As electricity power supply reaches the rural areas of eastern Uganda for the first time, scores of peasant villagers are being electrocuted as they try to illegally electrify their homes.
By Joseph Elunya, Mbale
The government of Uganda is currently extending the hydro-electricity power supply to rural areas in the countryside under a rural electrification programme that is being funded by the World Bank.
The project has caused both joy and misery among villagers who have taken it upon themselves to connect the power direct from the main grid into their farm houses.
“People here are very excited of the power and as a result they have connected it to their homes in order to benefit from the ‘Bona Bagagawale’ programme [‘Prosperity For All’] that the big man [President Yoweri Museveni ] is always preaching about,” says George Masette, a peasant farmer from Mabonga village in Bunghoko sub-county.
“They feel that if they have power in their mud-and-wattle houses then their standard of living has also changed.” All one needs is a hook and some aluminum cable. “And then you can start enjoying free electricity,” says Masette with a big smile on his face.
Massette admits the practice is dangerous as he knows several people who have been electrocuted. “Someone was electrocuted from that house over there when she stepped on a live wire while digging in the garden. She was buried secretly by her relatives because of fear of retribution from the local authorities.”
David Nabende, a resident of Nasasa village in Bumbobi sub-county, says villagers are forced to make illegal connections because of the high costs of electricity – and temptation. “As much as government advocated for rural electrification, the tariffs are too high, which has deprived us of the chance of having power in our homes. But we also can’t just see wires passing through our gardens [and do nothing with, ed.], so we tap it by any means possible,” says Nabende, who is also fully aware that the practice is dangerous as he recently lost a neighbour to electrocution.
Diana Nandaula, spokesman of the Eastern Uganda Police, says: “We recorded ten cases of people who were fatally electrocuted in Mbale and Manafwa. But this number could be higher because most people are secretly buried for fear of the authorities.” The Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA) says they are working with the police to curb the practice.