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Front Row Seat to History
Thursday, 25 August 2011 Written by Doug Shaw

Electrification of KivumuIn Kivumu Saturday is the day of the weddings. Weddings, with the possible exception of the weekly market, are the big social event of the week. Seemingly the entire village turns out for the ceremony. Today however there was another event that drew a large crowd.

A crew was installing transformer on the main power transmission line that runs past the village. This will enable power from the main line to be stepped down to a working voltage that will supply electricity to the village, church, schools, and friary.

What a difference a week can make. Just a few days ago there were a few creosote covered poles lying along the side of the road. Today the poles support cables that encircle the village. Next week the electrical contractor says he will have power to individual buildings. In the villages electricity is the exception, not the rule. Indeed this will be the first time in 21 years of living in Africa that Father Ivica will have electricity other than what he generated on site.

In Sub-Saharan Africa only 12% of the rural population has access to electricity.

Having a relatively reliable source of electricity will greatly change life here at the friary and at the school to which I have come as a volunteer. I can only guess as to the profound effects that electrification will have on the average person in the village. With electric light the day now will have up to 24 hours instead of the 12 it now has. Night will be conquered and need only happen at a person’s convenience. People will be able to make new choices as to what they can do and when they can do it. Time will be mastered and controlled, at least to a degree. Time, practices and local culture will change.

Although there will certainly be some negative effects from electrification I believe in general people’s new access to electricity will be a change to the better. Electricity today is so fundamental when it comes to people’s access to information, to public services, and thus the future. It may also help to the hard life in this region a little less physically demanding. An electric motor could pump what great distances at low costs. This alone would save the villagers thousands and thousands of hours of very physically demanding labour carrying jerry cans of water.

There is some concern on my part that in the short term some families may face food insecurities due to the initial cost of hook-up. At the same time, the alternative is to buy expensive kerosene for lighting and leaky Chinese batteries for the radio and flashlights. It would be interesting to know how many years it would take to pay back their total investment in electricity as compared to the cost of kerosene and batteries.

One thing is certain, an important change, and perhaps even the single most profound event in Kivumu’s history as a village is now occurring. And we have a front row seat.

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