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Ethiopian President apology for power outages: a gesture of taking responsibility

By Bereket Gebru
Tigrai Online Oct. 16, 2014

Media reports stated that while presenting his office’s ten-month performance report to the House of People’s Representatives in May, 2014, the Minister of Industry, Ahmed Abitew, stated that despite the extensive effort made to realize the ambitious plan of the Growth and Transformation (GTP) period, the performance of the manufacturing sector in the budget year was disappointing.

According to the minister, the reports went on to say, though it was planned to secure USD 825.05 million in the first 10 months of the budget year from the manufacturing sector, the actual performance registered only 324.3 million birr, which amounts to a mere 39.3 percent of the target.

Meanwhile, the ministry’s report recalled that the industrial sector was identified as one of the pillars of the GTP. According to the GTP, over USD 1.5 billion was expected from the manufacturing sector, mainly USD one billion from the textile sector, USD 49.5 million from the leather and hide sector and USD 320 million from the food, beverages and pharmaceuticals sectors.

The reports stated that the Minister cited a number of reasons for the poor performance of the sector, power cuts being one of them. “The frequent electric power cuts and fluctuations were mentioned as critical problems which have caused a serious challenge for the poor performance of the sector. According to the minister, in February a total of 204 cases of power cuts were registered among eight textile factories and as a result an estimated 106 working hours were wasted.”

Apart from wastage of production time, devastating impacts on electronic equipment that disrupt production and productivity occurred. The minister further indicated that although discussions have been conducted with the power company repeatedly, this has borne no fruit. He added that four leather factories around Modjo suffered similar problems related to power cuts.”

Although power cuts are not the only culprit cited in the poor performance of the industrial sector, the huge role they have played in it has been vividly represented by the above media report. Further investigation into the impact of power cuts and fluctuations across various economic sectors would easily corroborate the strain these technical inefficiencies have on the entire development of the country.

On an individual and community level, power cuts and fluctuations result in economic, health and security hazards. Besides rendering electrical equipments useless, power cuts and fluctuations considerably diminish the working hours of small businesses and individuals eroding their sustainability. With a considerable number of power cuts, small businesses find it hard to pay rent, salary of employees and expand their businesses. Individuals and families, on the other hand, would be subjected to additional energy and other costs as a result of power cuts. Power cuts also infringe on quality of life.   

Power cuts in health facilities can have minor to fatal health hazards. The use of electronic health machines is hampered by power cuts and fluctuations, making it harder for medical personnel to save lives. At individual level, alternative energy sources such as biomass or charcoal for cooking purposes could prove to be bad for health besides the environmental negative impact their promote.

Power cuts also pose security threats on both businesses and households as those with criminal intent find it easy to manipulate the situation. Besides using the dark, criminals find it easy to maneuver security breaches as electronic security materials would be out of use during power outages.

Considering power cuts and fluctuations are still an integral part of life in Ethiopia, businesses and individuals have been complaining about the situation. Accordingly,  

 President Dr. Mulatu Teshome

President Dr. Mulatu Teshome offered a public apology for the power cuts when he addressed a joint session of the two chambers of Parliament, the House of Peoples’ Representative (HPR) and the House of Federation (HoF), to open the new parliamentary session on October 6, 2014.

The President reportedly spoke of the institutional inefficiency of the Ethiopian Electric Service by stating: “… [the power interruption is] caused in part by maladministration in the institution due to pressure arising from increased demand in major cities in connection with rapid industrialization, change in urban way of life, as well as malfunction of power transmitting lines.”

In my opinion, the President’s criticism of the relevant government office and apology for the public was the right way of kicking the two houses of parliament. The main reason for me to say that is the fact that we are in the last fiscal year of the Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP).

As the final year of the GTP, the current fiscal year deserves an extra determination to get lagging sectors up to par. This year cannot be one of mediocre performance and attitude. When approaching the deadline, everyone should be vigilant enough to criticize and ensure timely repair of shortcomings let alone the head of state. His bold moves, in my opinion, are thus commendable.

Another reason for me to applaud his move has to do with the need to take more responsibility and building on the culture of creating dialogue with the public beyond propaganda. I think the public understands what is going on in the country in terms of witnessing the development leaps being registered.

The discontent at the power cuts is pronounced with the lack of open admission of responsibility on a governmental level. The fact that the government did not publicly admit the shortcomings served itself adversely as the public increasingly got frustrated over the lack of a gesture of understanding. The President’s apology to the public and the subsequent criticism of the responsible government office has, therefore, mended hard feelings and restored understanding between the public and the government.

Without proper measures of admitting responsibility and creating dialogue with the public, year round power interruptions could be taken as a sign of impunity in governmental offices. After all, for the power cuts to recur, somebody must be not doing their jobs right. Identifying the responsible body for the social content and taking corrective measures is, with no doubt, the right step to take for the government as it builds on its popular legitimacy.

The lack of communication on the part of the government also provides others with opposing rhetoric a chance to grab the attention of the public. The lack of admission of responsibility and explanation of the efforts being made to mitigate the problem on the side of the government create a venue for those with opposing rhetoric to provide the public with inaccurate information around which they build on their propaganda.

The President’s bold move to apologize to the public and direct criticism at the responsible government office has, therefore, restored the bridge of dialogue between the public and the government on the issue. In the absence of such a bridge a number of misunderstandings have been creeping up.

The most notable of such misunderstandings has been the rhetoric that the electric energy Ethiopia has been exporting to its neighbors is among the causes of the power cuts. Ethiopian Electric Service said on October 6, 2014 that Ethiopia has connected its power grid with Sudan, Kenya and Djibouti and is currently exporting 195 megawatts of electricity to Sudan (100MW), Djibouti (35MW) and Kenya (60MW).

Rooting itself in the argument that the energy produced in the country is short of current demands for electricity, despite the repeated notifications of the Ethiopian Electric Service telling the reality is otherwise, those with opposing rhetoric have spread the unfounded claim that the exported energy should have been used to cover domestic shortages.

In an interview held a month ago with the Reporter newspaper, Minister of Water, Irrigation and Energy, Alemayehu Tegenu stated that the country currently generates 2268 MW of electricity. He noted that the majority of it is coming from the hydro power plants to be followed by electricity from wind farms. In the interview, the Minister noted “the demand for electricity is steadily increasing but the energy that is currently being produced can meet the local demand.” He also stated that the current demand for electricity is 2000 MW.

The data from the highest authority in the country concern the matter clearly show that the 195 MW export to neighboring countries cannot disrupt electric power supply in Ethiopia. In fact, there are a few megawatts of energy left from the national production that can be used as a backup. The transmission and communication of these hard facts to the public would create a clear understanding of existing conditions narrowing the potential gap left for skeptics to exploit.

In addition to communicating the electric power generated in the country and the current demand in the country, publicizing the causes of the power cuts and the remedial actions being taken by the responsible government offices also enhance understanding.

In the above mentioned interview, the Minister noted that the energy utilization trend in the country is changing. In the face of the change in the lifestyle of the public and the rapidly growing demand for electric energy, he argued, most of the existing power substations, electric distribution lines and network are old. The result, he explained is overloaded transmission lines that are unable to accommodate the ever increasing electric flow. 

To further clarify the effect of overloaded transmission lines, Minister Alemayehu Tegenu used a road metaphor.


“If you take a road, it has a certain capacity of traffic accommodation. If the traffic flow is increasing substantially there will be a traffic jam. The mobility on the road will decline. To ease the traffic jam you need to build a new road line the Addis Ababa ring road or shortcuts. Likewise, when the electric distribution lines are congested you need to find a way to vent off the surplus. You have to ease the power congestion.”

After depicting a clear picture of why the power cuts are happening rampantly, the Minister went on to the remedial action plans of the relevant governmental office. He explained that the power cut mitigation project is divided into three categories – short term, mid term and long term.

The short term plan, he stated, is to provide instant solution in trying to avoid congestion of the distribution lines. Accordingly, he explained that supportive electric transformers were being installed as aging networks were also being replaced. He also noted that they were trying to avoid connections between electric lines and trees.

The mid term plan, he explained, included upgrading the power substations. He said that they were building new substations and cited the new Akaki and Legetafo substations as instances. Upgrading the substations all over the country, he further stated, make up the long term plan.

As has been the case all along, issues such as frequent power interruptions have a tendency of becoming incorporated into individual and social dialogue. Not participating in that dialogue, especially by as big an entity as a government, would render the latter’s marginalization. Therefore, the bold move by President Dr. Mulatu Teshome to acknowledge the problem, apologize for the shortcomings to the public and criticize the responsible authorities was just what was needed for the government to assume its rightful place in the social discussion.

Soon power outages will be history in Ethiopia.

The Gilgel Gibe III mega project is 87% completed now. When the project is completed and fully operational it will produce 1870 Megawatts of electricity and that would greatly help the power shortage the country is experiencing this days.

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