I was talking to one of my business partners this past week in Uganda. Electricity went off. Normally when I am talking to my business partners, they have to have a computer while I have mine. We use the phone to review charts and designs on the computers. So when Umeme killed the electricity, I nearly lost it because we had a deadline to meet.
In my paying job, I have worked on outsouricng jobs / Job migration / Business Process Outsourcing. We need the phones and internet and the minute electricity goes off, we are burning the battery. But when the modem dies because there is no juice, then we cannot review designs and charts.
Earlier this year I wrote something for a Uganda news site after seeing in their media that their president had launched a BPO centre to create employment for the youth. I had found it laughable because when I run a project in Ugandain 2013 and 2014, internet and phone access was a big challenge. I then looked at how much the government was hyping up BPO.
Well, first of all, their university graduates cannot read or write English. This of course can be fixed by the incoming job out sourcer providing English lessons at work for free. But the cincher was “who the bloody hell will move their operations into a country that has intermittent electricity?”.
In many parts of Uganda, the roads are impassable during the rainy seasons. This prevents farmers from getting their produce to the market. In many places, even when it is not raining, some bridges collapse. Ask the people of Manafa.
Some Telcos used to cut off the internet at midnight. After much complaining they stopped but recently I have heard that one particular one still does it.
Midnight is 6pm Halifax Canada time, 5pm Toronto Canada time (NYC, Washington DC, etc.). It is 1pm California time. It is 5am Shanghai time. So which genius would cut off the internet when around the globe people are in their working hours and you expect them to do business with Uganda?
Then we have the Umeme factor. Umeme can go off anytime and in fact in some parts promptly at 8pm Uganda time. Which happens to be 2pm Halifax Canada time. Prime working hours. The business partner in Uganda has no electricity.
Uganda talks about BPOs bringin in jobs and alleviating unemployment. Last I heard, they had gotten a whole 380 jobs which was proudly launched and announced. Right, right, 380 jobs for the 10 million unemployed youth. Do the maths! It is not even 0.01%!
Apart from a population of youth who refuse to read or write, your not providing a steady power supply means that these centres are for now just a dream.
Imagine this, the contact centre is up and running and all of a sudden 4pm GMT time, there is no electricity, the phones go dead, the internet dies a natural death and you people think companies will risk moving some of their operations to Uganda? You are not serious.
I have previously written about back a back up power supply for such contact centres but is the company bringing in the jobs responsible for constructing a building for an industrial generator just to mitigate your inability to provide electricity? Maybe you should stop exporting so much of it and keep some for Ugandans!
Generators are loud, very loud so you do need a building away from the main one just for the noise factor. You will also consume a lot of diesel which I believe is not free in Uganda. In addition, who wants to use the back up power supply daily just because Umeme is full of cobwebs?
Martha Leah Nangalama
I have an IT and business background. I move jobs which I cannot automate and then move them to low cost places.
First published for The Insider September 11, 2016.
Daily Monitor article on this: http://www.monitor.co.ug/SpecialReports/How-power-outages-starve-small-businesses/688342-3883614-m46n5jz/index.html