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Say it as it is: Blackout was a national security incident

Kenya plunged into darkness last Friday night. All of Kenya, including the nation’s foremost international airport in the capital, JKIA. And a baby died in an incubator because the hospital’s power outage cut out oxygen, The Standard reported.

This national blackout was the single news item that sucked all air out of all other stories. Yet, media failed to boldly say the biggest thing that really hit Kenya: A national security incident.

The country’s foremost newspapers, the Nation and Standard, ran mirror headlines on Sunday, August 27.

Shame of a nation,” said the Sunday Nation headline. On its part, The Sunday Standard’s headline said, “Blackout of shame”.

Both headlines were planted on a black background, to emphasise the darkness.

The Star’s story, “Blame game as Turkana plant distances itself from power outage”, attempted to explain what happened.

The country’s single utility company, Kenya Power, had put out a statement saying that a sudden drop of electricity supply from a single bulk producer, Lake Turkana Wind Power, triggered a shutdown of the national grid.

The electric national grid comprises the highest-voltage transmission lines that evacuate power in bulk from producers, such as KenGen, before substations step it down and the utility, Kenya Power, delivers it to consumers through lower voltage distribution lines.

Lake Turkana said, nah; what actually happened was the opposite of what Kenya Power said. The producer said that for self-preservation their system is deliberately built to automatically shut down if it detects overvoltage in the national grid, which is not their problem.

Well, never mind the blame-game story. More importantly, none of these big stories saw the scariest angle: National security.

Both the Nation and the Standard dwelled overly on a predictable angle, business loss. Under its headline, the Nation summarised its story in this blurb:

As parts of the country remained in the dark last night, more than 24 hours after Friday’s nationwide blackout started, there was outrage over the disruption and inconvenience with businesses counting losses running into millions of shillings.”

Standard’s story opened online to a business headline. “Businesses suffer huge losses as country plunges into darkness,” it said, surprisingly dropping the “shame” angle.

It wasn’t until Sunday night, after the 9PM prime time news, that KTN News featured a debate with guests trading political angles. One guest, a lawyer, pointedly said that Kenyans should demand to know what happened while the country was in darkness.

What planes landed? Which ones took off? Who or what was in these planes? Someone show us the manifests.

Well, it’s safe to bury such debates under conspiracy theories.

The scariest story angle had already inadvertently got out Saturday from a social media post by the Kenya Power Board chairperson, Joy Mdivo Masinde.

This post was legitimised by The Star in a story titled, “This is what caused power outage – Kenya Power board chair”.

The gist of it, the Kenya Power boss explained, was that Kenya’s electric grid can afford to lose only four per cent of electricity at time. Any loss higher than that will shut down the entire system.

Well, according to Star’s other story mentioned above, at the time the country went dark, demand was at 1,855 megawatts. And Lake Turkana was pumping into the grid 270 megawatts.

Meaning that a whopping 14.5 percent had suddenly vanished from the grid.

But let us stay for a minute with the big secret that the Kenya Power boss told the world. If you want to shut down Kenya, just knock out one power plant. To be sure, pick one that pumps more than four per cent into the grid.

Who doesn’t know that this is a doomsday scenario? Why didn’t media see it?

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