MUNYAGA: Electricity supply is fundamental human right

MUNYAGA: Electricity supply is fundamental human right

By Mboneko Munyaga; East African News Agency

About a fortnight ago, much of Dar es Salaam was thrown to lengthy blackouts due to what the Tanzania Electrical Supply Company (TANESCO) said was switching part of the national grid to gas turbine generated electricity.

With due respect, the public were warned in advance to expect power rationing because of the exercise.

Indeed, Tanzanians are no strangers to blackouts, blamed largely on inadequate power supply relative to demand, especially when water falls to precarious levels in hydropower dams, which is usually in the dry season or during prolonged spells of drought.

Granted, electricity in Tanzania reaches only a fraction of the population but is relied upon almost by one hundred per cent where it does.

So, such is the crisis and tragedy when blackouts strike whether due to natural phenomenon or flaps in operating procedures, transmission and maintenance systems.

It is my take, therefore, that electric supply is no longer luxury but a fundamental human right that the people should never go without.

A most disturbing feature of the blackouts in Tanzania is that the people are never given updates on progress. In the recent example for instance, people were told to expect power outage lasting up to 12 hours. But what happened was different.

Parts of Temeke district went without electricity for more than 36 hours! TANESCO officials and management never witness the ensuing chaos but let me try to show them here what happened recently at the domestic level.

As a result of going without power for more than 36 hours, some homes could not prepare their meals due to lack of water.

Whatever food reserves they had in refrigerators went bad, compounding their plight even further. Other residents failed to report for duty because they had no clean clothes any more.

Now those are kind of issues that more affluent communities, including other parts of Dar es Salaam can laugh at. That is understandable. Sadly, power rationing tends also to take a demographic pattern.

The more upmarket areas of Masaki and Msasani are never quite as impacted as the end-of-the-line communities of Temeke and elsewhere.

In the upmarket areas, power is usually returned according to strict adherence to the rationing schedule, something that is often ignored in inferior consumption areas.

That adds another dimension to electric supply as a class issue in cities like Dar es Salaam, perhaps generated unconsciously by the imperatives of managing power supply at a time of crippling outage, which is no less anyway, discriminatory in nature!

What should be done then? I think society needs to rise to a new level of awareness regarding demand and supply of electricity as a scarce resource and fundamental human right. I know the challenges are daunting but that is exactly why society has professionals running those utility services.

It should be made a legal requirement for TANESCO to publish periodically the expected demand and supply of electricity and the measures being taken to bridge the shortfalls.

As matters stand, TANESCO operates without public scrutiny but society is expected to stand by the company when crises strike. Indeed, there are what could be seen and termed as unavoidable circumstances but others are not.

I stand to be corrected but I believe alternative lines could have been provided as the company switched to gas turbines because there was no shortfall in power generation only that management resorted to a surgical procedure – shutting down the national grid.

Finally, whenever there is a blackout, downtown Dar es Salaam especially, becomes a primitive farm of purring and noxious gas spewing generators. It is a plausible stopgap measure but the authorities, I believe, have never stopped to weigh the up-and-coming economic and health catastrophe.

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