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Generating Opportunity
A dam project in Uganda brings more electricity, jobs and social development
By Li Kaizhi | VOL.11 May ·2019-04-24
Isimba Hydropower Station (ZOU LEI)

Fortunate Mbabazi, a 41-year-old Ugandan, was filled with excitement when she heard about the completion ceremony of the Isimba Hydropower Station in Uganda's Kayunga District, even though she was not present during the event. "I was involved in the construction of the project and I know what Chinese companies did for us in the process," Mbabazi told her Chinese friends in fluent Chinese.

Isimba Hydropower Station came into service on March 21, and Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni attended the completion ceremony of the power station. While delivering a speech to more than 3,000 people there, including project personnel, local residents and journalists, he noted, "China is our partner. Ugandans can expect more electricity because we are also going to build other dams in Ayago, Uhuru and Kiba."

Mbabazi, who participated in the construction of the project, has developed an inseparable bond with China. In 2003, she received a Chinese government scholarship to study in China. After learning Chinese language for one year in Nanjing Normal University, she pursued a bachelor's degree in Computer Management Science at Hohai University in Nanjing, east China's Jiangsu Province.

For the dam project, Mbabazi actively facilitated the communication between Chinese and Ugandan employees, coordinated daily activities, and worked together with Chinese engineers to construct this project which, according to her, is important for Ugandan people's livelihood.

The Export-Import Bank of China provided 85 percent of the funds for the project through a preferential loan and the rest came from the Ugandan Government. China International Water and Electric Corp. (CWE), a subsidiary of China Three Gorges Corp. (CTG), was selected as the general contractor for engineering construction. The contract includes building a 183-mw hydropower dam and related transmission lines, and covers design, procurement, construction and financing services. In October 2013, Isimba project started construction.

Talent utilization

After graduating from Hohai University in 2008, Mbabazi taught Chinese and later worked as a translator in Uganda. Thanks to her five-year experience in China, she was able to understand the Chinese people because of her proficiency in Chinese language. Even in Uganda, she has always been interested in China's development and the cooperation between China and Uganda.

"I would be very excited when I came across news about China in newspapers or TV programs here in Uganda," she said.

In June 2015, she read the news about the construction of Isimba Hydropower Station by CWE in the local newspaper New Vision, and immediately applied for and got the position of administrative assistant at CWE.

Some Ugandan employees could only speak local language, which gave her a chance to make good use of her language ability. She became an important part of the project by communicating with local workers, government agencies and suppliers.

"Her expertise is very important. She can speak fluent Chinese, English and the local language, and can therefore easily draft and process documents in different languages, which is of great help to us," Ren Lei, a project engineer at CWE, told ChinAfrica.

Another task for Mbabazi was to assist Chinese personnel in regularly reporting to Uganda's environmental protection authorities on water quality near Isimba. Every month, the required reports were prepared by Mbabazi based on the environmental quality inspection records.

"During the construction process, we paid great attention to environmental protection and regularly reported our environmental monitoring plans and water samples to National Water and Sewerage Corp.," said Mbabazi.


Fortunate Mbabazi shares her experience of living in China with fellow Ugandans (CWE) 

Local benefits

At the end of 2016, Mbabazi, who is a mother of three, won the Excellent Local Employee award of CTG and was invited to China to attend the two-day commendation

conference. After returning, she proactively shared what she had seen in China and how she felt about working for the Isimba project with the local communities.

"Thanks to CWE for giving me such an opportunity which has changed the life of my family," she said. "I have gained a lot of useful knowledge here, which I think will lay the foundation for my future."

Mbabazi highlighted that many local employees gradually became semi-skilled workers from being unskilled laborers, and some have become "technicians."

Statistics shows that since the start of the project, the total number of project participants has exceeded 4,000, with Ugandan staff accounting for 80 percent. Many of them held senior management positions.

CWE has also helped repair nearby community roads, which has not only improved local transportation, but also helped with the movement of local security personnel, making people feel safer, Mbabazi said. "More importantly, the project can improve our quality of life and solve the problem of power shortage in Uganda," she added.

"In the past, this area experienced frequent blackouts. With the implementation of this [Isimba] project, the power shortage problem will be definitely resolved. I believe that in future, electricity supply will get better," Mbabazi said.

According to Li Li, Chairwoman of CWE, Uganda's total hydropower installed capacity was more than 800 mw. "After the completion of Isimba project, the capacity will increase by 19 percent," Li said.

Social commitment

In addition to focusing on environmental protection, CWE also actively fulfilled its corporate social responsibility during the construction process. "What impressed me most is the repair of the Nakakandwa Primary School," Mbabazi said.

Founded in 2002, the Nakakandwa Primary School now has approximately 900 registered students. Due to insufficient funds, the school's infrastructure was in a state of disrepair.

After investigations and consultations with the community and local government, CWE participated in the school's reconstruction work, and donated desks, chairs, uniforms and stationery to the school.

At the school's reconstruction completion ceremony, Kayunga District Chairman William Tom expressed the hope that the students will build magnificent projects like Isimba together with Chinese people in the future.

CWE also invited the 16th and 17th Chinese Medical Teams in Uganda to provide free medical treatment for local villagers.

At the completion ceremony of Isimba Hydropower Station on March 21, Zheng Zhuqiang, Chinese Ambassador to Uganda, noted that the project is one of the many achievements of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation and the Belt and Road Initiative.

With the joint efforts from China and Uganda, the eight initiatives for China-Africa cooperation put forward at the FOCAC Beijing Summit in 2018, and the Belt and Road Initiative, will surely achieve greater results, Zheng added.

Although Mbabazi has been away from China for many years, she stays in touch in with her Chinese friends and pays close attention to China's development. "A few days ago, my friend sent me pictures of Nanjing. More buildings have been constructed and the city has become more beautiful compared to the time when I stayed there," she said.

"Now I am working in Uganda. I am very happy and proud to work with a Chinese company. In my heart, Isimba is my home," Mbabazi added.

(Comments to likzh@chinafrica.cn)

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