Social norms, trust and control of power theft in Uganda: does bulk metering work for MSEs?

Never, Babette
External Publications (2015)

in: Energy Policy 82/2015, 197-206

Power theft is still rampant in many developing countries. Governments and utility providers tend to favour technical solutions, neglecting the socio-economic dimension. This article analyses the interaction between the socio-economic factors trust, informal social norms, awareness and electricity pricing effect and technical control measures in Uganda. After reforming its power sector, Uganda introduced two technical innovations: bulk metering for micro and small enterprises (MSE) and prepaid metering for households. The bulk metering system imposes a strong form of social control among MSEs. Drawing on semi-structured interviews with 29 MSEs and 16 experts in Uganda, this article shows how well bulk metering works in practice. It finds that trust is key in the relations between electricity user and utility provider, between citizens and government overseeing the energy sector as well as within bulk metering groups of MSEs. The electricity price impacts MSEs’ ability to pay and to some extent also their willingness to pay.  Finally, power theft used to be accepted as an informal social norm. Change is happening, but is currently undermined by corruption and patronage networks in the energy sector and the political system, impacting people’s attitude to compliance – regardless of the privatization of the electricity sector.

About the author

Never, Babette

Political Scientist


Further experts

Banerjee, Aparajita

Environmental and Resource Sociology, Public Policy 

Pegels, Anna