BUWEMBO: Kiira! Power! Why Ugandans have reasons to love the water more

Tuesday September 17 2019

kiira EV

Now the real name of River Nile from which most of Uganda’s electricity comes is Kiyira, meaning the roar of its waterfalls. But many people don’t pronounce the ‘y’ so it it pronounced ‘‘Kiira.’’ And so Kiira EV became the name of the country’s first electric car. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGA | NMG 

JOACHIM BUWEMBO
By JOACHIM BUWEMBO
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The chilling announcement came last weekend: Expect the rains to continue pounding until the end of the year. We rarely pay attention to the weather forecast but this time Uganda’s Met department called a press conference rather than sending the daily dispatch that nobody pays attention to. So we sat up and listened, and the news is scary.

They started with the positive news—that we can go out and sow—you wish all it takes to plant is rain.

Then came the harsh reality: Landslides will occur in the mountainous east of the country, yet we thought this year’s round of landslides was done. And yes, floods will ravage the mountainous western regions. Needless to add, people will die.

That is what water does to Uganda. We have so much of it but we never get used to it. And even with climate change talk having been around for a decade, it remains just that, talk, so don’t ask about resilient infrastructure.

Just expect to see in action the over-cited cliché as women carry pots and jerricans to fetch dirty water in the valley after every downpour. We haven’t even thought of making rain water-harvesting mandatory for all houses even before they receive approvals for building and occupation.

But it is not all doom and gloom. Once in a while a development brings a ray hope in a sea of hopelessness.

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Remember several years ago when Makerere University engineering students unveiled a little, green electric car designed and built entirely by them and they drove President Yoweri Museveni around in it? They were calling it MAK EV (Makerere Electric Vehicle) but Museveni reportedly advised that the name should reflect the whole concept of clean energy.

Now the real name of River Nile from which most of Uganda’s electricity comes is Kiyira, meaning the roar of its waterfalls.

But many people don’t pronounce the ‘y’ so it it pronounced ‘‘Kiira.’’ And so Kiira EV became the name of the country’s first electric car, or any car for that matter. And we typically forgot about it, mostly expecting the story to end with the fanfare like everything else here.

But the Kiira team did not go to sleep. A fifth of our country is open water and though we have even largely refused to use it for transport and only mostly use the surface water to harvest and deplete fish that we never reared, the Kiira team went to work to make the water work for Uganda.

They constituted Kiira Motors Company (KMC) which is wholly owned by government, secured one hundred acres near Jinja (source of Kiira river) and massive project for building a plant for manufacturing the vehicles got underway. And no prizes for guessing where they went for technical partnership —China.

If you are allowed to access the project site, what strikes you first is the seriousness of the workers, so unlike your typical noisy Ugandan constructions. Well, majority of the workers on site are soldiers. The engineering arm of the Uganda Peoples Defense Forces is the one building the plant.

Given our way of doing things, it most probably would take the involvement of the army to sufficiently assure the clients that a Ugandan government project will come to fruition.

So Ugandans can actually exploit rather than fear water power.

Joachim Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail: [email protected]

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