Connecting Kalangala: How USAID, Power Africa, and the Private Sector are Improving Lives in Uganda

From the sky, Uganda’s Kalangala District might be mistaken for a collection of rare emeralds or prized jade floating in the dark blue expanse of Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest freshwater lake. Kalangala comprises 84 islands, also known as the Ssese Islands, and is home to roughly 75,000 resident islanders, more than a quarter of which live on Bugala Island, the most populated island in the district.

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Bugala Island faced chronic water shortages and had unpaved roads, a dilapidated ferry, and a lack of electricity which made life difficult for residents. For years, the island’s only electricity was supplied by thermal generators, run by the national power utility, Uganda Electricity Distribution Company Limited. These generators only provided 15 hours of electricity per day, making it nearly impossible to start or run an electricity-dependent business.

Moreover, limited transport options between the island and the mainland prevented access to life-saving medical services, stunted economic growth, and stifled tourism potential. Essential products and services were only accessible via the mainland, which delayed distribution and inflated costs. Social service delivery was constrained, resulting in poorly performing schools and reduced access to health care, especially for children and women. Private-sector companies were reluctant to finance any development activities on the island due to a perceived high risk.

Investing in Infrastructure to Bring Bugala to Life

This all changed when a multi-partner investment venture, backed by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), linked the island to the mainland and improved the quality of life through investments in transport, water, and energy. Through an enterprise-driven development model, USAID helped convene private-sector partners to improve the island’s infrastructure through the $50 million Kalangala Infrastructure Services (KIS) Project. By offering a joint loan guarantee with GuarantCo, a multi-donor backed development finance company, USAID attracted $20 million of commercial debt for KIS from Nedbank and the Emerging Africa Infrastructure Fund. The rest of the funding came from the Private Infrastructure Development Group (PIDG), InfraCo Africa, Uganda Development Corporation Ltd (UDC), and Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa (IDC).

The initial multi-sectoral investment in KIS resulted in an investment in two ferries to enable access to the mainland, a modern water treatment and distribution system that drastically reduced waterborne diseases on the island, and a 1.6-megawatt (MW) solar/thermal hybrid mini-grid, commissioned in April 2015 with 2,000 electricity connections to homes and businesses.

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The Kalangala Infrastructure Services (KIS) Project included a a 1.6-megawatt (MW) solar/thermal hybrid mini-grid. Photo: Sab Horizons

These infrastructure improvements facilitated secure and more frequent transportation of goods and improved social service delivery, which in turn paved the way for an entrepreneurial boom on the island.

Putting New Power to Productive Use

Despite the social and economic advances, the new power plant’s electricity capacity was underutilized by Bugala Island residents. A 2017 study revealed that energy use was only at 25 percent, with 2,900 connections. This low demand was due to the small number of electricity connections and limited productive or commercial utilization of the available electricity.

To boost connections and propel the island’s economic trajectory, Power Africa and KIS embarked on a productive use of energy (PUE) campaign in 2018 to increase activities that require power and provide a service. Power Africa and KIS conducted a survey to determine PUE opportunities on the island and the latent entrepreneurial capacity. With this information, KIS, with Power Africa grant support, executed a robust PUE promotional and training campaign.

Through 12 workshops, KIS and Power Africa trained more than 256 business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs to utilize electricity for better service provision, production, and commerce.

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Julian Muwonge, a beneficiary of the training, at his ICT shop. Photos: Sab Horizons

The training modules included PUE business identification and selection, business planning, market analysis, production planning, managing customer relations, record keeping, and safety and handling. These trainings empowered PUE entrepreneurs to start up or expand their business and demonstrated the value proposition of electricity for rural business growth and social transformation. As part of the campaign, Power Africa supported KIS to engage Stanbic Bank and Finance Trust Bank to develop appropriate financing packages for household/business wiring and for energy-dependent business growth.

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Ssekanyike Patrick started welding business after the training. Photo: Sab Horizons

The Power Africa/KIS awareness campaign resulted in more than 400 new connections, and stimulated new industry services such as dairy production, steel welding, and fish processing.

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Gertrude Nabukeera (top right photo) is a fishmonger and former trainee. She plans to set up a 20 ton ice plant. Photos: Sab Horizons

Critically, for the residents of Bugala Island, access to electricity also prompted the development of a new health care facility, the Eunice Memorial Medical Centre, that utilizes modern, life-saving medical equipment.

The health care center’s founder, Dr. Ssuubi Muwonge, attributed his idea directly to the PUE business workshops, which inspired him to plug into the KIS mini-grid.

His story demonstrates that integrating PUE into rural electrification planning and implementation leads to productive use of electricity, catalyzes socioeconomic transformation, and contributes to distribution utility improvement.

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Dr. Ssuubi Muwonge proprietor of Eunice Memorial Medical Center. Photo: Sab Horizons

The health care center, which opened in September 2019, now uses the most modern diagnostic and treatment equipment for Bugala Island patients and medicines and vaccines can be refrigerated, extending their shelf life and availability.

The center has attracted qualified medical personnel and operates at a standard only achievable because of its access to electricity. Residents of Bugala Island now have local access to health care services which reduces the necessity to make the sometimes treacherous journey to hospitals on the mainland. Tragically, just one month before the center opened, three expectant mothers died when their boat capsized en route to see a doctor on the mainland.

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Opened in September 2019 and critical for the residents of Bugala Island, access to electricity also prompted the development of a new health care facility, the Eunice Memorial Medical Centre, that utilizes modern, life-saving medical equipment. Photo: Sab Horizons

Other sectors of the island’s economy were also positively impacted by the PUE campaign. Vianney Tugumisirize, manager of Island Best Dairy Farm, is one of the beneficiaries of the training program. Before the Power Africa training, the farm only sold raw milk. Vianney received training on how to improve dairy production and how to explore other opportunities that would benefit his business. The farm now processes raw milk into yoghurt and pasteurized milk. Since the training, farm operations have become more efficient.

Of the training, Vianney said, “I learned a lot. The biggest takeaway was on product quality and value addition. Before the training, we were getting 150 liters of milk every day, but we could only sell 50 liters. A lot of milk was being wasted, and we had tremendous losses. Since the training, we acquired a new machine and are now making good quality yogurt.”

The farm continues to improve the quality of its yoghurt, acquired more machines, and expanded production to 500 liters weekly. While the farm’s electricity consumption has doubled, increased profits make electricity costs a worthwhile investment. The farm plans to use its profits to acquire more cows to further expand its milk production and business. Equipped with increased PUE skills, Vianney is set to continue improving the fortunes of Island Best Dairy Farm.

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Vianney Tugumisirize, manager of Island Best Dairy Farm, received training on how to improve dairy production and how to explore other opportunities that would benefit his business. The farm now processes raw milk into yoghurt and pasteurized milk. Photo: Sab Horizons

Changing Lives through the Power of Partnership

The economic and social impact achieved on Bugala Island demonstrates that access to electricity can be transformational, supporting increased production and value addition, thus leading to better access to goods and services, as well as increased incomes.

Bugala Island was once cut off from Uganda’s development and advancement. Transport was difficult, medical care was limited, social services were constrained, and cost of living was unnecessarily high. Today, thanks to initiatives driven by local, private-sector enterprises, backed by USAID and Power Africa, life on Bugala Island is thriving.

Powering the COVID-19 Response on Uganda’s Bugala Island

For more Bugala Island images, visit our Flickr stream: https://www.flickr.com/photos/powerafrica/albums/72157711532904552

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A U.S. Government-led partnership that seeks to add 30,000 MW and 60 million electricity connections in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030 > https://bit.ly/2yPx3lJ

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