud Obama’s Electricity Africa Act

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Following the somewhat light downpour of rain on Sunday February 21, areas of Lukuli in Makindye experienced a power blackout. At about 7:03pm that day, the power returned. However, after a few minutes, the power would go off and return in an annoying sequence that was only resolved the

following afternoon after numerous phone calls and messages to Umeme. If we have come to expect power blackouts during or following even light rain, why am I telling you about the power blackout in Lukuli, Makindye?

Early this month, US president Barack Obama signed the Electricity Africa Act 2015 into law. Well, what has this got to do with Uganda? A lot.

First of all, I need to tell you what the Electricity Africa Act 2015 is about. In a nutshell, the Act puts an onus on the sitting American president to support governments in sub-Saharan Africa to implement national power strategies to enable access to reliable, affordable and sustainable power.

If Uganda, for instance, has developed a national solar power strategy to enable, say, 12 million homes access power, the US could assist Uganda achieve this strategy. Tanzania is being supported in its “Million Solar Homes” initiative, which seeks to see one million homes connected to solar energy by 2017. Additionally, more than 157.5MW of power from gas and hydro resources are to be added to the Tanzanian national grid.

Kenya is being supported in its biomass and wind projects that will add 378.4MW to their national grid. It is important to note that the above-mentioned projects are under Obama’s Power Africa Initiative, an initiative pundits, including myself, say is given legal backing by the Electricity Africa Act 2015 and one which has been given a lifeline beyond Obama’s soon-to-end presidency.

I have talked about how Kenya and Tanzania are benefitting from Power Africa Initiative and now stand to enjoy the legal backing given to the initiative by the Electricity Africa Act 2015. But what about Uganda?

We need to note that the Power Africa Initiative identifies Uganda as one of the countries that stands to be supported by the US to responsibly use its oil and gas resources; the other country to be supported is Mozambique.

 In the face of falling oil prices, corruption and being an exhaustible resource albeit one which is expected to generate over $3 billion in annual revenue, Uganda needs support/pressure to responsibly use the oil revenue for the benefit of her people.

Here is why Uganda should celebrate Obama’s Electricity Africa Act. Uganda, being engaged in various hydro, solar and other power projects, could benefit from Power Africa Initiative.

Uganda’s technology in the electricity sector is old and is prone to breaking down. In Wakiso, Buwate, where our offices are located, we often have blackouts and, for years, we have been told that the existing transformer cannot meet the increasing population’s needs.

Additionally, energy losses, which are expensive and are charged on the consumers, also result from old transmission lines and other technology. Uganda direly needs investments in the power sector to enable us to have reliable power. These investments could be enabled by Power Africa Initiative.

Uganda’s power is still expensive. More than 90 per cent of us use toxic biomass fuels such as charcoal and firewood to cook, putting a strain on the environment.

Official figures put electricity access in Uganda at 15 per cent but this percentage is lower. Rural communities are hardest hit when it comes to access to electricity that even when power is available, it is not affordable.

The Power Africa Initiative does not only promise affordability but even serving areas that are off the grid. Certainly, factors such as corruption can impede the Initiative’s good goals but as has been shown, the Initiative holds good promises for Uganda.

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