Community, Diaspora and Immigration
Interview with Dr. Emmy Wasirwa Chairman of Uganda liquefied petroleum Gas Association
Could you give us an overview of your background and responsibility at ULPGAS?
I am the Chairman and founder of Uganda liquefied petroleum Gas Association (ULPGAS) and the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Wana Solutions (U) Ltd. The company markets and distributes LPG in Uganda. Prior to my current undertakings, I obtained a medical degree from Makerere University Kampala and I was a Nuffic fellow at Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. There, after I obtained Master’s degree in Public Health from University of London, UK.
ULPGAS has positioned itself to lobby and advocate for policies which promote the use of LPG as a clean energy in Uganda. As the founder and chairperson, my responsibilities include steering the association towards independence.
In a period of just six months, we were able to hold two very important events. The stakeholders workshop and the National Conference titled “LPG: Exceptional energy for Uganda”. This conference brought together international and national dignitaries and these included government ministries and Members of World LP Gas Association, and Total International, developmental organisations and LPG stakeholders in the country.
What does ULPGAS stand for?
ULPGAS is a National Association for LPG in Uganda. It is a voice of dealers, marketers, and distributors of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG).
Our vision is to empower all stakeholders through information, education and networking.
You start1ed Wana Energy Solutions. What does it do?
I grew up with my parents in a rural Uganda on the slopes of Mount Elgon. My mother cooked food with crop residues and firewood for all types of foods. Since I was ten, my mother was in and out of hospital. Little did I know for years that she suffered from chronic bronchitis. She visited me in Kampala and cooked food on LPG. For the short period of time she spent with me in Kampala, I noticed some improvement. On returning to the village, she was admitted again for bronchitis related illness. Since she commenced using LPG she has at least been admitted to hospital for something different from bronchitis.
Wana is an indigenous company which was formed on the premise of combating the negative effects of traditional fuels used by my mother and many other women who strive every day preparing a meal in open kitchens. So Wana was commenced as a treatment precaution. We call ourselves as a social enterprise because we put the community ahead of profits.
The price of charcoal has skyrocketed to unaffordable price. Are your gas services affordable to the local people?
LPG in itself is an expensive energy in short term but quite cheap in long term. It is very expensive due to the startup costs. However in the long run, LPG is very cheap and safe as compared to fuelwood. For example, a 13kg of LPG can last a family of five people for about a month, unlike a 40kg bag of charcoal which costs the same price as LPG but can last the same family for less than two weeks.
How is the safety culture of LPG products?
Although we have not experienced a serious negative effect of LPG in Uganda, it can be dangerous due to unethical practices due to lack of safety standards. ULPGAS in collaboration with UNBS and MEMD are working on safety standards.
How do you distribute to customers?
Wana developed a unique approach. It is the first of its kind in the country. We distribute door to door complete packages which include stoves and accessories. We have commenced bulk distribution to Estates.
I understand you are planning to move back to run your business. Why now?
There are so many opportunities as indicated by Hon. Muloni during the just concluded Uganda Convention UK in London. Equally inside me, there are so many questions about what I tend to do for my country, rather than what the country should do for me. It is time for improvement in the association, from a personal growth to organisation transformation by developing the association as a strong institution which should stand the test of time.
Recently at the Convention, the Minister of Energy encouraged Diasporas to go back and invest in various segments in the oil sector. You are one of the Diaspora investors in this sector. Is there room for other Diaspora investors to venture into?
The oil and gas sector in Uganda is a virgin area. In the short term, we need to invest in storage facilities for LPG as we plan to heavily invest in distribution when the refinery commences in the next few years.
How do you advise the Diaspora who are struggling to access finance to start their business in Uganda?
Resolve and persistence. Foreign investors can offer modest cash for investment unlike local banks.
Invest your hard earned money, usually called “painful cash”. Establish a base and start looking for cash from foreign investors on the net.
The government has set up a Diaspora Directorate under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and there is a Diaspora Desk in Uganda Investment Authority. What support have you ever received from the organisations?
I heard about it once through the yearly conferences. But I have not personally accessed that service.
Do you think the government should have a Fast Track Stop shop for Diaspora?
Of course, I think the Diaspora desk has not been marketed well to the Diaspora. Instead of having a diaspora desk in Uganda, probably it would be better if it was either at embassies or at influential Ugandans business base, such as The Promota because they know potential investors in the Diaspora.
What is your opinion on the new Dual Citizenship?
Look at it in this way. We were born from two parents. Should one choose the father or the mother? Both are parents and should be treated as such.
What are the benefits of LPG for environment?
There are so many advantages of LPG but most Ugandans have been hooked on a myth that LPG is “very dangerous”. LPG presents with less green house gasses hence less destructive effect on the environment, unlike firewood. According to NEMA (National Environmental Management Authority) if the current trend of using firewood is not checked in Uganda, by 2050, all the remaining forests will disappear and LPG provides a solution to this problem.
What is your opinion on the recent Uganda Convention in the UK and how can initiatives like this help investors like you?
This convention was well overdue. It was an eye opener for most Diasporas as well as dignitaries who were in attendance. The attendants were able to network and shared anecdotes with each other. I suppose they received first-hand information about the challenges Diasporas face while trying to set up business in Uganda, or exporting goods from here to Uganda and equally the existing opportunities in Uganda. Also, Hon. Ministers were able to realise the amount of expertise and experience which exist amongst the Diaspora.
What are the challenges faced in the LPG sector?
The LPG market is severely constrained because of a number of structural defects such as lack of a regulatory framework that encourages private and public investment in distribution assets, and high upfront costs of cylinders, accessories and appliances.
If you are appointed the Minister of Energy, what are the core systems that you would structure?
First and foremost I would consider a strong public private partnership as a single policy document because to the government, the task seems mountainous. Likewise the private sector alone cannot be able to sustain the investment on its own. I hate charities and it sounds like people in the diaspora are like charities to their own families. They need to be encouraged to invest that money into energy business by encouraging them through Diaspora desk in the Diaspora, not in Uganda. I would also encourage consumers and private companies in setting up pressure groups. Listening to stakeholders helps to develop a robust policy. Above all, living in the 21st century and still using fuelwood is not an option.
What is your 10 year plan?
Our strategic plan is to improve distribution channels of LPG in rural areas by developing distribution channels through employment. We hope to attain 20% of the population accessing LPG by the year 2020.
Any encouraging messages that you would like to share with fellow Diasporans?
As much as business is geared towards profits, social entrepreneurship should be a driving force for Diasporas. Start a social business with an intention of making profits. Prepare a bankable business plan and visit the website and search for the investors. Attend conventions such as the Uganda convention UK for networking, and above all you can only succeed if you are persistent and able to command unending resolve.