This is not the hottest summer or most acute power shortage

Saturday February 24 2024

The Julius Nyerere Hydroelectric Power Plant (JNHPP) in Tanzania. PHOTO | THE CITIZEN | NMG


Strictly logical people are difficult for us poets to handle. I was complaining to an associate about the heatwave and how this year is surely the longest and hottest summer on record. 

She brought me up short by remarking mildly that the temperature charts hadn’t shifted all that much in the past couple of years, as far as the data seems to show. Her scientific rigour had me stumped: Yes, arguably a quick google might prove her right.

But it was the principle of the matter! Every summer is officially the hottest and longest summer on record in Dar, that’s baked into our social contract for small talk.

Likewise, the matter of the electricity shortage. Who would have imagined it would last this long? Surely, this is the longest and most brutal bout of power rationing that this country has ever suffered! No, Tanzania has ever been through such trials and tribulations before, right?

Read: ULIMWENGU: In Tanzania, gravy trains come special



This past week, some officials somewhere have been making noises about the rationing, promising that it will ease “soon”. Government officials talk about bringing services “soon” the way hearty villagers tell you that the river you are going to visit by foot is “just over there.”

It is a little lie, meant to inform you that not only is the river actually quite far away but the electricity situation is unlikely to stabilise in March. The logic of appeasement, if you will, applied in the arts and sciences of keeping people compliant and marching forward.

The electricity situation in Tanzania is dire, to be sure. But it is not all that great in South Africa. Or Kenya for that matter. And the countries in between there and here, and the countries all around. 

Africa has a power deficit, for all of the reasons you can think of right now. Every president in my lifetime has made noise about fixing this in Tanzania, and I believe them.

They are not lying when they say that they are doing the best they can to keep up with the requirements.

The best they can do, however, is subject to a boggy civil service and bad, expensive contracts with a little corruption thrown in. The best they can deliver is undermined by a national grid that is poorly maintained and loses something like 40 percent of the power we generate in the transmission. 

Read: EYAKUZE: Exercise fitness; raise health span to extend your lifespan

The best any Tanzanian President can hope to achieve lies somewhere between good projects that take too long to implement and objectionable projects that get pushed through too fast and prove to be flawed — like a dam, say, that might not be able to deliver the many megawatts that were put on paper because, perhaps, the wall was not quite built up to standard?

Anyway. These are just a matter of perspective, right? The electricity shortage is not the worst it has ever been in Tanzania; we have seen worse. We should, of course, expect better. But we keep voting the same kind of people into power. Likewise, the summers in Dar es Salaam are not getting longer and hotter, we have had worse. 

But we keep using fossil fuels and the climate is changing, and 2023 did have the hottest year on record on the planet... and so, life goes on.