A Chinese engineer (left) and his Ugandan colleague record measurements at a construction site of a Chinese company-assisted hydropower plant in Uganda. (Xinhua)
Deep in the tunnels dug below River Nile in northern Uganda, Chinese engineers together with their Ugandan counterparts assemble turbines that will generate electricity at the country's largest hydropower plant.
In other parts of the tunnels, local workers under close supervision of Chinese technicians weld metals as concrete trucks come in and out of the tunnels, and outside the tunnels, it is equally busy as workers build several structures.
Zheng Zhuqiang, Chinese ambassador to Uganda said that thousands of youths have gained skills as a result of the construction of the Karuma hydropower plant. Construction started in 2013.
"Over 6,000 Ugandans have been employed by the project. Local employees account for 13 percent of managers, 50 percent of technical workers and 87 percent general workers," Zheng said during a recent inspection tour of the construction site by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.
By the end of 2017, more than $150 million was paid for local procurement of diesel, cement, steel, wood and vehicles, according to Zheng.
The ambassador said when completed, the plant will generate 4 billion kilowatt hours annually and provide more than $200 million in revenue to the government, which is close to 1 percent of the gross domestic product.
Denis Rubangakene, a worker at the construction site, said that working under close supervision from his Chinese instructor, he has now gained skills in metal welding.
"I have come to realize that these people do not bother much about certificate and the level of education as long as you can manage to do the work they give you," Rubangakene said.
He said he has now gained experience and can start his own metal welding workshop when the construction project ends.
"For me, I am very sure, when I reach Gulu I will open my workshop. The project has given me something to do in the future," he said.
Andrew Kamagara, a local engineer at the site, said the construction project has exposed him to other fields that he never thought of joining.
He said although originally he was a water engineer, the Chinese have exposed him to structural engineering, a skill he now enjoys.
"At school we mostly learnt about theory but when we came here, more theory was added, but with the practical bit," Kamagara said. "I will be going away with a lot of structural knowledge. I have gained that information and it increased my confidence in structural design."
Meanwhile, villages neighboring the construction site have started developing, according to Severino Opio, local council leader of Karuma village.
He said the locals employed at the site are now buying land and constructing more permanent houses.
He said safe water points have been extended closer to the villages by Sinohydro, the project contractor.
"I used to collect water from very far and that meant I either had to leave my child in the house or carry him with me to fetch the water. But this borehole was built in the community so it helps us reduce the time spent collecting water," Lydia Buteme, a resident of Karuma village said.
At the national level, the 600 mW power plant will be a game changer in the provision of adequate electricity to power the country's economic development.
Irene Muloni, minister of energy and mineral development, said construction of the power plant will be completed by the end of next year.
"Construction of the power plant is 80 percent complete and the transmission part is 42 percent complete," Muloni said, noting that the first two units of the plant each generating 100 mW will be completed by the end of this year.
Museveni thanked China for financing the construction of the power plant, noting that it will be important in providing adequate electricity to fast track the economic development of the country.
"I want to thank the Chinese government because we made a contribution from the government of Uganda money, but the bigger money came from a soft loan from China," Museveni said.
Uganda contributed 15 percent as counterpart funding while the China Export and Import Bank is providing financing of up to 85 percent. The total cost is $1.4 billion for the generation plant component of the power plant.
Uganda's power generation and installed capacity is estimated at 930 mW, according to government data. It is estimated that 1,131 mW will be required to meet the national electricity demand by 2020.
When Karuma and the 183 mW Isimba Hydro Power Plant are complete, the 2020 demand would be surpassed. The Isimba Power Plant is also financed and constructed by China.
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