Gulu Choking in Darkness as BOSCO Uganda Gears its Support to Power Northern Uganda

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Batteries that will power the 30KW solar plant in Skyland High School in Lira
Batteries that will power the 30KW solar plant in Skyland High School in Lira

GULU, Uganda: Though it is just about a year (2018) to the final implementation of the World Bank’s five year 14 municipalities urban upgrade, an investigation carried out by The Investigator reveals this is still a far- fetched dream.

The World Bank in 2013 gave Uganda US$150 million (Shs375b) to finance urban infrastructure and improve service delivery in 14 municipalities in Uganda.

The 6-year WB Uganda Support to Municipal Infrastructure Development (USMID) project will expand urban infrastructure, and  enhance the capacity of the 14 municipal local governments to generate own source revenues, improve urban planning, and strengthen financial management, procurement, environmental and social systems.

The 14 municipalities that will benefit from the project are geographically spread across the country and include: Arua, Gulu, Lira (Northern Uganda); Soroti, Moroto, Mbale, Tororo, Jinja (Eastern Uganda); Entebbe, Masaka (Central); Mbarara, Kabale, Fort Portal and Hoima (Western Uganda).

The 14 municipalities were chosen out of the 22 due to their regional balance, and their demonstrated capacity to handle increased investments.

The Government’s current Local Government Management and Service Delivery Program (LGMSDP) does not provide the municipalities with adequate funds to meet their strategic infrastructure investment needs.

The Government of Uganda is contributing $10 million (shs36b) in counterpart funding to the project from its current Local Development Grant (LDG) funding to municipal LGs under the current LGMSD program.

The 14 municipalities will have significant discretion in selecting priority projects from a menu including roads and associated infrastructure;  liquid and solid waste management; water and sewerage; local economic infrastructure (e.g. markets); and  urban transport.

FOCUS ON GULU

Gulu Municipality received the biggest chunk of the funding to totaling to US27.3 million (shs97billion) and decided to work on its infrastructure especially the roads within the municipality. Though the road works are almost complete, other sectors such as energy and water supplies are lacking and greatly affecting business operations in the city. For months now, Gulu has gone without water and rampant load shedding lasting for as long as two weeks.

BOSCO Uganda intervenes

What started as simple gesture by His Grace Arch Bishop of Gulu Dioceses, John Baptist Odama way back during the Lords’ Resistance Army (LRA) insurgency in northern Uganda seems to be paying off now. In 2006, at the peak of the LRA war in northern Uganda, His Grace Odama linked up with good Samaritans from the United States and started the Battery Operated Systems for Community Out Reach (BOSCO-Uganda) to generate power using solar energy for usage in the internally Displaced Persons camps (IDPs). The initial project started in Pabbo, now located in Amuru district but formerly in Gulu, one of the biggest IDPs then.

BOSCO Uganda is a non-profit organization which promotes education and computer literacy through a network of 27 computer centers in remote locations across northern Uganda. BOSCO is also engaged in meeting Uganda’s growing energy needs by installing and operating sustainable solar energy systems. BOSCO’s mission is to empower communities in post-conflict Uganda through dialog, education and economic development.

As Gulu continues to suffocate shock in darkness, with rampant outages, BOSCO Uganda is spearheading its mission of providing solar energy to locals in Gulu, Amuru, and Lira.

Last week as darkness prevailed in the city of Gulu, BOSCO Uganda commissioned its latest 30KW solar plant (the biggest in the region) at Pope John Paul College located in Latiya, Bungatira Sub County in Gulu. This college named after Pope John Paul II had been without power for decades. While commissioning the US$100,000 (Shs370m) John Baptist Odama noted that these are the positive attributes of the war. “Perhaps we would ‘not be here today commissioning this solar plant if there was no war in northern Uganda.  These are the positive sides of the war,” said Odama in a speech read for him by the BOSCO Uganda board chairperson Lawrence Too Okema.  He observed that what started as simple use of internet in IDPS to spread evangelism during the war days has now turned into a multi million project.  ‘What drives us is team work and transparency,” said Okema.

Father Joseph Okumu, the Executive Director Bosco Uganda said with the solar plant in place, many locals were living descent lives and boosting local businesses. “Our people live in grass thatched huts, and use paraffin lanterns that would be blown by wind leading to destruction of property and lives. With solar, this is no more. Our people can now live in comfort,” said Okumu. He said with support from donors such as Accenture and Notre Dame University in the US, many projects have been implemented to power up northern Uganda.

Tonny Okwonga the Chief Operations Officer BOSCO Uganda told The Investigator that since 2007, BOSCO’s computer network has expanded to include 27 different ICT centers across Uganda.

“ Internet access and computer trainings at these centers are open to all community members, providing access to information to isolated communities and allowing participants to gain valuable skills which can lead to job creation and economic development. Our computer network is built using long-range wifi technologies, which is key to our strategy of reaching remote communities in a cost-effective manner,” said Okwonga.

He said solar powered sites like in St. Mary’s’ College Lacor, Pabbo Sub county in Amuru, Pope John Paul II College in Gulu, Skyland High School and King James School in Lira among others had helped address shortage of electricity and boost business and learning.

Tom Purekal, the Project Manager Notre Dame Initiative for Global Development told The Investigator that he was happy with the resource use so far. “I have moved in Gulu, Amuru and Lira districts and seen how resourceful the funds dispatched to BOSCU Uganda was well utilized” said Tom.

Sarah Krisher from Accenture, one of the funders was optimistic that the solar powered plants would greatly change and boost the way people in northern Uganda do business.

Currently BOSCO Uganda is implementing the CE3 project, a project that has been started following the success of the phase and 1 and 2 sites. Joseph Rich, the CE3 Country Manager said under CE3, project (The Connectivity, Electricity, and Education for Entrepreneurship), the project aims to inspire and assist entrepreneurs in creating and expanding small businesses. “To achieve this goal, CE3 provides electricity, internet connectivity and entrepreneurship training to entrepreneurs at several BOSCO sites with assistance from the University of Notre Dame and Accenture Foundation,” said Rich.

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Patrick Jaramogi is a trained Crime, Financial and Fraud investigative journalist. He is a senior writer and Editor at the Investigator. He can be reached via email: pjaramogi@gmail.com or watsup +256772426211​​​