Study topics by scholars could immensely impact communities

What you need to know:

According to an abstract, now on the Makerere University Institutional Repository website, 68 percent of the electricity users in Kampala are unconcerned about power theft

The esteemed Daily Monitor  on Wednesday May 25 2022 carried a story titled ‘What Makerere PhD graduands researched on’.

Congratulations to the scholars!

My attention, though, was drawn to Ruth Mbabazi–Mutebi from the College of Computing and Information Sciences.

Her topic of study, ‘Towards a Persuasive Technology for electricity theft in Uganda’, is of immense value to the electricity supply industry.

According to an abstract, now on the Makerere University Institutional Repository website, 68 percent of the electricity users in Kampala are unconcerned about power theft.

This is scary because as the scholar noted, electricity theft leads to the loss of lives and property.

Additionally, each percentage energy loss is equivalent to $5 million (Shs18 billion at today’s rates), money utilities could have reinvested expanding the grids, and making them more reliable and connecting more potential users.

During the study, when the researcher asked the interviewees ‘what would you do if you found your neighbour stealing electricity’? Many responded that it is the utility’s job to fight theft while a number said they empathised with the suspected thieves’ financial struggles.

Other responses were that if the stolen electricity would not endanger third parties then there was no need to be concerned yet others said they did not know either what to do, where to report, or the reward for reporting.

Equally telling, were the findings that many did not want to make enemies in their neighbourhoods and others believed that if they reported their neighbours, the latter would reciprocate.

Likewise, many said they were not aware of the benefits of reducing electricity theft while another group said it was useless to act on the information.

Dr Mbabazi–Mutebi’s study comes at a time when the electricity sector is grappling with high energy losses, currently at 18 percent, up from 16 percent in 2019 largely because of theft.

To answer those who say it is not their job to fight power theft, here is how they are affected and should be bothered.

If a utility puts up a transformer for 20,000 users but an extra 1,600 people illegally tap power from the same, the latter will overwhelmingly strain the transformer.

The 20,000 registered customers are likely to start experiencing voltage fluctuations as the illegal users plug in and off.

Now and then, some people are complaining about their consumers electronics being fried. Illegal users are partly to blame.

To those who think tangles of illegal power lines are safe, there is wisdom in the phrase it is better to err on the side of caution.

As to not knowing where to report, the power utilities can be reached easily via Twitter – be it through direct mail (for privacy) and through tweets on their handles.

Same on WhatsApp and Instagram – for those who have photographs to share. Many are considering presence on TikTok for the videos now that many youngsters, who constitute a large chunk of the population, consider YouTube ‘vintage’.

To respond to the question about rewarding those who report power thieves, one could read an anecdote on the United Nations University.

According to the narration, to control the number of cobras in India, the British Colonial Government offered payment to anyone who presented a dead cobra.

As a result, people killed many cobras. However, their population is starting to rise again.

One explanation offered is that people realised there was money to be made if there were many cobras.

In that line, they started breeding them so that whenever they needed easy money, they would kill a few of the many and presented those to the colonial administrators to get the money.

To sum up, there is a convergence of minds between Dr Mbabazi–Mutebi and the energy sector including Umeme on tailoring by localisation and data visualisation of figures on non-technical losses and sharing via smart phones and during community outreaches.

The role of these scholars in choosing their line of research has great power in changing communities for better or otherwise.                                                                   

Nelson Wesonga , Umeme Ltd


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