David [Mpanga] V Goliath [Umeme]: The power of Social Media for citizen empowerment

Umeme yaka

It gets nasty when a big company is publicly exposed for threatening it’s clientele to adopt a consumer behaviour or a payment mode that is against their will.

Rather than persuasion, Uganda’s IPO electricity company, Umeme –loosely translated as Electricity– resorted to use of illegal means such as issuance of disconnection notices bundled with threats of imprisonment upon refusal to switch from the traditional post-paid mode to the prepaid mode locally known as YAKA.

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This didn’t go well with David Mpanga a.k.a @dfkm1970 by the Twitterati, a top Uganda lawyer who deeply believes in constitutionalism, rule of law and common sense.

He opened a can of worms about Umeme’s whimsey ways of forcing its adept but rather ignorant consumers to switch to the YAKA programme lest they face the tough arm of the law.

The astute lawyer rebuked Umeme’s elicit ways on  social media, upon which massive engagement was driven due to the sensitive nature of the case. News spread even faster with  an Op-ed in the Daily monitor to the shock of many who had fallen prey to Umeme’s dirty antics. That is the knock out that sent Umeme sprawling in mud amid cheers and emotions baying for its ‘blood.’ The series of technical knockouts  on local scene had just been commenced by  a record 7 second kickboxing fight  thanks to a motor mouthed Moses Golola who luckily aced his biggest foe. Unlike the former, David’s infuriation was sired by abuse of the law at the expense of the unsuspecting public:

Now, if you are going to threaten anybody, leave alone a lawyer, with prosecution then you had better cite a law which criminalizes the conduct complained of.  The laws cited in the notice left at my home were completely irrelevant to the alleged offence of “totally refusing Yaka prepaid electricity.” Section 52 of the Electricity Act provides for reversion of a hydropower plant with a generation capacity exceeding 10MW to Government after the expiry of a generation licence. Section 270 of the Penal Code Act provides courts with powers to make compensation orders against people who have been convicted of causing financial loss, embezzlement or theft by agent. In colloquial Luganda “baali banyungako section”!  — An excerpt from David Mpanga’s Op-ed

Of course, Umeme’s image is left in jeopardy, as norm has it; their PR team was quick to apologise for the inconveniences caused and highly regretted the unbecoming behaviour of  their workers. Meanwhile, the dust isn’t yet settled six days after unmasking of the ‘bad’ guy. Whilst, the engagement on twitter has doubled, the YAKA implementors, in equal proportions have doubled their threats in some parts of the country

Outsourcing gone bad!?

Business outsourcing has significantly grown by more than a ten fold now compared to the previous decade. The bubble has expanded out of the common “call-center” outsourcing. Companies such as Umeme find outsourcing as a safe haven besides being an efficient delegate of their duties. Perhaps the firm outsourced to didn’t really understand what was required of them. To fuel the fire they used funny laws to threaten people into using the service.

Some Ugandans do read the small print on agreements

To borrow a clichéd quote; if you want to hide something from an African, put it in a book. On the contrary, Ugandans actually read –some of them. Many have voiced their concerns, albeit not on the aforementioned contention, but the offending companies have decided keep mum. In fact, a myriad of tweets have been bombarded to Umeme and partners in crime (read poor service providers) for more than fours years but this particular case has hit where it hurts most — it went viral on both traditional and social media.

This may not be a replica of the proverbial David V Goliath fight. However, not only did the underdog win in this case but also tens of thousands of innocent but ignorant users have been educated about their consumer rights via social media.

Now, that’s a plus.

Image via Newvision

  • Chrysostom

    Great article. Tried to follow that story of the Astute Lawyer and Umeme. Please update us.

  • Daniel, interesting read. The power that social media brings to empower users to voice out their concerns can’t over stated. However, It still takes some “influential” individuals to really make significant impact that causes the brands to respond!

  • rogekk

    Great write up, Early this week one of the UMEME managers was on Sanyu FM apologizing for the incident. If only they would do so for each and every Ugandan who has gone through this.