By Sam Stewart Mutabazi
Have you ever lived in a community especially a village where when it gets dark, the whole place is ghostly because there is total darkness both within the house and outside? Then you understand the highest levels of poverty that is still being experienced in most parts of Uganda. Some forms of poverty are bearable but others are a real pain. Lack of lighting in the village may not be the biggest problem of Uganda at this time, but is one of those small issues government could solve in a short period of time using the least resources in form of money and time. Its all about setting priorities right.
As a country, we need affordable, reliable and long lasting solar lighting for the people for presently, what is being imported is substandard and hardly works. There is a lot of solar implements that are being imported into the country mainly manufactured in China that have found their easy way into the Ugandan market. For the reason that people are desperate to find a quick lighting solution, they go ahead to buy such equipment which ends up not functioning at all. Most of it cannot function for more than two months. To make matters worse it lights for a very short time and gives out very weedy lighting.
China is thriving at our expense. They claim to be solving our problem but in actual sense they are taking our money and leaving us in darkness. Even when many people are buying solar, most of the country remains in darkness at night because the gadgets often malfunction soon after installation. The solar panels are weak and give way after a very short time. The batteries which are supposed to save the energy cannot preserve enough power for long, the wires are very soft and can break at the slightest twist while the bulbs give ethereal light instead of bright dainty. There a few well functioning equipment in Uganda today and these are mostly imported from Europe. Unfortunately they are very costly and not affordable to an average Ugandan.
Solar lighting is needed in Uganda in both towns and villages as load-shading is still rampant. Darkness promotes criminality including theft and other forms of lawlessness. Studies and common sense show that areas that are well lit at night register very low levels of crimes compared to those that are very dark at night.
You do not understand poverty if you have never lived in a village without light at night, let alone energy for cooking. It’s the highest form if poverty. It deprives the home of peace and tranquility. It makes communities vulnerable. Such regions are not productive at all. Instead they resort to all forms of myths that are associated with darkness including sorcery, witchcraft, necromancy, bewitchment etc.
We recognize that connecting the entire country on the national grid may not be attainable in the short run since it’s costly and requires enormous investment in terms of infrastructure and power production itself. As a stop-gap measure, solar energy and specifically for lighting would be a good solution for the time being as the country readies itself to supply electricity to all corners of the republic.
We recommend that government must get directly involved in the importation and distribution of solar for lighting homes. It should not abdicate its role of quality control to the private sector moreover without putting in place checks and balances about type of solar materials imported. Government through the National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) must ensure that only high quality solar materials are imported into the country. It ought to further get in touch with the Chinese government and manufacturers to inform them that all solar equipment destined for the Ugandan market shall be subjected to the highest levels of scrutiny to certify that they are of acceptable standards and shall be able to stand a test of time. Government must thus, forthwith prohibit the importation of cheap, junk and bogus solar systems that have flooded the Ugandan market for long. With this measure, the country will save a lot of money but will also guarantee communities to enjoy better solar units that are capable of providing the much needed lighting in the villages the entire night and possibly years.