UPDATE: 9 August 2009:
Kenya Power & Lighting Company has increased the number of days Kenyans will go without power from two days a week to three. The company is considering extending the rationing period to include Sundays, as power production continues to fall.
The planned power rationing programme introduced in Kenya will lead to the collapse of an economy still ravaged by ethnic and political conflict. A decline in the economy will worsen rampant unemployment leading to intensified criminal activity.
As predicted by many but denied by the government until its subdued admission yesterday, Kenya is to be plunged into darkness by an electricity rationing programme.
Most parts of the country will be disconnected from power during the day in order to supply the capital city and manufacturing industry, according to Energy Minister Kiraitu Murungi.
The official line is that a severe drought has reduced the flow of rivers into hydroelectric power stations along the River Tana. In truth, years of neglect, mismanagement of the energy sector and corruption are to blame for the current mess.
Chronic incompetence by political appointees to the two state-owned electricity firms has largely contributed to the power cuts. The Kenya Electricity Generating Company (Kengen) is unable to satisfy rising demand from industry and homes. Meanwhile, the Kenya Power and Lighting Company spends more money on administration than it does on upgrading plant and machinery. Drought should not hinder power production as the current dry spell was predicted at least a year ago.
There are fears that power rationing will add to the already severe outages to make matters very difficult for Kenya’s fledgling industry. After the previous power rationing programme in the years 1999 -2000, the economy went through three successive years of negative growth which ended in 2003. It marked the first economic contraction in Kenya’s colonial and post colonial history. From the look of things, a similar scenario is about to replay itself.
Kenyan industry already faces very high energy prices compared to competitors in Egypt, South Africa, India and China. Power cuts will drive many out of business, if the experience a decade ago is anything to go by. Companies will simply not be able to fulfil their orders, resulting in closures and layoffs. In the year 2000, for example, giant biscuit maker House of Manji went bankrupt after it was unable to deliver on a multi-million pasta contract to an international aid agency. The company had taken a loan to fulfil the order but was unable to repay since it could not manufacture the product. Power rationing was largely to blame. The company has since been revived but it is unlikely to recapture its former glory.
In his announcement yesterday, Minister for Energy Kiraitu Murungi said that Nairobi’s Central Business District will be spared the power cuts. However, the government seems to be running on an outdated principle that the suburbs are sleeping quarters for people working in the city during the day. This may have been the case twenty years ago but, today, business worth billions of shillings is taking place in the suburbs. Without electricity, small and informal business will suffer massively with major social and economic effects on society.
Cybercafes, metal workshops, secretarial bureaus, hair and beauty shops, supermarkets, schools, motor vehicle garages, hospitals as well as offices need electricity to function. Without electricity, economic activity will cease. Though some enterprises can afford generators, it will be expensive to run oil-powered generators for upto 12 hours a day. Like the case of House of Manji ten years ago, entrepreneurs who are servicing bank loans will not keep up with payments and there will be increased bankruptcies in the next one year.
All in all, layoffs and bankruptcies can only mean millions of people on the streets without a livelihood. There will be more crime, more demonstrations, more hawking and more instability. Aware that power rationing will worsen already worrying crime levels, Kiraitu announced that there will be no power cuts at night.
He also said that police stations will be spared the power cuts but did not elaborate the technical and moral challenges of supplying electricity to the security services while everybody else is in darkness. How will such a directive be enforced in small rural towns that are supplied with power by a single line hundreds of kilometres from the national power grid? Will the government build a separate power grid for police stations?
Experience from last time indicates that power rationing usually lasts longer than advertised. Therefore, places that are supposed to be in the dark for 6 hours will suffer power cuts of 8 hours and more. Indeed, in the year 2000, the situation was so bad that 24 hour power rationing became the norm. Kenyans are hoping that, this time, they do not undergo similar suffering.