By Warom Felix
West Nile. As the cock crows in the morning, Stella Akikoli, 33 a business woman in a rural Arua, wakes up to get to the wholesale shop, to buy crates of sodas, mineral water.
After purchasing the crates of soda and mineral water she puts them in the fridge to cool. After, she then starts packing boiled water in a white kaveras which she sells at Shs 100 each. She makes sure the water is cold.
Those returning from work in the gardens, boda –boda men and those passing to the market buy the cold water in the white Kavera have to quench their thirst. Indeed, water is life.
She then waits patiently for the sunset which then ushers in darkness and she prepares her sweater to stay in her kiosk in the cold nights till 10 or 11 pm as her customers sip sodas and other cold drinks sitting in groups telling their stories.
Akikoli with her fridge in her shop. All Photos by Warom Felix
And she then switches on her radio, which she clouts using the electricity to provide soothing Lingala music and slow music. The customers mainly prefer to have cold drinks to warm ones, all courtesy of having electricity in the backyard.
As Akikoli grew up from childhood, she says in the past decades, many rural poor communities never thought of having cold drinks from fridges where electricity was a luxury. Before connected to West Nile Rural Electrification grid, she was using solar power, but could not work for fridges. She has not abandoned the solar.
But this is now by-gone with the rural electrification and use of solar in the rural trading centers across the West Nile region.
Electricity supply was principally confined in urban settings where the rich and middle income people relished cold drinks during their leisure. Now the trend of having cold soda or beers and ice cream is common in most rural areas now-no more monopoly for the rich.
“I have come to realize that electricity is something that people cannot live without in the modern day. Without it, life will be so much difficult and slow. I have been able to increase on my customers who like taking cold sodas or water both during day and evening. Actually I did not but the fridges, they were brought to me by Coca-Cola and Pepsi Companies because I was connected to electricity,” she said.
She says in a day she could sell 20 bottles of soda which she sells at Shs 1000 a bottle. She is also able to charge phones at Shs 500 which has helped boost her business. In the shop, Akikoli has two fridges and she had plans to invest in the fridges because people’s taste had shifted from warm to cold drinks.
With the globalisation many people in rural areas are getting connected to solar power to charge their phones, connect to televisions, use the electricity to connect to fridges which has made access to power has become a strong demand.
A Wenreco technician connecting power in Arua town.
In the evenings, men and women sit together in their room, with neighbours children as they watch television programs in the rural areas compared to the past where television was unheard off except radios.
The use of solar or the expensive use of generators for videos and watching premiership, African soccer on Televisions in trading centers has created economic opportunities for many who are now in dire need of reliable electricity. The ice cream business that is popular among the children and women that was largely in town is now in some of the rural areas.
Mr John Atiku, a small scale businessman who owns a kiosk in Katrini trading center in Arua, said: “People here always ask for cold soda or beers and if it is not there, people rarely buy. They go to the neighbor who cold drinks. Yet in the past, people used to take warm soda or beer because there was no electricity in our area. This has forced several businessmen to have electricity connected to their kiosks and buy fridges.”
Electricity has led to boost household income, live modern life with television, helped the students and pupils study at night without use of the lamps or candles that provides insufficient power and most of all the regular use of Tadomas that radiates dangerous smoke for the eyes.
Jennifer Apio, a student in Pawong village in Nebbi, found that studies in the past with a kerosene lamp were a nightmare. But this has become history with the connections her parents made at the beginning of this year.
“At first we had solar which served well but gets problematic during rainy season. But now life has changed with the electricity connection from Nyagak. I can wake up even late at night and just switch on and study till the time I want to rest. We can even now watch Television, something which was mainly with people connected to power in urban centers,” she said.
But this may remain a myth as many remain unconnected to the rural electrification due to high costs, poor housing conditions as many live in mud and wattle houses with few permanent houses which are situated mainly in the trading centres.
One of those, whose house remains unconnected though electric poles passed near his grass thatched houses, Peter Ocan, said: “I cannot afford permanent houses and cannot even connect electricity because of the costs. I need to pay fees, medical bills & feeding. So am just watching these poles pass near my home as electricity is connected to those who can afford.”
The lack of electricity means that people live without light or the basic household appliances that other people use on a daily basis. Small scale businesses were unable to take off, and outside investments that could create jobs are unlikely in the absence of a reliable power supply.
Customers buying some of the cold water being sold at the roadside from Savior water plant in Arua town.
As the plan is rolled out, the electricity will bring the potential to transform life in rural in the region. Students will be able to study in the evening, local clinics can provide better services, shops can stay open late, and new local industries and enterprises will have a chance to thrive.
This is aimed at Rural Electrification Strategy (RESP) for 2013 to 2022. According to the announcement by the Minister for ICT and National Guidance, Frank Tumwebaze, the loan will finance power distribution and off-grid solutions to achieve rural electrification in Gulu, Lira, Nebbi, Arua, Kole, Nwoya and Oyam districts.
It is principally the deprived who depend on high-cost and less-efficient alternatives to grid electricity, such as candles and kerosene, to provide lighting.
The electricity is provided by West Nile Rural Electrification Company in Nebbi, Zombo, Arua, Koboko and Yumbe districts.
Electricity is used not only for lighting and household purposes, but it also allows for modernization of many farming operations like milking, and hoisting grain for storage.
According to the government’s Rural Electrification Strategy and Plan 2013–2022, less than five per cent of Uganda’s rural population is connected to hydroelectricity.
People are not able not only to enjoy cold drinks or have ice cream but some people have ability to harness electricity in embracing technology, improved health care, education, the dissemination of information and business.
Recently, the State minister for Energy, Eng Simon D’ujanga, said provision of electricity to many areas is affected by loans that the government borrows. D’ujanga said due to the high cost levied on construction of electricity power dams in the country through loans from international banks, the tariffs have not been stable for the consumers making it high.
A man pushes a motorcyclist as he heads to his shop with crates of soda and beers and other items in Nebbi.
Under the project, at least 350 kilometers of 33kV transmission lines and a total of 210km of Low Voltage lines have been constructed. WENRECo will also put up a total of 150 distribution transformers to serve its new customers.
Today, WENRECO, which is a subsidiary of Industrial Promotions Services Uganda serves up to 4,000 customers with power from the newly constructed Nyagak Power dam. The addition of 2,500 new customers to the West Nile grid will increase the number customers served the company to 6,500 customers.
The Regional Manager, Mr John Kinungi, said works on three major transmission lines have been done with construction of a transmission line from Nyagak –Nyapea- Zeu- Zombo to Vurra Custom border town. “This section will give an added alternative power evacuation route to Arua and beyond should we have a fault on the existing Paidha-Nebbi- Bondo- Arua power line,” he said.
The second will be the Arua-Koboko transmission line through Nyadri (Maracha District headquarters) with benefits to trading Centers along the route especially Maracha Mission Hospital. “This should lead to an improvement in the quality of lives. The same line will also be extended to Yumbe town with a T–off to Oraba on the border with Southern Sudan. The third will be the Nebbi- Pakwach line with benefits to trading centers (promoting commercial start-ups) and branching to Panyimur, Parombo-Angaba areas,” he said.
The official from Rural Electrification Agency (REA), Mr Merdard Muhangi, said during the launch that there is need for local leaders to encourage and mobilize he community to apply for the connection through WENRECO in order to have access to electricity power.
He said with the launch of the project, government would assist the community to have access to power by connected them with power from the main poles in to their house hold free of charge and encourage them to take up the advantage of being connected.
In addition, late 20th century technology, including cellphones and the Internet, were direct results of the development of electricity.
A lady charging a phone using solar power in Angal village in Nebbi district.
The arrival of electric light can change the meaning of the places. Electric light brings with it a fundamental impact on the distinction between day and night. Instead of depending on the natural cycles of sun and moon, daily activities can be performed also during evenings.
The Evolution of electricity
In 1990s, few people were supplied with power by Uganda Electricity Board (UEB). The supply was mainly for four hours from the generators and the hospitals like Nebbi and Arua were given priority of electricity supply. Domestic and commercial users chiefly depended on generators which were inefficient and expensive to maintain. The rural people had to buy candles, kadomas or hurricane lamps.
Then in 2003, Wenreco signed a 20 year concession to provide electricity in West Nile and started construction of Nyagak power dam.