By The People’s Voice Reporter
A joint effort between the United States of America and the Government of Southern Sudan has put smiles on the faces of Kapoetta residents. The residents who live in Eastern Equatoria state will have their homes and businesses lighted up by an ambitious electricity project. The U.S. Consul General in Juba, Ambassador R. Barrie Walkley, and the governor of Eastern Equatoria state, Louis Lobong Lajore, inaugurated the 894-kilowatts power plant built as a post-conflict peace gift to the people of Kapoeta.
The inauguration ceremony attracted a large crowd many of whom expressed hope of an improved economy. A bull was slaughtered for a feast and traditional dancers were at hand to entertain the guests.
Speaking at the ceremony, Ambassador Walkley said the plant was the second largest electrification project to be completed after the South’s successful completion of the referendum. He said USAID was hoping to open another power plant in Maridi later this month. Another power plant was opened in Yei in 2008.
Since 2005, USAID has provided nearly $20 million to support three power plant projects, building electric generation and distribution infrastructure, in Yei, Kapoeta, and Maridi.
The project, he said, would promote economic activity by enhancing security through street lighting. It would also improve electricity supply to schools and clinics, besides households.
“I want to tell you that on behalf of the American people, we stand with you in hope and partnership, looking forward to a bright and prosperous future for southern Sudan,” he said.
With an output of 894-kilowatts, the plant will cover roughly 900 customers by September this year. Currently the Kapoeta power plant can only serve about 725 clients.
Garang Diing Akuong, Government of South Sudan (GoSS) Minister of Energy and Mining said: “Residents of Kapoeta deserve this project as a compensation for their struggle in the liberation of Southern Sudan. There are no more wars. We need to educate our people so that we can enjoy the fruits of peace,” he said.
He thanked the U.S. government, through USAID, for investing millions of dollars in the market towns of Yei, Kapoeta and Maridi.
The USAID-funded project covers 20 kilometers of power lines or poles. It started delivering its first stream of electricity to clients last month, a move which saw the county authorities pay its first power connection bill.
Louis Lobong Lajore, said at the ceremony that the project seeks to open new income-generating opportunities to the energy sector, which still formally and informally employs idle youth members of the communities in Kapoeta town.
“Energy is essential in improving living conditions and the economy of a state or a country. Eastern Equatoria like the other ten states in Southern Sudan depends on firewood as source of energy for cooking and heating. The state runs the risk of deforestation and environmental degradation – if the illicit indiscriminate cutting of wood for fuel continues,” Labong said.
Political unrest and war destroyed much of infrastructure in Southern Sudan. The lack of electricity, in particular, has contributed to making life hard for many in the region and paralyzes the region’s economic recovery. Electricity is one of the basic needs Toposa communities in Kapoeta county say they need to improve their quality of life.
Ambassador Walkley told the communities that they played an active part in determining how the utility should be managed. During a meeting in Kapoeta last September, the community resolved that the utility should be managed and operated by an electric cooperative society similar to the model now used in Yei. Next month, USAID will assess the economic and financial viability of the cooperative model compared with others, and provide recommendations to promote financial sustainability.
Kapoeta on South Sudan’s border with Kenya, is one of the main towns in Eastern Equatoria. It was also a place of strategic importance during the long civil war that raged on and off nearly for 23 years before a peace deal in 2005. The indigenous or Toposa pastoral communities are located in the semi-arid county of Kapoeta South in Eastern Equatoria.
Like most areas in Southern Sudan, it is remote, and the first to cross to from neighboring Kenya. The town of Kapoeta is set to change in the near future when electric power is finally restored through combined efforts of local communities in Kapoeta.
The facility is changing the face of Kapoeta; the town is expecting a flock of industries and big businesses after the independence of the south, due to take place in July following the referendum in January.
David Koriang, Kapoeta, a youth Leader told Sudan Tribune: “We shall dare to share the price as consumers will save 50 percent of what they are spending on kerosene and diesel to power noisy-inconvenient generators, and they’re getting much larger output from investment by the American people.”
Koriang adds that, “electricity shortages can directly impede the economic development of a strategically positioned town like Kapoeta, apart from the environmental pollution caused by the use of dirty kerosene and diesel.”
“Today’s electrification project represents a viable market for modern energy services. The rural communities are much in need of reliable electricity services,” he stressed.
Kapoeta town is looking eagerly to the day in mid December when the lights are expected to banish darkness on the Kapoeta streets when the power plant is switched on. Thereafter, until the project is completed in September 2011, the young utility will be consolidated with staff trained in all aspects of utility operation and households will be connected to electricity and businesses revitalized with new electricity services.
The United States is the single largest donor to Sudan, contributing nearly $10 billion in assistance to Sudan and eastern Chad since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005.
The Kapoeta project is implemented by USAID partner the Louis Berger Group, in partnership with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. The project comprises construction of power generation and distribution facilities, customer connections, establishment of a utility, and training of utility staff. Training provided in Kapoeta covered commercial and technical aspects such as meter reading and billing, accounting, linemen skills, and human resources and customer relations, among others.