Friday January 31 2014

Rural electrification will transform the economy

By Rose Namayanja Nsereko

Uganda’s power generation capacity continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Meanwhile, our demand for power continues to surge, arising from a steady growth of household incomes and the production requirements of our expanding economy.
This power supply demand ‘conundrum’ is the kind of ‘challenge’ that the NRM government relishes. Indeed, we are on an upward trajectory towards a comprehensive rural electrification. The government is rolling out the Rural Electrification Strategy and Plan (RESP) that will deliver power to most of our countryside. This will ultimately contribute towards narrowing the gap in living standards between Ugandans in rural areas and their urban-based compatriots.

The target for RESP is to ensure that at least 22 per cent of Uganda’s grassroots population has access to affordable power by 2022. This would represent a significant improvement from the 5 per cent of our rural population with access today. Overall, the ongoing RESP that commenced in 2013 and runs until 2022 is integrated as an anchoring component of the broad national development agenda. Indeed, Uganda’s Vision 2040 is designed to evolve around this expanded electrification programme. In fact, government’s target is to wipe out usage of kerosene for lighting in rural Ugandan households by 2030.

A target of 1.42 million new rural consumers will gain access to electricity, raising their total number to about 1.6 million. Under this arrangement, on-grid services will be expanded to provide approximately 1.2 million new connections, while off-grid services will be increased through 140,000 additional installations of solar equipment and mini-grid service connections.

Rural electrification remains at the heart of the government’s approaches to eradicate rural poverty and enhance opportunities. Providing rural areas access to electricity will stimulate rural employment via diversification of production possibilities. Apart from greater food security arising from mechanised production, abundant electricity will be vital for processing and adding value to primary agricultural produce. Our farmers will then reap higher returns from the value-added produce than they do from the largely unprocessed food they sell today.

Last year, President Museveni told Ugandans in North America that following the creation of the Energy Fund in 2006, a number of electricity generation and transmission projects have been undertaken, adding that “When the economy was small, we were resource constrained.

We had to depend on external financing to deal with some of the gaps because of our narrow tax base and limited potential to generate revenue internally.” He said the external financing was also inadequate with execution of key projects. Thus, massive load shedding was inevitable, especially in 2005.

As the economy has grown steadily, and tax collection improving, the government has had more resources to finance its priorities. Accordingly, 50 projects have been worked on, including new hydropower plants and expansion of distribution lines by about 17,907km – an increase from 11,000 km. It is the residual, minimal load-shedding that the government is now seeking to wipe out through RESP.

Once rural access to power increases, possibilities will abound for rural citizens. They will be able to participate more in national economic and social transformation activities. For a broader impact, the government realises that issues relating to cost of power will have to be addressed as well. Thus, to harmonise tariffs, electricity pricing shall be determined and approved by the Electricity Regulatory Authority under the cost of electricity service provision arrangement.

Like the President noted, “This phenomenon of funding electricity projects on a large scale by ourselves is new and unprecedented. It is a happy phenomenon and we are very proud of the achievement.” Indeed, our citizens realise that with expanded electrification, they will be able to get more jobs as industrial sector will grow further. Stable and countrywide power supply will also render Uganda much more attractive as an investment destination.

Such government efforts towards rapid electrification are for the good of the country and should be supported by all Ugandans. Our call for patriotism here stems from previous and disturbing experiences with some of our opposition actors, whose negative energy indeed stalled some key projects.

As noted by President Museveni, “They go behind our back and discourage, for instance, the World Bank from funding certain projects on very frivolous grounds. That is how the Bujagali Dam delayed for more than 15 years.” As beneficiaries of improving power supply, our brothers and sisters in the opposition should this time around come aboard and support the national crusade against ‘darkness’.

For Uganda, therefore, it is not only the brighter lights beaming over the horizon. A highly industrialised, truly modern and transformed economy is beckoning.

Ms Namayanja Nsereko is the Minister of Information and National Guidance