AfricaLive: Please tell readers a bit about KUKA Uganda and your motivation for starting the enterprise?
Businge Donald: We came into the industry after identifying a gap especially in the road construction area. Our road sector was lacking a lot in terms of infrastructure development, capacity building and involvement of local content. We wanted to make changes and have a positive impact on the sector and that was when KUKA was born. The name KUKA is a combination of two local names Kumbuka and Kazawa. We have grown a lot since 2014 when we had a big breakthrough after winning a contract worth a million dollars. Our philosophy is improvement, not just within our ranks but also for our customers in the industry.
AfricaLive: Please elaborate more on your 2014 breakthrough project, what did it involve and why was it so important for the development of Uganda?
Businge Donald: The project was being worked on in Western Uganda and it was a rehabilitation project. We were there to ensure that residents could access their markets, farms and health centres properly again. The area is a mountainous agricultural hub and opening it up with a proper road network was a challenging yet exciting project. We were involved in gravel works, bridge construction, culverts, while also making huge cuts on escarpments to link different communities together. As we speak today, the project has been recognised as a blueprint for others to follow when dealing with such terrain. The project received a mark of quality and was commissioned by the roads minister at the time.
AfricaLive: The launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) will be going ahead in early 2021, hopefully acting as a catalyst for driving Intra-African trade. What are your ambitions, both in the short term and long term, when it comes to trading internationally?
Businge Donald: Uganda was one of the very first countries to endorse the AfCFTA agreement and that makes us very excited. AfCFTA makes the continent almost one village association so to speak. We are already partnering with colleagues in Kenya, Rwanda, and Morocco; so this is going to open even more doors to partnerships. We look forward to more opportunities because the market will expand and resources will increase. It will set the stage for the execution of huge cross border projects that would have been hard to do all by ourselves.
AfricaLive: What kind of cross-border partnerships are you looking to develop and what expertise will you be taking to new countries?
Businge Donald: We are looking for quality partners that will help us get essential services to the people. We have secured a partnership in Kenya on a joint venture that will see us participate in the construction of a sub-county bridge. We want to expand through partnerships because that is a path that has been successfully navigated before.
If we look overseas, successful partnerships form a huge part of Malaysia’s success story and they had to develop their local content first to get ahead. The more we link up as indigenous communities from different countries and pool our resources together, the more we will achieve big things.
AfricaLive: What do you consider to be the primary opportunities and threats facing your sector?
Businge Donald: The biggest challenge we are facing right now is the importation of labour in terms of the companies that are coming in to compete with us. There is a big challenge when it comes to access to finance for development projects. The Chinese companies that come into our country do not have those challenges because they get funding from their government. In the face of such financially strong competitors, it is hard for local content companies like us to fully participate in the development agenda.
Foreign competition is not all bad though, certain standards are set, that push us to produce more. We now have to up our game in terms of being organised, seeking investors and adopting new technologies and innovations. As much as foreign innovation is a big challenge to us, it’s also a learning opportunity.
Uganda presents many opportunities especially when it comes to oil and gas. Feeder roads are being built around oil and gas as the country braces for major activity as from next year. We also have major infrastructure developments when it comes to the construction of learning institutions as well as regional hospitals. AfCFTA presents an opportunity for a big boom because great partnerships will be made throughout the continent.
AfricaLive: What do you believe is the role of the engineering sector when it comes to de-risking Africa?
Businge Donald: We have to focus on doing our homework right first. We as indigenous players cannot expect to get outside funding if we don’t lay the groundwork properly. We need to be organised in terms of what is needed for project success. We have to check that we have the right tools, the right human resources and if we have done a similar project before. It is upon us to convince potential financiers that we will use the money in the right way. Building a reputation and getting organised for me is the most effective way to de-risk the continent.
AfricaLive: How do you believe technology adoption will change the future of civil engineering in Africa, and what new skills need to be learnt?
Businge Donald: Our government and policymakers have to step up. School syllabuses have to be changed every few years to maintain relevance as the years and decades go by. The stuff I learnt in school was relevant for my time but it won’t be relevant for my son that’s coming up.
We are in the fourth industrial revolution era, going forward while disregarding technology is impossible. The manual processes we used to know are slowly being rendered irrelevant by technology. Our policymakers must, therefore, ensure that syllabuses are changed and are relevant for a certain region. We must also invest in innovation to keep up to speed. I have friends from other countries who are sharing information about how they are innovating to help improve highway engineering. What they have is a far cry from what we have here and that gap needs to be closed. Our government must, therefore, not just have tertiary institutions built; they must be well equipped to come up with innovations that will help us.
AfricaLive: What are some of the exciting innovations or solutions you are implanting across your projects?
Businge Donald: We have improved on our fuel monitoring system and we are in partnership with a software firm here in Uganda to develop an implementation monitoring system. The solution will monitor progress versus inputs that have been put into a project. In the past, all processes and correspondence were done on email or papers. We now have a dedicated server that helps us monitor a project’s progress from start to finish. Our partnerships with software professionals have improved our processes by reducing wastage and boosting productivity.
AfricaLive: What does the future of infrastructure development look like on the African continent and how do you envision KUKA as well as Uganda playing a role?
Businge Donald: The future is bright because we have a youthful generation of curious and energetic people who want to join the civil engineering space. The government must work on the infrastructure though. Other industries like agriculture, which is a big driver of the economy, depend on us to deliver infrastructure that will help them thrive. The government must, therefore, get fully onboard to help us support other industries. Our role will be to help deliver services while also venturing into new areas like we are in Morocco. The increase in TVET students in Uganda compared to a decade ago, will create a generation of technical experts that can offer cross border services.
AfricaLive: If you were to bring together Uganda’s leaders from government, higher education, and business to a roundtable meeting held at your HQ – what would be the main item on your agenda?
Businge Donald: I would emphasise on the creation of policies that will help us build workmanship and skills so that we can equip our young ones. We must push them into different sectors that will help put our country on the map. I would also call for policies that help us support and create our local products.