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Kenya Blackout: Internet is Up When KPLC is Down

By Wayan Vota on November 12, 2009

Last week, there was a countrywide blackout in Kenya. The electrical authority, KPLC, took the national electrical grid offline from around 6pm to around 11pm, local time due to a generator failure.

As you can imagine, this was a shock to the country and its national pride. Kenya thought itself immune to blackouts due to its hydropower system, which is now under duress after a multi-year drought. But amidst the chaos, there is an ICT lesson to learn. Just listen to what Moses Kemibaro did when the lights went out:

The first thing I did was whip out my smart phone and decided to get on Twitter and Facebook via Safaricom’s 3G connection that was working in spite of the blackout. In a matter of seconds, I had replies that it was not just in Westlands and Kileleshwa that had a blackout but that it was indeed countrywide!

This is kind of “peculiar” since even though I did not have access to television or radio the whole time, here I was able to get the latest news via the Internet on Twitter and Facebook on the extensive Kenya Power and Lighting Company (KPLC) blackout.

Alternate Kenyan power generation

So here we have a case study in how information and communication technology can delivery timely and needed news during a national crisis. Safaricom’s voice and data systems were able to spread knowledge of the event via the Internet when traditional media were unable to, thanks to their backup distributed power systems.

And the surprise there? Many mobile phone operators generate their own power from wind and solar, as much as diesel generator. Inveneo ICIP WinAfrique and other power partners are equipping cell towers with alternate power solutions that work even with the national grid (or the sun) is down.

The national blackout might have another surprise as well – a Kenyan baby boom nine months from now. But only with non-geeks. Those wired, like Moses, didn’t take advantage of a great opportunity to say:

“Hey baby, how you doing?”

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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks and is the Digital Health Director at IntraHealth International. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of IntraHealth International or other ICTWorks sponsors.
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2 Comments to “Kenya Blackout: Internet is Up When KPLC is Down”

  1. Mark Kaigwa says:

    Wayan,

    Great post. You could also have a look at http://gotissuez.com who acted as a key player when it came to helping Kenyans online and Kenyans on Twitter stay in the loop on the latest in the National Blackout.

    As a post popped up on Gotissuez, and with the hashtag #Gotissuez on Twitter, people reported the complexity of the blackout, the cities affected, how it happened and kept each other in the loop.

    Gotissuez uses this information to keep companies accountable for their service delivery, products and brands. It’s where people can Rant and Rate Issues for Rewards.

    Have a look and let us know what you think. Also feel free to use the hashtag #Gotissuez when you have an issue with a brand, or experience bad customer service.

  2. Wayan Vota says:

    Mark,

    Thanks for the product link, but the #Gotissuez site didn’t have too much luck with monitoring the blackout – only one Tweet about it that I saw that wasn’t you.

    But I wish you luck in using the web to hold companies accountable. In the USA, the site http://yelp.com has a strong following and influences customer and business activity.