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The BBC's Cathy Jenkins:
"Power has been severely rationned"
 real 28k

Monday, 17 July, 2000, 17:06 GMT 18:06 UK
Kenya's powercut chaos
Let there be light: A typical evening in Nairobi
Let there be light: A typical evening in Nairobi
By Cathy Jenkins in Nairobi

The Kenyan capital, Nairobi, is going through an unprecedented crisis.

Power has been severely rationed, with factories and private homes limited to electricity for only part of the day, and water being provided only on certain days of the week.

The government blames the crisis on the present drought which it says is the worst for 100 years though many Kenyans say that mismanagement of resources is more to blame.


Business is booming for generator suppliers
Business is booming for generator suppliers
Industries and private homes in Nairobi are receiving perhaps only four hours of power a day, and people are desperate.

There are those who are benefiting from the current crisis. As David Chesoni, the product manager of Car and General, explains, generators are in demand as never before.

"At least, we are providing a service," he says.

"Imagine a situation where someone has the money to buy a generator and he can't get one. So we are part of the solution."

Nairobi runs dry

It is not only electricity but water as well.

The poorer people of Nairobi are used to queuing for hours to fill jerrycans.

Now the middle classes are queueing for water too
Now the middle classes are queuing for water too
However, now the middle classes are being affected as well, as the Kenyan capital runs dry.

Whilst water levels in reservoirs are dangerously low, business managers say all this could have been predicted.

Charles Muchene of Price Waterhouse Coopers says that the government has a lot to answer for.

What the drought has done is to aggravate a situation that has been in existence for many years

Charles Muchene, Price Waterhouse Coopers
"What the drought has done is to aggravate a situation that has been in existence for many years," he says.

"As to why there has been that shortfall, clearly that's an issue of mismanagement because the demands anticipated in this economy over the years could have been predicted, action could have been taken.

"That has come to a halt for a variety of reasons: either inability to make decisions, unwillingness to make decisions or because of issues to do with corruption which is endemic in this economy."

Economy under pressure

For companies which cannot afford a generator, the problems are greatest.

One publishing and printing firm, Spacesellers Ltd., can only operate every other day.

For 15 days in the month, the machines are idle. Company managers are trying to hold their businesses together.

However, every day without power increases the possibility of worker layoffs and wholescale redundancies.

In the dark: It's Lucy Kamau's turn for a power cut
In the dark: It's Lucy Kamau's turn for a power cut
It is not good for morale. Lucy Kamau is the sales manager at the printing firm.

When the power goes off at four o'clock sharp her problems have only just begun.

At home her first task is to light the kerosene lamp.

Tonight is her turn for a power cut which means that there will be no television for the family.

That is not what Lucy has worked for 14 years for, and the worst thing is, nobody knows when it is going to end.

"We're in the computer age, so I would have thought 'Everything's computer''" she says.

"I can't imagine. I wouldn't have imagined. I hope the government sorts out this problem quickly."

The government talks of getting more power soon, perhaps from Uganda.

Then again, it warns that the situation will take some time to improve.

The people of Nairobi can do nothing but wait.

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See also:

30 May 00 | Africa
Lights out in Kenya
12 Jul 00 | Africa
Kenyans starving, says UN
10 Jul 00 | Africa
Campaign to keep Moi in power
05 Jul 00 | Africa
Kenya drought warning
27 Jun 00 | Africa
Kenya civil servants face axe
21 Jun 00 | Africa
Africa 'needs more debt relief'
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