KENYA remains in the grip of a perplexing and prolonged power outage, the longest of its kind in the country’s history. As millions of Kenyans faced hours of darkness, a blame game has emerged between the government-owned power company and Africa’s largest wind farm, leaving the root cause of the massive outage still shrouded in mystery.
While some areas, including the capital city Nairobi, saw power gradually returning after nearly 24 hours since the major outage struck on Friday, the incident was a considerable embarrassment for Kenya. The East African economic hub, renowned for its aspirations to be a technological centre on the continent, is grappling with alleged mismanagement and inadequate infrastructure.
At Nairobi’s main international airport, hundreds of travellers were stranded in darkness, prompting an unusual public apology from a government minister. Tourism, a vital pillar of Kenya’s economy, was hit by the outage, leading to Transport Minister Kipchumba Murkomen pledging, ‘This situation WILL NOT happen again.’
The head of the Kenya Airports Authority was promptly dismissed following a generator failure at the main international terminal.
Late on Saturday, Kenya Power provided the first detailed account of the outage, attributing it to a loss of power generation from the Lake Turkana Wind Power plant. This setback caused an imbalance that ‘tripped all other main generation units and stations, leading to a total outage on the grid,’ the power company stated.
However, Lake Turkana Wind Power swiftly contradicted the claim, releasing a statement that pointed the blame at an ‘overvoltage situation in the national grid system.’ The wind farm highlighted that this voltage surge forced their plant to automatically shut down to avoid severe damage. At the time, the wind farm was contributing nearly 15 percent of Kenya’s national power output.
While such an event should normally trigger compensatory responses from other power generators in the system, the ongoing outages within the national grid have hindered the wind plant from being brought back online.
Surprisingly, Kenya Power found itself unable to resort to importing electricity from neighbouring Uganda, a typically swift solution that remained inexplicably unavailable during the crisis. The power company expressed, ‘We are jointly working on having the Uganda interconnector restored so as to enhance our grid recovery efforts.’
President William Ruto, whose office had informed The Associated Press (AP) that it was still reliant on generator power hours after Kenya Power’s announcement of partial restoration, refrained from commenting on the crisis. Instead, Ruto criticised opposition calls for anti-government protests, deeming them a potential threat to investors.
The leading Kenyan newspaper, the Sunday Nation, summed up the situation with its headline: ‘Shame of a nation.’ The prolonged outage has inflicted significant financial losses on businesses and forced major hospitals to operate on backup generators.
Despite the ongoing crisis, Kenya has gained recognition for its reliance on renewable energy sources to power the nation. This aspect will be highlighted as Kenya prepares to host the inaugural Africa Climate Summit early next month, showcasing its commitment to sustainability amid current power challenges.