KAMPALA – A friend once traveled to Asia to inspect the huge factories that were producing the products he sells in Kampala. On arrival at the airport, he was picked up in a limo sent by the factory owner and accorded a five-star treatment in a fancy hotel. Once he had had enough rest, his hosts picked him up to take him to their factory where his products are made for a tour.
He had expected the factory the size of Kampala city where a combination of robots and humans moved in choreographed sequence to produce his goods just like he had watched on his favourite mega factories series on National Geographic. As they approached the factory, he started to doubt whether he had been all long dealing with middlemen camouflaging themselves as factory owners.
He was shocked to find a very small factory that did one thing of his product and several others that did another thing before they were packed and shipped. What he expected as a mega factory turned out to be a cottage industry operating in mainly former garages before everything is arranged at a warehouse and ready for shipment. It was a community producing the product rather than a single huge factory.
With Isimba Dam with the capacity to generate 183 megawatts being launched last week, the country now generates 1,138mw. Karuma, another dam along the River Nile is projected to deliver another 600mw when it comes online soon. Although generation and distribution are two different things and you may still experience a power failure, at least there is more powerful than what probably the country can consume today.
Most of the electricity users in Uganda are domestic who are happy to light their homes, iron some clothes, watch some TV news and most importantly charge their smartphones. They do very little to produce anything. People who have electricity in their homes and hold several degrees have no jobs! Yet there is much more Ugandans can do with the power that is now delivered into their homes to tame the skyrocketing unemployment. Young people who are leaving universities today must be equipped with the skills they should have to add value to industries that may set up as a result of this ‘abundant’ power.
Take for example Kiira Motors who last week took the media to a tour of the mega-factory they are building on 100 acres in Kakira near Jinja. On average, a car has 30,000 parts and there is no car manufacturer anywhere in the world who manufactures cars in the true sense of the word. Carmakers, like the factories my friend visited in Asia, depend on many independent suppliers that make all these parts. Most carmakers don’t even have a single factory that can make wipers or the smallest nut. Automotive parts are made sometimes in small factories or even home garages and shipped to the carmaker’s assembly line. With 3-D technologies and computer-assisted designs and graphics, it is relatively easy to make parts of anything. With electricity now available and hopefully cheaply, there is a need to turn vacant servant quarters and spare rooms in our homes into industries that can support manufacturing and nip unemployment in the bud.
That is why I was pleased to attend a very small graduation ceremony at the Uganda Christian University (UCU) on Friday of just eight students who had undergone an intensive 12-week programme in entrepreneurship. The programme, a brainchild of Robert Waggwa Nsibirwa, a Buganda Deputy Katikkiro, and former Rotary District Governor is meant to skill Ugandans with what is needed to start businesses. Nsibirwa, an entrepreneur and economist, started this programme a few years ago when he served as a Rotary District Governor after realizing how many people were knocking on his door for jobs. Many youths were trained informally until he partnered with UCU to provide more professionalism. The eight pioneer graduates of the programme at UCU, which is known as Rotary Vijana Poa (Swahili for youth are cool), were enthusiastic and were already making money from the products that they make. They were all pitching to us to buy their products as opposed to asking us to get them jobs like is usually the case at graduation ceremonies.
After my trip to Mukono, I met people who are organizing what they called the first National Skills Fair due in May 2019 at the UMA Showgrounds in Lugogo. The fair is meant to showcase what those who have been undergoing the Skilling Uganda programme are able to achieve. The future looks good for those who can take advantage of these opportunities and the government must do more now to provide a conducive environment for markets to blossom.
The writer is a Communication and Visibility Consultant.