There's a title.
Electricity is a crazy commodity in Tanzania. The demand for electricity is significantly larger than generation capacity. That means regular power outages. On a normal day power outages are common, but in recent time they are even more persistent and lengthy. It impacts most aspects of every day life in Tanzania. You have no electricity at home, no electricity at work, traffic gets even worse due to there being no signals operating, no outdoor lighting, and if you are in the middle of a surgical procedure and the power goes out, well... pole sana (very sorry). What's happening?
In a word, corruption. Tanzania Electric Supply Co. (TANESCO), a parastatal organization, and the Ministry of Energy and Minerals seem to be much more interested in lining pockets than actually increasing electric supply. This is hardly unique in a country that is ranked fairly high on the corruption scale. However, the magnitude of corruption that has come to light in recent weeks has gotten a population pretty inured to its existence really pissed off. This includes students, as they watch billions of schillings wasted while their per diems are threatened. The per diems are a miniscule amount of money students live on. Without some support, higher education would be impossible for most people.
The story is a touch confusing and I've had to go to several sources to put it together, which I confess may not be exactly correct, but as far as I can ascertain, is close. The government entered into a contract with Richmond Development Company in Houston to build emergency generating capacity in the country during a particularly dry 2006 when hydroelectric generation dipped precariously low. Despite receiving US$152,000 per day, the company failed to increase electrical supply before rains returned some months later. The Richmond contract was recommended to be terminated for non-performance, but the Prime Minister advised the government to extend the deal, and it was. This was despite the fact that Richmond had sold the contract to another firm, Dowans Holdings. The smell emanating from this deal led the Speaker of the Bunge (parliament) to put together a committee to investigate (refreshing). They found that Dowans Holdings had no capacity to carry out the terms of the contract and was effectively a shell company with no registration in the USA or Tanzania. The origin of Dowans was traced to Costa Rica, where it was listed as having US$100 in capital. It is rather hard to explain how a company in Houston sells a large contract to a company in Costa Rica with $100 in capital.
The Prime Minister, the Minister of Energy and Minerals, and the Minister for East African Cooperation, all implicated, resigned. The services of Dowans Holdings were 'decommissioned.' The transfer of the contract from Richmond to Dowans was deemed illegal.
End of story? Nope. Lawsuits were filed, of course. The finding in January was that the government of Tanzania owes Dowans Holdings Tsh 92 billion for breach of contract, and the current Minister of Energy and Minerals has accepted that this payment be made. However, Tanzania doesn't have a spare Tsh 92 billion floating around, and the settlement will incur interest at 7.5% (a cool US$390,000 per month). Increases in electric rates are contemplated, which might actually be darkly humorous due to the lack of electricity if it were not so serious. In addition, there is another payment of Tsh 75 million to Richmond for defamation.
Meanwhile, the country is severely short of electricity and the topic is certainly on people's minds. Students are protesting and going on strike, noting that the government can somehow pay a shell company billions, while they are threatened with cuts in per diems that are already impossible to live on (photo is of riot police outside my office window at the university taken surreptitiously with my iPhone). It will be interesting to see what happens in coming days. In the meantime, fire up the generator if you are fortunate to have one and try to avoid the heightened craziness of dense traffic trying to get through intersections without a light. Oh - and be sure the operating theatre has back-up power before you're put under.