It’s no secret that for all of Africa, the struggles of daily life are far reaching and varied. From hunger and poverty spring desperation and complacency, and it should come as no surprise that Tanzania, despite being free from war, and mostly free from starvation and hunger, has its set of problems that face normal Tanzanians every day. Right now, what plagues my daily life is an ongoing issue for the country and one that isn’t going to go away overnight, far from it, it’s the night that brings the problem home to us.
I refer to a recent announcement by TANESCO (Tanzania Electricity Supply Company), the state-owned body that oversees the distribution and generation of power throughout Tanzania, that on the 19th May, for 8 consecutive days, there will be 15 hours a day of what is being called “power rationing” but what will undoubtedly go down in most people’s minds as another blow to an already struggling economy and a kick in the teeth to normal people trying to live in the 21st century. For all its haphazard and maddening guidelines and unspoken rules, the daily existence for most people here is a peaceful and calm one, filled with joy and laughter, friendly bartering and jovial conversation. From the market days in towns like Marangu where I live, to the bustling city centre of places like Arusha and Dar Es Salaam, this once sufficient lifestyle has been ever more infringed by the draws of the western world and probably the biggest factor in this is the availability of technology and services and the supply of electricity for its use. Although having power sockets in the house is not as widespread as in Europe (can you think of anyone who doesn’t have electricity?) it is becoming a part of the way things are here, and more businesses and ordinary people rely on it for their wellbeing than ever before. It’s a misconception that Tanzania’s supply comes wholly from hydroelectricity, far from it. Recent announcements by TANESCO have alleged that a low level of water in the dams can be to blame for the irregular supply, despite the recent abundant rains, but the problems go much deeper than that. When confronted with the fact that around 50% of all the supply to the country comes from gas-electric conversion taken place in generation plants around the country, it’s a bitter pill to swallow, and one that Tanzanians are quite frankly sick of having to do so.
It’s easy for me to concentrate on the low level exploits of the average citizen here, because that’s exactly what I am, but when looking just a little beyond the immediate surroundings it’s difficult to see how this can be taken any other way other than a slap in the face for all those trying to succeed in the world, particularly the very people that Tanzania relies upon for its economy to grow. Manufacturing accounts for nearly 20% of Tanzania’s GDP and around half of that comes from SME (Small to Medium sized Enterprises) which are on-demand manufacturers who’s prices are likely to skyrocket if they have to use generators or other alternatives to provide their power. 15 hours a day for 8 days represents a full 2% of working hours of an entire year. The knock on effects of this are far greater however, with some businesses unable to pay their employees throughout this type of downtime, and others which will undoubtedly have to run 24 hour shifts in the weeks running up to this, for very little if any extra pay for their workers. Less income coupled with lower production will result in higher prices for most consumers and some say that the total effect on the economy could be as much as 8% for the year, from this single week’s outage alone.
This is not the first time TANESCO have announced such measures, nor indeed that these types of outages have happened pre announced or not. Most of us here are quite used to spending an hour or so a day sat waiting for the electricity to return, sometimes in vain. It’s true that the dependence on power is a somewhat tricky situation to sell when there are people unemployed and others who barely have enough to feed themselves, but as part of an ongoing movement towards globalisation, a country like Tanzania cannot afford these outages anymore. With the proliferation of outsourcing and foreign investment dwindling as a result of inefficiencies in the country’s infrastructure, it’s no surprise that our neighbours to the north win the game in standing up for themselves in the world, a game that Tanzania deserves a shot at some time soon.