By Biswajit Choudhury, New Delhi, April 13 IANS | 3 months ago

Uganda, sitting on a "pile of uranium", is seeking India's knowhow to develop its reserves and open up new vistas of energy cooperation between historically linked countries, a visiting Ugandan minister has said.


Ephraim Kwamuntu, Ugandan minister of water and environment, said his country was keen on mutually beneficial cooperation with India to develop energy resources.

"Uganda is sitting on a pile of uranium, for instance, and Indian knowhow would be very useful in accessing this," Kwamuntu told IANS in an interview. "We have uranium, oil and gas. Here, India with its knowhow and expertise can help," he added.

Explaining that Uganda had to increase manifold its energy generation capacity to achieve the status of a middle-income country, Kwamuntu said India had a lot to offer in this regard.

"The sun is directly overhead in equatorial Africa, yet in Uganda only 14 percent of the population has access to electricity. The remaining 86 percent go to bed with sunset. What would you expect about this population," the minister asked rhetorically.

Uganda has been in talks with India about accessing its uranium reserves and for India training its engineers in this area. Uganda's planning minister had earlier led a business delegation to India that held talks with the Confederation of Indian Industry on developing Uganda's uranium sector, among others.

With nuclear energy becoming an important source in India's potential energy mix, and with its own comparatively modest reserves, India has been discussing uranium purchase from various African countries.

On the other hand, with Africa emerging as an important supplier of uranium, many countries of the continent have shown interest in doing business with India. These include South Africa, the only African member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and Namibia, which produced 4,000 tonnes of uranium in 2012. India has signed a uranium agreement with Namibia as well as a protocol in 2011 for supplying the mineral.

Other uranium-rich African countries keen to cooperate with India include Tanzania, Malawi, Mali and Niger.

Kwamuntu explained that there was both the experience and the technology aspects to cooperation with India, whose technology "is more applicable to our situation than the advanced technology of the Americans".

"We have a lot to learn from India, which is now almost a superpower. But we know where it has come from. It has come from where we are. So we can learn from your experiences about how you transformed a country that was also once food insecure," the minister told IANS.

The use of English and similar legal systems were some of the other commonalities which facilitated cooperation, he pointed out.

"A number of our students come down here to study. Many Ugandans who have gone onto leadereship roles have trained in India. Prime ministers, ministers, permanent secretaries - the whole lot have been students who studied here (India)," Kwamuntu said.

Pointing out that Uganda's relations with India go beyond mere trade to historical and cultural links, building on which Ugandan Indian have established themselves in every sector of the economy.

"In the history of Uganda, industrial development started when the British (colonists) imported a lot of Indians to come construct a railway line from Mombasa port on the Indian Ocean, inland. When the railways completed, the Indians never went back and went on to become the pillars of industry in our country," Kwamuntu said.

"Madhvanis are an Indian company huge in manufacturing and sugar. There are a whole range of Patels with a number of investments. There are also a lot of Ismailis (followers of the Aga Khan)," the minister said of Indian-origin people who play a major role in Uganda's economy.

(Biswajit Choudhury can be reached at biswajit.c@ians.in)

(Posted on 13-04-2014)