Utility firms punish customers while holding country hostage

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Which entities have the power to decide the fate of millions Kenyans every single day?

If you guessed the presidency or the government, I would say, yes, but only in certain circumstances.

The two entities I am referring to are Kenya Power and the water companies.

If Kenya Power decides that the whole country will not have electricity for a whole week, it can actually make that decision without suffering any consequences or legal action.


If the various water companies around the country also decide not to supply a whole region, there is nothing that anyone can do about it.

In the past couple of months, Kenya Power has repeatedly disconnected electricity to Baricho Water Station, which serves Mombasa and Kilifi counties, due to non-payment of a Sh32 million electricity bill.

As a result, more than two million people in the two counties, including Malindi Sub-County, where I live, have been held hostage and have not received water in their taps for several days.

In other words, Kenya Power has decided to impose collective punishment on a whole region because one of its customers has defaulted on the payment of a bill.

Denying some two million people a basic commodity such as water, which most Kenyans pay dearly for, is not just a violation of their human rights, but it is also an act of extreme cruelty (Yet there have been no water riots at the coast because when Kenyans don’t get a basic service, they just learn to grin and bear it).

In other countries, utility companies cannot get away with denying a service to whole regions, and especially if that service is an essential one.

Imagine if the gas or electricity companies in Canada, for instance, decided not to supply energy to the whole country in the middle of winter.

Imagine if, as a result of this action, several people died or fell ill because there was no heating in their homes.

I am sure the companies would be sued for gross negligence.

Not in Kenya. Here, Kenya Power is seemingly above the law, above the government and above its own customers.

Kenya Power has so much power that when the whole country has no electricity due to a technical hitch (as has happened several times in the past year alone), no high-level emergency meeting is convened to discuss the reasons for such a blackout.

Not even the government appears worried about the national security implications of such nationwide power cuts (Yet there is an uproar when there is no mobile phone connectivity across the country for a few hours).

Both Kenya Power and the water companies should be made to realise that deliberately denying the people basic services because of an internal dispute (not a power or water shortage) is wrong and may even constitute a human rights violation that should be punishable by law.

Part of the problem is that Kenya Power has had a monopoly over electricity supply for decades, and no one has challenged this even though Kenyans pay among the highest electricity charges in the whole world.

If Kenya Power had some competition, I am sure the cost of electricity would drop and supply would be more reliable.

Kenya has in recent years opened other sectors such as telecommunications to competition.

What is stopping it from encouraging competition in the energy sector as well? What vested interests are preventing this?

Unreliable and expensive electricity supply has a knock-on effect on various sectors, including manufacturing, tourism and agriculture.


In this day and age of alternative cleaner sources of energy, such as wind and solar energy, why are these energy sources not being actively promoted?

With sunlight nearly 365 days a year, Kenya should by now have gone fully solar.

Indeed, street lights and other public amenities should be powered by the sun.

But the country seems to be going in the opposite direction — a controversial new power plant in Lamu will be powered by coal (one of the dirtiest sources of energy) to be imported from South Africa!

As for the water companies, after devolution, their role has become ambiguous, so it is difficult to pinpoint who to blame — the companies or the defunct boards that still manage them.