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Minister of Energy and Mineral Development for Uganda: Syda Bbumba
by Lisa Deaderick
US / Africa Energy Ministers Conference
source: Village Power 2000

Tucson, AZ •• Dec. 15, 1999 •• SolarQuest® iNet News Service •• Ms. Syda Bbumba has served a number of terms as a government official prior to her appointment in the energy department for her country this past April. I spoke with Minister Bbumba about her feelings on energy issues in Uganda and her future expectations for her country and its people.

LD: What issues in particular of interest for your country as far as energy is concerned?
Min. Bbumba
: The most important issues (that) my country are concerned with…first of all, we are carrying out a reform of the power sector and we are deregulating. Previously it was a monopoly…but now we are opening up the competition and we want to invite the private sector to come and invest. But to be able to do that, there are quite a number of things we will have to put in place. Like recently we enacted a law… which is going to open up the sector for private sector investment.

And we have also worked out a power sector and rural electrification power and plan because in my country, rural electrification is the lowest in the world. Only 1% of the people in rural areas have access to power, and even in urban areas the coverage is less than 20%. So we really have a long way to go. And since government has failed to deliver, we are (in much) need of service. Over the last so many years, we have conceded that the best thing for us to do is to get the private sector to come up in partnership with us. But to do that, we will have to make sure that the environment is conducive. We will have to make sure that we have the proper military authority. We have rules, which are transparent and clear. And we have to reassure the investors that their investments are going to be safe. Rural electrification is a…problem in my country because of the environmental concerns. In Uganda, we destroy 200 cubic meters of wood every year for cooking. This is causing environmental degradation. So we want to save our beautiful equatorial forests by getting modern power, modern energy for our people to use in their houses. So that program is a priority one.

We want to encourage the private sector to come in, and Uganda has been lucky because it has been identified as the pilot project for the World Bank in Africa. The benefits from a program called African Rural Renewable Energy Program which is going to give smart subsidies to the private sector companies…as a way of attracting them to come to the sector. They will give…fairly cheap money, and that will bring down their cost of production. They will be able to sell the power at reasonable tariffs, but since we are inviting the private sector, it is our policy that the tariffs will be dictated by the market forces. We are not going to fix tariffs. We know it’s important for our people to get affordable power, but the World Bank integration is the only one which we are going to use to mitigate…high costs. But otherwise, there is no dictation of prices.

LD: What aspect of energy are you really looking towards? Are you more interested in solar, hydro, geothermal…?
Min. Bbumba
: We are putting emphasis on solar and hydro because we’re on the equator, we have the sunlight for twelve hours everyday throughout the year. And hydro, the river Nile, which is the longest river in the world, starts in Uganda and has most of its active life in Uganda. So there are quite a number of areas, sites where we can construct hydros. And in addition to that, there are so many other small rivers which we can use, which have sites which we can use to construct hydro dams. There are about 40 of them. Of course we also have geothermal…and that one is under phase two. And a whole generation, the sugar mills, the salt mills, the coffee mills are also being encouraged…And ultimately, we want to expose power in the region because of the mass hydro resource we have in the country we feel that you can export power in the region and be competitive because hydro is the cheapest source of power. And if our neighbors should agree…it can also benefit us.

LD: How much of an impact does clean energy and climate change options have on Uganda?
Min. Bbumba
: In Uganda we have no problems with clean energy because of all the sources I have told you. They are clean sources. We are not using thermal…we are not using coal, so we really have no problem with the cleanness of energy.

LD: What about the climate change options?
Min. Bbumba
: Climate change options? That’s why we want to come up with the hydros because we want to save the forest. We are lucky we are endowed with the equatorial climate…If we don’t introduce other sources of energy these forests are going to disappear, but at the same time we are encouraging the planting.

LD: How much economic growth is anticipated from the joint ventures with American businesses?
Min. Bbumba
: Currently our GDP is between 6 and 8%, but we think that if we get more investments like the project we signed recently with an American company, AES Corporation for the generation of 250 mega watts, it’s going to increase our GDP by 2%. So our GDP will be between 8 and 10%.

LD: Is there any fear of exploitation from these American businesses that they may go in and try to take advantage of your country in using your resources?
Min. Bbumba
: I highly doubt that because now they’re coming in as partners. They are not coming in as colonials. They have to follow our rules. So I don’t think they’re coming to exploit us in any way. This is an open partnership, they will make the money, and we will get the benefits, which I think is quite healthy.

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