A Sit-In for Electricity
When I joined REACH on February 22, 2016, there was no power at Arlington Junior School, staff quarters and the guesthouse. The transformer that was serving our community had blown due to overloading by illegal power connectors (we call them “power thieves”). Several attempts had been made by the local businesses and community to have the transformer replaced with a new one, but these were futile. One of the main reasons for this failure was because of the poor working relationship between UMEME (the power company) and the community. One time, UMEME officials attempted to remove the faulty transformer for a replacement but was met great resistance from the community (including a beating almost resulting in death). Since then UMEME officials swore never to have the power restored to our community.
Because of high costs of fuel for running the generator 24/7 at REACH facilities, AJS, Beatrice Tierney Health Clinic, guesthouse and the general inconveniences caused to the REACH community, I decided to take the initiative to have the power service restored to community, including REACH.
The reasons for this initiative were:
- REACH is a bona fide and loyal customer to UMEME and not illegal connector.
- REACH was the biggest UMEME customer in the area.
- UMEME is under the responsibility of providing and protecting power to its loyal customers.
- REACH has a right to demand for a fair service.
- REACH was a victim of circumstance because of the poor behavior of the community.
My first step was call the UMEME toll free line to log an official complaint.
The second step was to visit the UMEME offices in Mbale to follow up on the complaint. While at the UMEME offices, I met the maintenance and installation engineer and station manager. They told me that they would not remove the faulty transformer for replacement because the community had been so violent with the staff, and they feared for their safety. While they sympathized with REACH as a loyal customer, they wanted security for their staff members while on duty. Based on their previous nasty experience, the UMEME official required the following conditions to be fulfilled:
- They demanded for a consultation with the local community leaders to agree and have a MoU with minutes of the meeting duly signed by the local council.
- All potential customers needed to have their buildings properly wired and inspected by the approved authorities.
- At least 30 new customers needed to officially apply and be connected to the National power grid and make payment.
- A committee to be constituted to protect and provide security for electricity from illegal connectors.
- To hold consultative meetings for future relationship and management of power supply in the area.
- UMEME to write to their headquarters to request for a new transformer for replacement.
Having done all the above, a new two-phase transformer was brought in December 2016 and expected to be connected soon after. This did not happen. More visits and promises were made to UMEME, but there as no ultimate solution.
In February 2017, I decided enough was enough! I carried my lap top to the UMEME offices, and I said “Since you are the only ones who think you need power, I am going to move my office here.” I sat down on the floor, pulled out my laptop and started working despite pleas from the staff and management to sit on a chair. I refused until they called an emergency meeting to send a technical team to the community to have the power restored. After calling REACH to confirmed there was indeed power, I packed my laptop, thanked them, and returned to REACH!