Just thought I would let you know I find your blog very interesting. I’ve spent most of my life in Tanzania (all though I now live in Australia) and it’s really interesting seeing your views on life over there. I just got back from a holiday over there… my parents still live in Dar and your last post about the power being on for 24 hours was interesting, the power cuts were the most frustrating thing about being home this time was the power cuts as we live on the 7th floor of a building that side of things has been getting far worse rather than better over the nearly 20 years we have been living there.

Thanks for reading!  That’s an interesting journey — we lived in Melbourne when I was young and loved Australia.

We looked at one apartment on a seventh floor and decided not to do it because we figured the elevator would be out too much of the time.  It would be particularly tough to live in a high-rise in this town.

I think the power cuts have been getting worse — there have been daily articles about it this summer in the papers.  But it’s hard to tell if the politicians are just looking to gain some popularity from it or actually do something about it.  I found it interesting that when we went out of Dar last weekend to Kilwa, we didn’t see any power problems the entire weekend.  I wonder how much it is a problem for Dar and Zanzibar.

Did you go to IST when you lived here?  Our sons are in school there now.

Cheers,

Brent

The Power Has Been On For, Like, 24 Hours Straight and It’s Creeping Me Out

Seriously.  We keep waiting for the other shoe to drop.  It’s not a question of “if” the power will go out, it’s a question of “when”.  And the more troubling question is: what deprivations will our section of the city have to go through for having the luxury of 24 hours of grid-supplied power?

For the past couple of months, we either get power from the grid during the day or at night, but not both.  Or sometimes it turns on and off randomly through the day in different parts of the city.  Colleen said that it turned on and off at her office six times on Friday. The government power company, Tanesco,  has an online tool that lets you look up “planned” outages, but it doesn’t seem to work.  Any date or time you put in there return no results.  (Perhaps another explanation is that all the outages are “unplanned”, but that seems like too big a fib for even them.)

When I was 24 and travelling around Central America, I ended up one evening in San Pedro Sula, the business center of Honduras.  At that time, the public power grid only supplied power for three or four hours in the evening.  The excuse they used was that they relied on hydro-electric dams for power and the rains had been low that year.  “Pfft.  Losers,” I remember thinking then. “Why do they put up with this?”

Dar also relies on hydro-electric power.  Apparently the city has put up with annual “shortfalls” in the rainy season that result in power rationing for many years now.  I use the quotation marks because rainfall has been normal, it’s just that the hydro-electric generation capacity is insufficient. Tanesco, doing what any profit-maximizing monopoly would do, hasn’t invested in expanding capacity.  Of course, the government won’t allow private competition in a sensitive market.  

It’s almost enough to make you a small government Republican, let me tell you.

Tanesco, by the way, is an excellent example of why state-run monopolies are the last things that the developing world should allow in a sensitive economic sector.  In the past few years, the most spectacular corruption scandals in Tanzania have come out of Tenesco. 

In 2006, Prime Minister Edward Lowassa forced a $172 million procurement of emergency power generators to an unqualified firm Richmond Development (which he may or may not control).  Of course the company couldn’t meet the terms of the contract and didn’t supply the generators on time (or in working order). In 2008, the procurement hit the fan and Lowassa resigned along with the attorney general, the mining minister, and most of the rest of the cabinet.  More recently, we’ve had the old perennial tried-but-true scandal: senior management using purchasing contracts to embezzle money. 

At least part of the reason we’re having power cuts this year is a hangover from last year.  According to a guy from the World Bank that I spoke to, there was no power rationing at all during the president’s re-election campaign last fall.  He said that the water was flowing freely through the dams until the day after that election.  Then they discovered a water “shortfall”, closed the taps, and have rationed power ever since.  Coincidence? I don’t think so.

I can’t really complain (much) though, as almost all of the Mzungo houses and compounds have a backup diesel generator for when the power is out.  The only question is whether you have an automatic cutover switch and how big the fuel tank is.  Our compound has a nice big one that the four houses share.  Having the landlord take care of servicing the generator was a big part of the reason why we wanted to live in a compound in the first place.  The generator fuel costs do add up though and are another one of those hidden charges that drive up the cost of living and doing business here.

But it’s just a huge waste of everyone’s time and money and really slows down the economy.  And the ultimate cause is not only Tanesco’s monopoly on power, but also the monopoly on politics that the ruling party here, the CCM, has.  But that is a big topic so I will leave it for a future post.

But really, this is a democracy.  And the voters didn’t choose to throw the bums out last year.  So despite all my additional years of experience from my youth and careful consideration of the nuances involved, I still come back to the same reaction:  ”Pfft.  Losers.  Why do they put up with this?”