Your Excellency President Museveni,
Honourable David Migreko, Minister for Energy,
Let me begin by expressing my warmest thanks for your kind introduction and for this wonderful welcome.
What a great pleasure it is to be a part of this historic occasion. I am particularly pleased that it comes during my Golden Jubilee year - and indeed at the outset of my Jubilee visits to places in the world which have had special meaning to me - and to the Ismaili community - over the past fifty years. I know I will always remember this day - and this place - as a special highlight of these celebrations.
The laying of this foundation stone is indeed an historic moment. The project we celebrate today is an unprecedented endeavour.
As Nizar Juma has pointed out, it represents the largest single private sector investment of any sort in East Africa and the largest independent power project in sub-Saharan Africa. I understand it is the largest single power investment ever made by the International Finance Corporation - anywhere in the world.
I must tell you that the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development is very proud to have been the catalyst in advancing this project - and very happy to be a continuing part of it.
Our ceremony today is both an ending and a beginning.
It marks the end of a long road of dreams and plans, discussions and debates, negotiations and bids, adjustments and agreements - with a wide array of partners. It is thus a moment for extending warmest thanks and congratulations to everyone who has participated in this process - some of you for some time now - from both the public sector and the private sector - from Uganda, and from so many other countries.
We are deeply indebted to you all - for your patience and your stamina, for your imagination and your vision, and for your commitment to Uganda and East Africa.
You have already heard about President Museveni’s suggestion that a statue at State House might have been a good incentive for pushing this project along. I might observe, however, that if every person who played a key role in the project’s success were to be awarded a statue, the State House in Kampala would have to add a whole additional wing.
What has emerged from this intense, yet tireless, effort, in a relatively short period of time, was not a statue or a building - but something which can still be described as a truly splendid structure.
This will soon be true in a physical sense here at Bujagali. But it is also true in an organizational and a financial sense, as support for this project has been assembled from so many institutions and so many places.
It has not been easy through the years to attract traditional, private investment capital into ambitious infrastructure projects in the developing world. And yet, with the strong commitment of the Government of Uganda, the critical backing of Sithe Global Power and other private investors, and with the key support of the World Bank Group and other highly-respected multi-national lenders, the debt and equity financing for this project was actually over-subscribed!
What a wonderful breakthrough this has been - and what a powerful model it can be for the future!!
But if today marks the culmination of an intricate process of planning and organization, it also marks the beginning of another demanding journey - the process of executing and instituting our plans. At the end of this road, however, lies an exciting new world of opportunity - for the people of this region, for the people of this country, and indeed for the whole of East Africa.
As you know, the government and the people of Uganda have made substantial economic strides in recent years - and they are to be congratulated for these achievements. But in Uganda - as in many other countries - the greater those strides may be, the more they bump up against a formidable barrier - a shortage of dependable power. The greater the progress in other fields, the more severe this problem can become - as the inevitable load-shedding and loss of power too frequently reminds us.
This problem, of course, extends well beyond Uganda. It is striking to me that the continent of Africa, with fully one-sixth of the world’s population, produces only four percent of the world’s electricity - and most of that is in its northernmost and southernmost countries. The great issue of development, everywhere in the world, is whether the power supply will grow more quickly than the economy, or whether economic growth will outstrip the power supply. Uganda has been suffering from the latter condition - and the consequences have been grave.
Today, only five percent of the total population of Uganda - and only one percent of the rural population - have access to the grid supply of electric power. Even for those who do have access, electricity tariffs have more than doubled in the last four years. These skyrocketing costs work to reinforce the cycle of poverty for millions, and they badly impair the ability of Ugandan companies to compete in international markets - and thus to expand employment. The result of continuing power shortfalls can be a downward spiral of disappointment and discouragement.
The Bujugali project was not merely a desirable option as we began to examine it a few years ago. It was a fundamental necessity.
But just imagine for a moment the transformation that can take place when the cost of power is cut by more than half, as it will be in the early stages of this project, and then is later cut in half again. Think of the difference it will make when the supply of power is adequate to the needs, and massive load-shedding becomes a distant memory.
Bujagali alone will not accomplish our goals, of course. The energy challenge - here and elsewhere - will require a multi-faceted response, including bold innovations in the way we both produce and consume energy.
I believe that the Bujagali project will propel a great chain of positive developments - an exciting upward spiral.
Let me mention one other positive aspect of the Bujagali project.
Everywhere in the world today, people are searching for ways to reduce the threat of global warming both by limiting greenhouse gas emissions and by fighting the blight of deforestation. The key to both efforts is to move away from plant and fossil fuels, and to depend instead on renewable energy sources. Hydro electric power fulfills that goal. It is “clean” energy - advancing sustainable development while minimizing its environmental impact.
If this were not the case, we would not have taken up this project, and we could not have attracted such a wide range of public-minded supporters to join in this endeavour. We feel deeply that environmental goals and development goals must be part of a Complementary Agenda - we can serve one set of goals only if we also serve the other. We are proud that the Bujagali project advances that Complimentary Agenda.
The project we launch today is just one example of how the Aga Khan fund for Economic Development is responding to its mandate as an agent of change and growth - from Afghanistan to Tajikistan, from Mozambique to Mali. Another example in the energy field is the West Nile Rural Electrification Company, as has already been mentioned.
From the other side of the Continent, we have just recently learnt that the Ivory Coast Government has approved a major expansion of our Azito power project - one that will enable Azito to help meet the growing needs of the Ivory Coast and respond to the critical energy shortfalls in the neighboring country of Mali.
AKFED’s constant goal is to build institutions of enduring excellence, embracing state-of-the-art technologies and world-class standards. In many cases, AKFED’s initial investments have come in situations which were too uncertain for traditional private investors. Often, these projects were so effectively transformed that they could later be floated publicly on national stock exchanges in Asia and Africa.
AKFED works in many fields - from insurance, banking, micro-finance, and media, to a variety of manufacturing enterprises, to the tourism and leisure sector. It is presently creating four new national air transport companies, linking various countries throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. Step by step, each of AKFED’s projects will make a special contribution, we trust, to an upward spiral of progress. And the project we will develop here - at Bujagali, will be a particularly proud example.
From the very beginnings of civilization, the use of water - intelligently, respectfully, and creatively - has been at the very center of human concerns. The Nile River itself has been a great source and sustainer of life for thousands of years. Today, we repeat and renew that ancient story once again as we lay this Foundation Stone - and thus signal the opening of a new era in African history.
I salute all of you, respectfully and gratefully, for sharing with us in this great endeavour.