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. 

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