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Owen Falls Dam: Bring Back British Engineers

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This situation has forced me to revisit the 1950s. I would like to suggest to the government to bring back British engineers from British Insulated Callenders Construction Company (BICCC) who are based in London.
They constructed the Owen Falls Dam from 1951-1954 and they installed 8-12 turbines which were supposed to generate electricity to the whole of East Africa without any problems. I do not know whether all the turbines are still operating.

Let me give a brief history of Owen Falls Dam. It was built by the British Government after the then Katikkiro of Buganda, Micheal E. Kawalya-Kaggwa, during his visit to the United Kingdom requested the Queen’s Government to “give us water and electricity”.

A British Governor, Sir Andrew Cohen, arrived here in January 1950 replacing Governor John Hall and immediately ordered the construction of the Hydro Electric Dam to start. It was completed and was opened by the Queen ElizabethII in 1954.

At the time of Independence in 1962, I was an information officer in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. The British Government took us (news men) on a tour of two major projects which they had built for Uganda. The two are Mulago Hospital and the Owen Falls Dam besides Makerere University.

At the Owen Falls Dam, I recall very clearly the British engineers who were manning and maintaining the dam on a daily basis, telling us that “this dam with its 8-12 turbines can generate electricity to the whole of East Africa all the time without any problems if it is properly maintained by qualified electrical engineers even if the population of East Africa grows to over a billion people”.

When the British engineers left, a Ugandan British trained electrical engineer, the late Abraham Waliggo, took over as the resident electrical engineer. After Waliggo, another British trained engineer, the late Nalikka, took over.

With the coming of the political turmoil and military rule in the 1970s, the whole system at the Owen Falls Dam became chaotic followed by what we now know as “African mismanagement”.

I understand that by 1986, when the dictatorial regimes were swept out of power, only four of out the 8-12 turbines were operating.

We cannot go on like this. What should we do now? The government should contact BICCC in London through the Crown Agents or the Commonwealth Secretariat or through the British High Commission in London. We should bring in two highly qualified engineers from BICCC, who have all the data on this dam, to examine and overhaul the entire generating system at the Owen Falls Dam.

We should employ them first on a two-year contract, and their work will be to install new turbines, and to carry out their proper maintenance on a daily basis as resident engineers. Later, the Parliament of Uganda should authorise the government to employ the engineers on a permanent basis so that the question of “African mismanagement” is completely ruled out.

If my advice is acceptable to the government, then steps will have to be taken to ensure that during the process of buying the new turbines, there will be no question of people “eating the difference”.

The new dam which was built on the eastern side of the Owen Falls Dam will have to be closed completely so that there will be enough water in the reservoir of the Owen Falls Dam as it was in 1954.

Mr Kavuma-Kaggwa is an elder from Kyaggwe, Mukono District.


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