He may be a decorated army general, an ambassador and one of the ruling NRM’s historicals but retired Maj Gen Matayo Kyaligonza is haunted by a missed photo opportunity in an otherwise illustrious career.
Kyaligonza was one of the pioneer fighters of the National Resistance Army (NRA) rebel outfit that captured state power in 1986 after a five-year guerilla war led by President Museveni.
He has retired from the army after a long spell of serving in various capacities including MP and ambassador. But speaking to his colleagues on NRM’s Central Executive Committee (CEC) last week, Kyaligonza said he rues missing out on a chance to appear in the 1986 historical swearing-in ceremony photographs.
“You see my fear for the camera cost me a big moment in our history when the big man (President Museveni) was swearing in as president for the first time,” Kyaligonza disclosed on February 15 during a familiarization tour of Karuma hydropower dam project.
His disclosure was prompted by cameramen taking photos of him in the conference room where CEC members gathered for the project brief before being taken on a guided-tour of the multibillion power facility.
“We had just taken over power; I still had the hangover of having been the leader of urban banditry. I was hesitant to show my face because I didn’t know what could happen tomorrow and in the process (Kahinda) Otafiire just shoved me aside to take the front spot,” he added.
Indeed, in one of the widely-circulated official swearing-in ceremony pictures, Otafiire appears alongside Museveni. During the guerilla war, Kyaligonza commanded the NRA’s urban fighter unit around Kampala and has famously revealed that he once drove a car full of guns past a roadblock mounted by government soldiers after cheekily telling them he was carrying weapons.
Currently, Kyaligonza is the NRM vice chairman for western Uganda and is a member of CEC, which is the ruling party’s second top decision-making organ.
On February 16, CEC members stopped at Karuma for an update on the progress of the project, which is expected to fulfill NRM’s 2016-21 manifesto campaign promises to deliver adequate electricity to the country. They were going for a five-day retreat called by Museveni at Chobe Safari Lodge to discuss the party’s proposed constitutional amendments on elections.
Meanwhile, the completion schedule of the 600-megawatt Karuma hydropower dam has been extended to December this year. The multibillion dollar project, being constructed by China’s Sinohydro Corporation, was slated for commissioning last December.
However, Uganda Electricity Generation Company Ltd (UEGCL) chief executive officer Harrsion Mutikanga told CEC members that they failed to beat the deadline due to delays in procurement processes in government. Mutikanga also blamed the heavy rains in the last quarter of 2018 for hampering construction works.
He said 90 per cent of the physical work has been completed, with electro-mechanical components for the generation units in the underground powerhouse already installed. The contractor will have ample time to finish the rest of the engineering works and test the facility before commissioning in December, he added.
Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda, who toured the facility with CEC members, commended the contractor and UEGCL for ensuring that local people benefit from the project. More than 4,000 out of 6,000 employees on the site are Ugandans.
Once completed, the $1.7 billion or Shs 6.2 trillion project is expected to add 600 megawatts to the national grid. Currently, Uganda’s electricity generation capacity is 950 megawatts, including all other sources such as solar and thermal generators.
The dam project cost includes construction of staff houses, an administration block, a visitors’ centre and high-voltage transmission lines, among others. The government acquired a 30-year concessional loan from China Exim Bank to finance the project, which it says will bring down the high costs of electricity and boost economic growth.