Ignorance is very good for dictators

Apparently that’s an oft-quoted phrase from an unnamed Ugandan politician.

The phrase stuck in my head all day for what was my first shift at Gulu’s Mega FM. It was employed by a local to describe the practices of Umeme, Uganda’s newly privatized energy company.

Florence Acaye on being accused by Umeme of meter tampering by marcellison

Umeme stands accused by Gulu businessmen and –women of corruption, doling out bogus fines for meter tampering, inconsistent bills and for the poor maintenance of its infrastructure that’s led to increasing blackouts in the town.

Hotel owner Francis Mawa stated that the company’s taking advantage of people’s ignorance.

Mawa’s business has been without power for three days since he refused to pay three million shillings for tampering with his meter – something he’s adamant he didn’t do.

Since then he’s been unable to pay his staff, make payments on his business loan and a number of his guests have left.

Robert Okot is another local businessman who owns a welding business. He says that the wildly fluctuating bills and unjustified fines are “eating people.”

“When the bills come – they’re responsible,” said Okot. “ But when there’s no power – they’re not responsible.”

All the businessmen want a pre-paid system like those in Rwanda and South Africa.

But Umeme Billing Director, Daniel Babiregy, says that such a system is only just being implemented in Kampala on a trial run basis.

“Such a system won’t exist in more remote regions like Gulu for at least five years,” Babiregy said.