The electric power monopoly of Ethiopia is always ready with an excuse for its failure to provide seamless connectivity to its growing number of customers. Its excuses vary from low voltage lines to theft and temporary damage. Yet, the reality is far detached from the rhetoric. If anything, waste is the base reality of the corporation.
The old maxim that says, “water is life” can be rectified a bit to include “electric power is also life”. This statement is more relevant in towns like Adama, where the water system functions by using electricity.
But, there are other relevant aspects that substantiate the statement. The contention can start by pondering what we really need in life that can function without electricity: almost nothing. It would be idle talk to ponder over such thoughts.
Early last week, it was reported that over 2,500 students had graduated from Arba Minch University at various levels of excellence. The very mention of the name Arba Minch University at a time when the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is still in high tide transmits a timely message of “Education for the sake of solving problems.” The centre for excellence in hydrology, metrology or other related courses makes more sense than any other field of study at this moment; in a time when Ethiopia is about to make the best of its electro-dollar resources.
Of course, the country is not limited to exploring only its hydropower. Geothermal, solar energy and wind power are also in operation. This combination is necessary, in order to realise the benefits of renewable sources of energy and to embark on the adherence of the objectives of the development of a green economy.
Creating conducive situations for the generation of renewable energy is a big leap towards the socio-economic development of the country. But, it is only one aspect of the endeavor.
Distributing the generated energy where it is needed, sustainably and at the right time, is another essential aspect. The basics to this aspect are the transmission and transforming systems.
One must also consider the electro mechanical aspects that start from the power houses where the turbines are installed and made to rotate. Experts in the field tell us that the acquisition process and evaluation of the technical competence ought to be assessed in line with international technical standards. This is in terms of satisfying the technical specifications, durability, compatibility with the existing systems and the quality of transmission lines and transformers.
These technical and complex acquisitions often provide leeway for corruption and malpractice, particularly in developing countries where there is little exposure to the competent preparation and evaluation of tender documents. Unfortunately, the impact of the poor performance of transmission equipment is usually sustained by the poor clients who have no means of voiding their complaints. Their only option is to request that the power monopolies rectify the shortages by reporting to one of the local radio stations or the public relations department of the corporations.
The boring reply is what every client already knows deep down. There is an overgrown tree with its branches contacting the transmission lines or the aging lines and their incompatibility with the growth in power demand.
In many cases, the complaints are thrown back in the face of clients. Never has there been a case where the corporation has admitted its weakness in the selection and purchase of its equipment.
But, truth always reveals itself. We are now learning that the Federal Ethics & Anti-Corruption Commission (FEACC) is casting its nets to catch the suspected fish, so to speak. A recent revelation involved the acquisition of electric equipment, where the tender was shrouded in the glittery papers of corruption and bureaucratic malpractices.
We can never be sure how genuine are government’s purchases and acquisitions in other public organisations are. Corrupt acquisitions are not only the causes for waste of capital, but also have an adverse socio-economic impact on the country.
Time and again, complaints have been placed by small scale industries – informal businesses, bars and restaurants – whose income depends entirely on the constant supply of electricity. In some arid zones where the temperature becomes unbearable, cold drinks and frozen medicines are inconceivable. Bartenders and other staff engaged in related business are rendered idle.
Under such circumstances, the monopoly replies the same rehearsed answers to any complaints raised. It is either the lines need some kind of repair or replacement or there is a fallen tree or stolen metal pole, which is the culprit.
Incidentally, I learnt with much surprise that one concrete pale costs 20,000 Br. I counted the concrete poles left on the ground besides the road next to Lazarist Mission and figured out that about 200,000 Br worth of poles have been lying for several years, covered by grass and other under growth.
It is technically possible to allow certain margin for error in planning, which may result in the excess of poles or shortages for that matter. Assuming that each pole line has on interval of 50m, 12 poles could cover a distance of at least 600m, which is long enough to permit some discrepancies in planning. Even then, the same manpower and truck could have taken it back to the respective warehouses.
With the number of Arba Minch University graduates rising each year, there could be a glimmer of hope in the not too distant future in realising earnest service that could bring the dream of economic integration between neighbouring nations in this part of Africa.
Perhaps, Ethiopia’s export of electricity to neighboring countries, like south Sudan and even Eritrea, could be one of the shortest and fastest ways to realising economic integration between African countries. This is a dream that could one day be realised.
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