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UEGCL’s CEO talks living his engineering dream

Dr Harrison Mutikanga is the chief executive officer of Uganda Electricity Generation Company Limited. He shared his life story on Capital FM’s Desert Island Discs programme hosted by Simon Kasyate.

Good evening and welcome to the show!
Good evening, Simon!

Who is Harrison Mutikanga? Where was he born and to whom?

Harrison Mutikanga is a son of George William Rwimo and Joselyne Mary Rwimo of Nyakabingo in Kisoro district. Harrison was born 48 years ago in the town of Kilembe in western Uganda, where my dad used to work, in 1968.

What do you remember from your childhood?

Kilembe was very vibrant by then. As you know, copper mines in Uganda are in Kilembe and during the 60s and early 70s, it was really a vibrant town.

The memories I have in Kilembe is that I started my primary school there, in a school called Bulembeya. These days when I watch it on TV, I almost cry because the river has taken almost the whole school and swept the very beautiful quarters away. So, it brings back good memories as well as bad ones.

Are you the first child of your parents?

I am the second born in a family to five boys and one sister. So, we are six in total, unfortunately my two brothers passed on and one sister, so now we are three.

What kind of parents did you have?

They were loving and caring parents, especially I remember my dad used to take us to school as he was going to work. Bulembeya primary school was next to his offices… My mother, very loving but also she was a disciplinarian and I think we had a very good life when we were growing up.

How would one describe you as the individual: were you a stubborn kid or?

I have always been quiet and they told me that that was my character since I was young unlike my elder brother who was always like Simon [Kasyate] who was very chaotic, always very inquisitive and trying to find out what is going on. But I was the opposite; I was very, very calm.

As you were going through school, did you have an idea of what you wanted to be in future?

Unfortunately, we left when I was in P2. My dad got health problems; so, he had to leave the job and we went back to Kosoro. So, basically I spent most of my childhood as a country boy in Kisoro in Nyakabingo and also in Nyarusiiza where I did most of my primary school.

Like you know, Kisoro is water-stressed; so, one thing I remember vividly is we used to go and fetch water in the morning before going to school barefoot and Kisoro has a lot of stones.

It was really a very hard life. Sometimes we used to fetch water using sourcepans. So, you would walk like three kilometres to Lake Kyahafi, sometimes to Kyuho to fetch water, then you reach home at the doorsteps and you slide and the sourcepan falls and you lose all the water!

The rule would be you go back and pick or you go to the neighbours. These days people borrow money but in Kisoro you would go to the neighbour to borrow water so that you can be able to cook food and maybe in the evening when you go and fetch water, you can come back and replace your neighbour’s water.
 

Plays Kankutendereze by Mesarch Ssemakula

You are back to Kisoro, how was the school environment there?

Bulembeya primary school in the early 70s was one of the modern primary schools. We had all sorts of facilities for playing games. And all of a sudden you switch from a school like that to Kisoro.

When we went back to Kisoro, we had to go to a church school called Masaka Church of Uganda. I found children were writing on sand…that transition was very strange to me and I was lucky that at least I had an exercise book but I also had that experience of writing on sand, a church school, one classroom and many children, no furniture, you are sitting down.

Then from there I went to Gisorola primary school. It was a bigger one that most people in Kisoro went through and later I went to Kabindi primary school because we spent most of our life with our uncles’ side. From primary four up to P7, I was in Kabindi and unlike all rural primary schools, it was an average school because you had where to sit, you had uniform…

Did you have shoes?

There were no shoes at that time.

When did you first wear shoes?

My first pair of shoes was in S1.

When you tell that to your children, don’t they think you are reading from some horror book?

Sometimes when I am driving them to school I tell them you guys cannot even walk to school. For us we used to walk so many kilometres to school after fetching water.

For them it’s like a movie. They can’t imagine that we went through such experience. My first shoe I remember was given to me by my cousin brother. He was a businessman and he had got some little money. It was a shock to me.

So, I would put on my black shoes with stockings and shorts and I remember in Kabindi primary school I was the head of the boys’ brigade. So, during independence cerebrations, those days I would be leading the boys’ brigade. That was good experience.

Now I think you had started thinking of what you wanted to be?

I think I was in primary and I said I think I want to be an engineer. Maybe I need to be a banker. So, that is how I started thinking about what I should be in future.

Plays Mama Shenge by Massamba

Harrison, what exactly do you do at UEGCL?

Uganda Electricity Generation Company has a mandate of generating, establishing and developing electricity generation facilities and also operating and maintaining electricity generation facilities. But as we do that, it should all be based on commercial sound principles. We are also required to do research in the energy sector.

Many people seem to think that there are many players in this sector and we just can’t differentiate what you guys do: we see UEDCL, UEGCL, UETCL,  Eskom, Umeme…

I think is very hard for the public to erase in their mind what we used to have as Uganda Electricity Board; and UEB was doing everything to do with electricity generation, transmission and distribution. So, it was very clear, there was one authority in charge of everything and they were regulating themselves.

But because of reform in the energy sector, UEB was unbundled to enhance efficiency in the sector. Out of that, three companies came into being. So, the generation activities are executed by UEGCL, the transmission services were taken over by Uganda Electricity Transmission Company Limited and then distribution was taken over by Uganda Electricity Distribution Company Limited.

In addition, we got some other two players known as Escom Uganda Limited and Umeme Uganda. Eskom signed a concession of 20 years to operate Nalubaale and Kiira hydropower plants in Jinja on behalf of UEGCL and then Umeme is also operating the distribution system on behalf of UEDCL also on a 20-year concession agreement…

Getting back to your life, after primary, where did you go?

I completed my primary school at Kabindi and went to Mutolere Secondary School.

Is it the only secondary school there: everyone went to that school?!

During that time, Mutolere was the A-class…When you enter S1, you do all subjects. Because of my dream of what I wanted to be, I was so much focused on sciences. In the end it worked, I finished S4 in 1986 and when the results came, I was the second-best in my school.

What was the status of electricity in Kisoro at the time?

I first saw electricity in Kisolo and Mutolere SS in the 1970s before I joined. The school was managed by Catholics. You would pass the school at night and you would see daylight. But by the time we went in 1983; that had all gone. There was no electricity. I remember we used to read on lanterns.

Is there electricity in Mutolere now?

There is electricity even in Kisoro town and my own village in Nyakabingo and Nyarusiiza, thanks to rural electrification. But you know in Kisoro we get our electricity from Rwanda and also Uganda [semds] electricity to Rwanda through Katuna.

Plays Maama by Judith Babirye

After S4, where did you go?

One thing I will always remember and every time I meet my old friends, you know the first day in school, I remember I was dropped in a Mercedes Benz, in S1, in 1983. I remember I was dropped by my cousin Geoffrey Sabiiti and you remember my uncle was one of the well-off people in Kisoro.

You would count how many people had cars in Kisoro. So, from Mutolere I went to Makerere College School. That was my first time in Kampala and my first time in a bus.

I remember those days the road was bad. We would come and sleep in Kabale and then leave Kabale in the morning and reach Kampala in the night. I was trying to visualize how Kampala looks like and how this school I was joining looks like.

So, when you reach the car park...

So many cars. I had never seen so many cars in my life. Of course I had somebody I travelled with – the late Basiisi. He took me to my cousin’s residence in Kibuye near the railway line.

How was your first day at school?

Interesting. First of all I didn’t know the school was inside campus, I didn’t know it was a mixed school. My first choice had been Namilyango College and I was not taken but I was sold to Makerere College. Those days it was transparent. You would miss your first choice and you go to your second choice.

I was offered PCM. I didn’t know anything to do with visitations; you would see parents coming with cars and all sorts of foods but you would never get someone to visit you. So, we would console ourselves by reading hard and ensure that one day we would be able to visit our own children.

Plays God Will Make A Way by Don Moen

Did you easily make it to university?

If you read hard, you would easily make it to the university. Everything worked out for me because I was praying; God help me to pass and if I pass, I want to go and do civil engineering and if I go to university, I want to stay in Livingstone hall, and all that became a reality.

Did you ever go to dancehalls?

I tried but I didn’t have a lot of money to go out of university. So, we would go to guild canteen. There used to be a lot of social activities such as bull roasting, we used also to have Afro-Stone. A mix of Livingstone hall and Africa; so, we would dance.

You didn’t need a lot of money to go to those functions. I passed well at A-level and there used to be what is called state scholars. If you got two As and it was your first time, you are not repeating, when you get to university, there was some allowance for state scholars. I was one of them and the money was a bit handsome. So, on those social evenings, you could afford to buy a bottle of beer. I could afford to buy a radio as well.

Did you meet your wife at the university?

No. I tried but I didn’t succeed. Again because of what we used to call Veg-Economica (you didn’t have enough money to sustain a girlfriend).

When you graduated, did you have an idea where you were going to work?

I remember my fourth-year project, I did a project on roads. My wish was to work with the ministry of works. But when you are on the streets, you tend to apply anywhere. Ministry of works advertised and National Water advertised and I was already working for a local contractor.

National Water first invited me for the interviews and I passed and I got a job as area engineer, Jinja. Then ministry of works also invited me for the interviews and I passed and was also given an offer.

And this was at the same time?

Yes. There was a gap of six months. As area engineer in Jinja, it looked a big post. I was given a house I remember in Masese, Walukuba. It was a big house, three bedrooms, self-contained. I had a car and the money National Water was giving me was good.

I think we were earning about Shs 500,000 by then. Here I get an offer from ministry of works. I reported and did my research, they were paying very little money in public service. It was may be 1/5 of what I was earning at National Water. I stayed at National Water.

How long did you work with National Water?

I worked in National Water for 20 years. I worked in Jinja from 1994 to 1997, to Kampala briefly and then got a scholarship to go for my master’s. I went for a master’s in the Netherlands from 97 to 99 and when I came back, I was transferred to Fort Portal as an area manager. In 2002, they added Kasese to me…

With this status, how were you faring on the social front?

I had everything that every girl would want to associate with. But again I became a little bit more focused. I said no, I am not going to get a girl now let me first go and do my master’s and when I come back, that is when for me to enter into a relationship.

So, when I came back from the Netherlands, from that time on I knew I was ready. Finally, I landed on the right person for me. When I was working in Jinja, the first person I met there, we had studied together in Mutolere SS.

He is called Rubanzana, from Nyabushozi. So, he was staying with a nephew called Susan. And of course Suzan had sisters who would come and visit her. Then I got to know one of the sisters and that is Sheila and the rest is history. She is now Sheila Mutikanga. We have been married for the last 15 years.

What about children?

We have three children. Mark, Malcom and Maria. But we have also adopted a daughter called Diana. So, I have a family of four children.

What was the transition from National Water to UEGCL like?

I think I had gone through all stages in National Water. From an area engineer, I had risen to the rank of general manager Kampala Water. And actually when Dr [William] Muheirwe left, I was one of the candidates who competed for the MD job and missed it narrowly.

After 20 years, I said I had done enough, I needed a new challenge. Actually after I left, I had a consultancy firm, I left in September 2012 and went to work in my firm and other partners. Just as I was leaving National Water, this advert came of UEGCL.

They were advertising for CEO. I said let me just give it a shot. Two months after that, they invite me for interviews, we were 23 and I was selected as the best.

Didn’t you at that moment think you had made a mistake?

At that time I was at crossroads. Because after PhD, you are thinking let me continue with academics and become a professor. I actually started part-time lecturing at UCU in Mukono…so, I discussed it with my family and partners at the firm and went in for the CEO job.

As CEO, what is your vision like?

When I started as CEO, I had a 100 days’ programme where within those days I came up with a strategic direction. I came up with the vision to be the greatest electricity generation company in the Great Lakes region and that is the vision I have.

When I look at our neighbours in Kenya, they are listed on the stock exchange, they are generating over 2000MW. At UEGCL, we are still generating 380MW, electricity access in this country is at 16 per cent, per capita consumption is at around 80 kilowatt hours; when I look at Vision 2040 and NDP 2, where access should move from 15% to 30% then to 80% by 2040 then per capita should move from 80 to 500 kilo watt hour then to about 3,500 by 2040, you realize that we have a lot of work to do…My vision is to see us really developing more generation facilities, operating them efficiently…to make sure that this power is affordable, and benefitting the people and economy.

How is it going with Karuma and Isimba projects?

We have had challenges with Isimba and Karuma projects. Currently, work has slowed down at Karuma because investigations are ongoing to try and find out on the cause for quality issues and once we know the real causes, we will come up with mitigation measures…and resume work.

So, if Karuma and Isimba don’t come to completion in time, should Ugandans hold you accountable?

Whereas we are the implementing agency, the ministry of energy has full contract powers and they are still involved in implementation and they have said that they will be 100% responsible for the projects.

But the government has directed that they transfer contract administration powers to UEGCL as the implementing agency for government. If they do that, then I can promise that I will be held responsible for delivering these projects.
 
Is it a question of if, or when?

I think it is a question of when. Because government has directed and I am sure they are in the process of transferring the projects to us.
 
When you need to relax, what do you do?

I like to take off time and be with my family. When children are on holiday, we like going swimming at the end of a busy week; you know I wake up early every day.

By 6:30am I am in the office and by 5:30 am leaving office to head straight to the gym. I work out for one hour and go back home in time for the 9 o’clock news. So, every day I am at home by 9pm.

What is your favorite dish?

I love vegetables, proteins and I do less of carbohydrates because I am trying to lose some kilos.

How do you wash that down?

With a glass of sweet, red wine.

What makes you angry?
Dealing with people who are not faithful. Who don’t have integrity. Who want to cut corners.

If you were marooned on a desert island and allowed to carry one thing or one person: what or who would you carry?
My family.

Plays Coward of the County by Kenny Rogers

TRANSCRIPT BY: JOSEPH KIMBOWA.
 

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