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Kiggundu moves to fix Karuma dam cracks

Karuma Dam Construction site

Museveni’s new team at Energy ministry grills Chinese contractors

The midday sun is beating down hard at Karuma; site of what will be Uganda’s biggest electricity dam; the 600MW Hydropower Dam under construction.

Gargantuan tower cranes stand several feet high, hoisting thick blocks of pre-fabricated concrete and iron bars atop an already vast expanse of cast concrete dam floors and walls. Huge blocks of concrete held together by what appears like millions of iron bars hang almost everywhere.

Even as the heat hits over 30°C, local labourers continue moving more iron bars and other construction materials as their Chinese supervisors bark commands.

It is November 2016 and only three years ago, the world’s longest river; the Nile, flowed gracefully through the thick lush green vegetation and birds chirped as they picked small insects and berries in this part of the 3,893 sq km Murchison Falls Conservation Area.

The flow of the mighty Nile has been shifted to a diversion dam. In its former path, the picture is beginning to emerge of how the mega $1.7 billion dam will look like once completed.

An official looking man is standing on one of the giant concrete walls, a white helmet on his head, and an orange reflector jacket on top of his short-sleeved not-tucked in shirt that is hanging freely over brown stripped pants folded into thick gumboots. That is engineer Dr. Badru Kiggundu. Until recently, he was the chairman of Uganda’s Electoral Commision but he now heads a new Project Steering Committee (PSC) appointed by President Yoweri Museveni to oversee the construction of Karuma dam and the smaller 183MW Isimba Dam also on the River Nile. This is Kigundu’s first official visit to Karuma and he has just stepped out of a dark-blue SUV.

He pulls his phone out of his pant pocket, bends and takes a picture of a spot where a crack appears to have been fixed at the dam’s spillway.

Fighting cracks at the dam is partly why Kigunddu’s crack team was appointed. President Museveni got very concerned when reports in March of alleged shoddy construction leading to the concrete cracking.

Experts had warned that if not addressed, the cracks threatened the future performance of both dams—Isimba and Karuma—which are costing the government a staggering $2 billion and are Museveni’s legacy projects.

The President deployed a team of State House-based investigators, who confirmed that there were cracks and reported a few other things. Museveni then wrote to Irene Muloni, the Energy Minister and

“How could this happen,” President Museveni asked in his April 5 letter to Muloni, “Didn’t we have any supervision from government on these facilities?”

Along the way, the controversy over Karuma was so nasty that it may have contributed to a fall out between President Museveni and his ally in the energy sector, former permanent secretary in the Ministry of Energy, Kabagame Kaliisa. He had been PS Energy for the last 41 years.

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