Friday, September 27, 2013

Uganda’s High Population Growth Impacts Energy Sector


Against a background of turbulence from Amin’s era, one thing is certain – population has been growing fast. Given the trends of war, development suffers, including the energy sector. The pattern of high dependence on biomass remained unabated, with continuing depletion of vegetation cover. Urgent need for replanting of trees is necessary, along with measures to increase share of other methods for cooking for the vast majority of Ugandans, not to mention the importance of checking population growth.

Population growth
Uganda’s population has been growing at a fast rate. From a humble 2.24 million people in 1962, there was a phenomenal leap to 7.49 million the following year.

Looking at it at 5-year intervals from 1965 through 2010, we notice a fast growth trend, see chart following:

Implications of population growth
Growth in human numbers has many implications, some positive, others negative. It also very much depends on the country situation, whether highly productive and requiring substantial labor, skills at different levels for deployment, abundance of resources, export potential in terms of goods, services and skills, beside a host of other considerations.

The situation of Uganda in respect of fast increasing population needs to closely look at: 
  • Food supply: more is required, and with greater dependence on local production, more effort is required to guarantee food security;
  • Energy supply: more people mean more energy, assuming limited related parameter changes;
  • Land: with near-total local food sourcing for the majority population, more arable land is required, assuming same productivity, crop and animal breeds etc;
  • Pressure on land: while more people require more dwelling / homestead land, there is also greater need for it in terms of both food and energy production;
  • Productivity: the falling levels of vegetation and tree cover mean more time spent on both getting adequate quantities of food for survival, and, search for firewood; and,
  • Other economic activity: these suffer due to need for more time to meet food and energy needs, to mention but a few.
A spiraling population means you do not only have more mouths to feed, but also a host of parameters to contend with, with only a few of them cited above.

Loss of forest cover
The indiscriminate cutting of trees in the past was responsible for loss of much of our hard woods. While some was exported, others fed the local market for construction applications and furniture making. 

Today, much of the hard wood is reported to be imported from beyond our borders – Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and Southern Sudan reportedly.

Various reports have decried loss of forest cover, viz:
Clearly, the situation is alarming.

Remedial measures needed
The necessary actions span a number of areas. These relate to institution of forest regeneration policies by government, improving cooking efficiency in rural areas, and, controlling population growth.  

Forest regeneration
I have heard of sayings such as ‘cut one tree plant two’ which I believe are part of the right mindset in our present circumstances. This pre-supposes that there are indeed trees that deserve cutting, but just in case the contrary is true, other deliberate programmes need to be put in place.

Along this path, we have great confidence in the National Forestry Authority (NFA) in the country to take the bull by its horns, in proposing a feasible action plan that ought to be implemented at the earliest.

Planting nurseries
Experts have made this route a very good one in achieving recovery. This route should indeed ensure that the right type is made available for planting to different groups.

What we probably need is a legislative instrument to make this enforceable country-wide if not existing already, with the prospect of achieving a steady recovery path for the essential cover.

Improved stoves
While we need to commend the various efforts to make and disseminate such stoves, we seem to have a very long way to go.

One major area from the energy perspective is the overwhelming dependence on biomass as a source of energy, way beyond 90 percent. As such, the rudimentary cooking approaches need to be relegated to history archives.

Upgrading energy technologies in general
Although biomass is at the bottom of the efficient technologies, an overall effort to raise standards of energy use across board would have a trickle-down effect at the grassroots.

This challenge is currently being sought, but much more needs to be done if we are to make some noticeable impact at the lowest levels of users.

Population growth
The sheer numbers alone can be a burden if not sufficiently educated to contribute to meaningful development through participation in industrial and other high-skill output areas.

Unfortunately, high numbers with low skills can draw us into a vicious cycle increasing poverty and suffering, a tendency that need to be vigorously fought. This is a challenge for us all – government, the private sector, and, the individual citizenry. Government has to play the lead role, with all of us rendering it unwavering support.

Tags: population growth, energy, food security, pressure on land, forest cover, forest regeneration, nurseries      

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Uganda’s Energy Sector Set Back by Amin Era

Starting with pre-independence times, energy was set on a good footing, with grid electricity available in the late fifties. With the ascension of Idi Amin to power, there was gross negligence of important tenets for the maintenance and growth of the energy sector. This resulted in retrogressive trends from a number of angles.

Idi Amin addressing a rally

The sixties
Having attained self-governance on October 9th 1962, Uganda was set on a good energy course, starting with good access to electricity, a modest population of 2.24 million people for the resources envelope available at the time.

At that time, the supply of electricity from Owen Falls Power was already available, meeting all needs of the day, not to mention the surplus even after export to Kenya. Many people with access to grid electricity at the time did not even imagine that electricity may be thermally generated where hydropower potential is unavailable.

The seventies to eighties
With Amin ascending to power in 1969, the seventies were characterized by a ‘gross negligence of planning and good operation and maintenance practices’. This is not to say that all that was done was void of good things entirely. We will however focus on what impinges on energy matters.

Expulsion of Asians
Starting from the pre-independence times, Asians were brought in East Africa to help the British with the construction of the railway from Mombasa Kenya through to Kasese in western Uganda to carry to the Indian Ocean the copper from Kilembe Mines en-route to England.

Expelled Asians on a train leaving Uganda

largely occupied the skilled technician level in industry in general, both in large and small industries, be they public or private.

To cut the long story short, the Asian community got deeply involved in business and manufacturing in the region.

At expulsion, industry and business were dealt a blow, bringing much of those sectors to a near-halt.

Competent Ugandans out of business and industry

As if the expulsion of Asians was not enough, many skilled Ugandans were edged out of business, many losing lives while others fled for dear lives.

To put it mildly, a cadre of Ugandans had been developed from colonial times, with much of the competence that could enable them to take over from their Asian counterparts. This was however not to be seen in that light by the regime of the day!

Amin, a man of very humble background, felt more secure with his cronies of limited exposure, whom he allocated many businesses.

Those in trade did not see value in records of business, including supplier details, did not prudently manage businesses and industry, leading to rapid decline.

Energy Implications
The impact of this regime on the energy sector in general were, amongst others, a big reduction in efficiency at the hither-then vibrant electricity sub-sector, with reduced industrial consumption for oil, yet growth in biomass consumption without due make-up efforts.

Uganda Electricity Board (UEB) suffers neglect
Starting way back in 1948, concerted efforts were put in place to exploit the hydroelectric potential of the country.

In the mid-fifties, the Nalubaale Power Station, then code-named Owen Falls Power Station (OFPS), was commissioned at Jinja. It indeed became a symbol of industrial progress, meeting both the needs of Uganda and helping out Kenya with exports.

Ugandans with access to electricity were to enjoy the modern amenities of energy then, not to mention industry which had the prospect of getting unfettered power without interruption.

In line with the saying – ‘milking a cow without feeding it’, Idi Amin’s regime was to subject UEB to neglect and paying a deaf ear to advice on the same.

These shortcomings may be summarized as:
  • Planning: neglect of this important role;
  • Maintenance: this was compromised, overlooking activities essential for sustenance in state of good repair;
  • Revenues: these were diverted to other uses;
  • Management: competence was relegated to politically motivated appointments; and,
  • Decline: by the end of the regime, a number of turbines, 4 out of 10, were out of service, beside others.

Petroleum products
The range of products and their respective quantity requirements heavily depended on the overall economic setting.

As we demonstrate later on in the blog, a vibrant manufacturing setting plays a very important role in oil product scope and needs. With many industries having frequent shutdowns or total closure, a big share of the oil industry products seized to be required.

Transport on the other hand heavily depended on petrol and diesel. Problems were experienced in supply quantities or interruptions, leading to scarcities. 

On its part, the government of the day designed schemes to ensure supply of its key operations, with the public having to queue for supplies. Filling stations would indulge in hoarding, while many drivers would follow supply trucks in the hope of being amongst the ones to be served early. 

We often had to spend hours in long queues waiting to be served, having arrived after dawn, while 14-seater public transporters and a few others that arrived before daybreak were being served.

The consumption of firewood grew unabated, given a poor setting for conversion to modern forms of energy supply and the rapidly growing population.

The absence of guidance of government on regeneration of biomass also meant that surplus capacity to sustain demand without decline of stocks was threatened.

It is indeed regrettable that there is still an overwhelming dependence on biomass use in the forms used by our ancestors.

Manufacturing declined
Having started with allocation of these enterprises to political cronies, performance suffered greatly, often ending up in total closure.

Developments in the industrial sector, on basis of know-how, may be summed up as:
  • Skills: many with technical competence were either expelled, fired, demoted, run away for dear life or killed;
  • Performance:  many facilities greatly declined in output quantities, or were unable to produce their traditional product range in full;
  • Breakdowns: many avoidable mistakes were committed, leading to shutdowns, some minor in nature, others major; 
  • Closures: these marked the climax, especially in enterprises with meticulous operational, start-up and shutdown procedures;
Other industrial sector issues related to:
  • Materials: failure to use the right inputs;
  • Suppliers: failure to link up or close deals with previous suppliers;
  • Markets: failure to access or ignorance of markets; and,
  • Credentials: failure to demonstrate integrity with potential business partners offshore, to mention but a few.
Collapse of the East African Community
The East African Community (EAC), then comprising of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, came to an unceremonious end in 1977, largely due to tensions arising out of Amin’s tendencies.

Its demise had a number of implications, viz:
  • Member states shared out assets, largely based on geographic location;
  • Many new organizations had to be setup for national continuity;
  • Goodwill was low, if not entirely lost in a number of instances;
  • Business climate suffered; and,
  • Operating environments became harder, especially for Uganda that is land-locked, beside others.
In respect of energy, the following can be mentioned:
  • East African Airways: this was replaced by national airlines, with varying fortunes;
  • Entebbe Airport: lost its hub status in the region to Nairobi, a situation that remains today;
  • East African Railways & Habours: its end marked the beginning of problems for the rail sub-sector in Uganda, literally still in limbo;
  • Goods transport: Uganda’s imports of goods remains heavily dependent on road transport at great cost in terms of fuel and roads, not to mention the attendant inefficiency and high fuel bills;
In conclusion
The advent of the Idi Amin era had a big dent on the energy platform for the country.

The electricity sub-sector was used as a source of revenue for other purposes, while it was left to deteriorate to very low levels of performance, threatening its very existence.

The brain-drain of both locals and expatriates resulted in long-term negative effects on manufacturing in general and industry in particular, with negative spillover effects on the energy sector.

Biomass use was denied the requisite attention for its much needed growth, not to mention putting strategies for its sustainability in place.

The EAC – then of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda – was dealt a death-blow, negative effects of which are still being felt today.

Uganda was drawn back a number of decades in several areas, key amongst which is the energy sector.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Uganda’s Pre-Independence Energy Sector

Like most of our great grandfathers, firewood and biomass have characterized the energy spectrum for many years. As a matter of fact, man’s energy use can rightly be associated with these pre-historic forms. Uganda has been no exception. While the standard of living was relatively high for much of the country before independence, things may have stalled for a host of reasons, relegating the country to continued over-dependence on biomass and firewood.

Uganda attained self-governance way back in 1962. Prior to that, there were groups of explorers with different intentions and objectives.

Explorers / traders
The Arabs found their way into the country largely for trade, bringing in small items and indulging in a variety of trade practices that I would not like to delve into. They also introduced Islam, a supplement to the then existing local beliefs and practices.

Other explorers included missionaries, bringing in with them both Catholicism and Anglicanism. These also promoted development through education, healthcare and others, beside their beliefs.

Roman Catholic Cathedral at Rubaga

Along with the advent of the religious groups, there was the coming of the association with colonial rulers, specifically from the United Kingdom, ultimately resulting in creation of a protectorate as opposed to a colony as was the case in Kenya.

These groups introduced merchandise on top of what existed at the time. 

Lifestyles of the times
Prominent amongst what existed are the following:
  • Dwellings existed in terms of grass-huts and later mud and wattle houses, roofed with an assortment of materials including grass, papyrus and the like;
  • Clothing was various, but in particular, bark-cloth was used in central Uganda;
  • Clay pots were made and use for storage and cooking; and,
  • Blacksmiths also existed, making tools for domestic use and hunting, beside others.
Energy dimension
All in all, there was great dependence on traditional cooking methods, practices that continue to exist today. 
In terms of energy we can roughly say the following:
  • Fires were already being lit in the country prior to the coming of explorers;
  • Game and other meats were roasted on fires;
  • Food was being cooked in pots;
  • Clay pots, given their porous nature, were already being used to keep and also cool water especially for drinking; and,
  • Hunting and other metallic tools were being made by blacksmiths, beside others.

Firewood and biomass were in use as the main sources of energy, if not entirely. The population was quite small in comparison to the forest cover and vegetation. As such, it was an easy task to gather firewood for the purpose. 

3-stone cooking with firewood

Much of the cooking was in the open, thereby reducing the impact of the smoke influence on health, let alone imagination that there could be any harm to humans.

Food was kept warm under the cover of hot ash, a semblance of an oven.

As a matter of fact, some foods like cassava could be peeled surface dried under modest heat from an open fire, prior to cooking under hot ash beneath a fire.

Petroleum products
These were introduced to the market before independence, mainly in the forms of paraffin, petrol and diesel.

On the domestic front, the middle and upper class first made use of paraffin for lighting, to be followed later by several other groups in society.

For the majority poor, the simple ‘tin paraffin lamp’ has served and continues to do so extensively.

Conceptual Paraffin Wick Light

For upper classes, lanterns have been in use, some pressurized with a gauze, but the majority with wicks and a glass.

Paraffin pressurized lantern

Paraffin has also been used for cooking, with stoves of various designs.
Paraffin stoves

While the bicycle came on the market first, the days of the ‘coffee boom’ brought the motorcycles on the market. These were of the two-cycle type, employing a petrol-oil mixture.

Those in the top class of civil servants, professionals and administrators bought cars as early as the mid-fifties. These were predominantly petrol powered.

As for trucking and buses, diesel engines were more in use, helping reduce the burdens of goods and passengers at large.

The railway was constructed in the 1890s, primarily to transport copper from mines in western Uganda, at the foot of Rwenzori Mountain.

Steam engines were originally used as prime-movers extensively, until much later when the diesel engine was introduced.

A Steam engine of East Africa Railways

Construction of the Railway to Kasese in Western Uganda

Grid electricity
As you may probably be aware, Uganda’s first hydropower station was constructed in the fifties, giving the middle and upper classes close to the built distribution network an opportunity to make use of it.

Construction of Nalubaale Power Station in 1950s

In most homes, electricity was used for lighting, but later came to be used for other purposes as running limited appliances of the time, in particular flat irons and cookers later on.

Offices also benefited for purposes of lighting, and later on, a limited range of office equipment, including communications.

Long before attainment of self governance, there was the telephone, radio and later the television (TV). These all employed electricity in one form or other as we discuss below.

This will make reference to all equipment of that time and equivalents. The first communication was limited to administrative / government groups, with power from either winding a generator manually or use of batteries.

Later, this was to advance to use of grid electricity, with a wider usage group.

This category later advanced to masts for air-wave transmission, powered by batteries and mains electricity.

I can recall some of the early radios, with batteries roughly half the size of small car batteries, or the size for motorcycles. These were later upgraded to the mains electricity plug-in type.

The TV also was around prior to 1962, the year Uganda attained independence. While some were powered off batteries, a practice that remains to the present date, conversion to mains electricity assumed higher proportions. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Commercial Users of Energy in Uganda – Hotels, Shopping Centers and Transport

Categories under this group are many, but we will restrict ourselves to hotels or leisure centers, shopping centers, airports, transport for people and goods.

Many other small commercial activities may be deemed to depend on energy to a limited extent. In such instances, we think these could be skipped in this discussion. Examples of these are markets, where much of the local farm produce is sold. These mostly operate during the day, requiring no lighting, and largely open in early mornings to receive merchandise from farms or gardens in bulk, display it for customers to procure through the day. At the end of the day, surplus goods that are still in good condition for purchase the following day are covered overnight.

Those which extend their services beyond sunset do use lighting, which is electric in bigger urban centers, or use paraffin lamps in limited instances. Much of the transport in use is small pickup trucks, although some foods are transported over long distances on larger trucks.

These fall in various categories, from classified ones on the upper end, of star ranking from one to five. Others are below such ranking, although commonly referred to as hotels.

High ranking hotels
These are across the country, with the bulk of them in upper level urban areas as Kampala City, the capital, Entebbe where the international airport is located and major towns as Jinja, Mbarara, Mbale and Masaka.

3 – 5 star hotels
These have most of the facilities such as conference halls, swimming pools, health centers, kitchens, cold storage, air conditioning, standby power generation facilities, as well as other services beside the conventional guest accommodation in terms of rooms and suites.
Kampala Serena Hotel


Machines in Health Club – Kampala Serena Hotel

Source: Valuation Report by Dunn, Kampala Serena Hotel and International Conference Centre, Dec 200

International Conference Centre – Kampala Serena Hotel

Source:Valuation Report by Dunn, Kampala Serena Hotel and International Conference Centre, Dec 2007

Swimming Pool - Kampala Serena Hotel

Source: Valuation Report by Dunn, Kampala Serena Hotel and International Conference Centre, Dec 2007

Energy sources include, grid electricity, standby generators, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), and diesel.

Electricity is extensively used for air conditioning, lighting and operating an assortment of equipment and lifts where available. Whenever there are any power cuts, generators are often turned on automatically, to minimize interruption.

As for cooking, LPG is increasingly used in kitchens, alongside other equipment that are electrically operated.

Petroleum fuels are variously used for vehicles, water heaters or boilers at times, and, running standby thermal generators.

Smaller hotels

Smaller hotels tend to have fewer services while at the same time depend more on biomass as their source of energy. This largely applies to cooking, where improved stoves are more frequent, and water heating in particular. Electricity is more applicable to refrigerators, lighting and sometimes ironing.

The term hotels in this country is sometimes used out of context, especially for eating houses in many places, especially more so in the rural context. Paraffin is used for lanterns when lighting is required, especially in lodging facilities and dining rooms that tend to close early in evenings, unlike their counterpart larger hotels. 

Churchhill Courts Hotel – Uganda

Leisure centers
These are gradually picking up in numbers, often with motorized equipment, hence use grid electricity  .

Shopping centers
Many malls and shops depend on grid electricity to meet their power needs – largely display and roof lighting, refrigerated displays and cold rooms. In only a few instances do we find shopping malls using standby generators when grid power is unavailable.

Freedom City Shopping Mall – Kampala

The airports largely use grid electricity for most of their needs. These are various, from special equipment and appliances, through air conditioning, conveyor systems, lifts and others. They also provide standby generators in case grid electricity is off.

The rural aerodromes are much simpler, with limited need for lighting, often having flights land and take off during the day.

Entebbe International Airport

This will be broken down into land, water and air. We will also briefly discuss this under passengers and goods.

  • Land: Under land, most land transport is road based in terms of goods and human transport. Being landlocked, much of our import cargo comes into the country by road, given that our old diesel-engine powered rail transport has been literally out of use for years. Public transport is poorly developed, with most commuters travelling in 14-seater vans largely powered by gasoline, while longer trips feature a sizeable bus fleet powered by diesel. Because public transport is poor and largely unscheduled, many individuals use personal cars, a tendency that breeds great inefficiency from several angles – congestion, a small average number of passengers per vehicle, excessive fuel use and pollution and the like.There are plans to revamp rail transport, and also extend rail services to reach Rwanda, beside widening the network in the country.
    Heavy goods  transport in Uganda

  • Water: This mode of transport is dominated by traditionally made canoes, largely used by fishermen, but also used for passenger and goods movement on our lakes. While many of these are manually rowed, an increasing number is acquiring outboard gasoline engines.Government has also a number of large cargo ships especially on Lake Nalubaale, with some ferries moving between strategic link points in order to provide the public at large with viable modes of transport.Some individuals own leisure bouts, mostly on Lake Nalubaale, largely based at Entebbe. 
    Fishing canoes on Lake Nalubaale in Uganda

  • Air: This mode is largely dominated by smaller aircraft shuttling both in the country and region. There are also bigger carriers especially on international routes which use Entebbe International Airport. There are a number of internal airdromes, largely unpaved, in Arua, Kisoro and other parts of the country.
    Small cargo aircraft in Uganda

  • Small goods transport: While small pickups / vans and lorries / trucks are employed in movement of goods, there is an army of motorcycle compliment for generally smaller goods packages, radiating, from deep in the countryside to urban areas. These are in no small measure supplemented by bicycles, and to a lesser extent carts drawn by people or animals.
    A typical small van for goods in Africa

  • Small-time passenger transport: Very much like smaller goods transport, motorcycles and bicycles, commonly termed ‘boda-boda’ have done a great job meeting the needs, especially in the rural areas. While these often prove to be  a traffic nuisance especially in the city, leading to many accidents, injuries and sometimes death, it cannot be overstated that they have filled a huge gap in transport for the poor, especially in the countryside. The public transport is dominated by 14-seater vans, see picture below:
    Old taxi park – Kampala