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January 22, 2019

Dear Kenya Power, help us to help you

Last weekend most of Kenya suffered a blackout due to a fault on a major transmission line serving the capital, Nairobi. I learnt about it from the ranting and raving against electricity distributor Kenya Power on my Twitterfeed.

Blackouts are common in Kenya, partly because of an aging energy network and insufficient generation capacity. It makes me doubt the success of Kenya Power’s scheme to link Kenyans to the Internet. To rephrase the Bard, the blackouts that Kenya Power does is remembered after their apologies.

Granted, it is not always a foreseeable problem. After all, who can forget last June’s monkey business, when one monkey caused a nationwide blackout after falling onto crucial equipment at a hydroelectric power station?

I would advise Kenyans to borrow a leaf from South Africans. Here, they are no longer strangers to power cuts. There were the infamous rolling blackouts of 2008, and most recently, those of 2013. But consumers have found that to be forewarned is to be forearmed.

I recall my late, lamented cousin Mburu’s story about trying to buy plain, ordinary household candles, as opposed to the scented, romantic but quite unfit for his purpose ones that were aplenty in the stores of the smart part of Johannesburg, where he lived. 

His friends and colleagues couldn’t understand his obsession with finding plain candles until they had suffered a few unusual and unexpected blackouts and found themselves quite unprepared. Mburu, ever the good boy scout, was always prepared.

Preparation is key to surviving a power blackout, and while it would be unfair to expect wild monkeys with a thing for transformers to control themselves, it behoves both supplier and consumer to be ready for the eventuality of power loss.

I remember for years, Kenya Power ran adverts in the inside pages of the newspapers to alert customers to forthcoming shortages, and for all I know, they still do. However, the time has come for the warnings to be broadcast more widely using all possible media, TV, radio, news websites, as well as their own.

Perhaps they can borrow from SA, where Eskom South Africa’s primary electricity supplier suffers the same sort of abuse from consumers, but at least they mitigate the situation by providing customers with not just warnings but regular advice on how to save power in the home and at work.

One of my favourites is Eskom’s ticker-tape warnings, advice and encouragement on TV during prime viewing. This lets the customer know that as well as their right to power, they, too, have responsibility to conserve it and helps prevent the “surprise!” factor when lights go out.

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