Ten UPDF engineers are set to go to China for training in railway construction.
The training deal is part of the Standard Gauge Railway construction contract between the government of Uganda and Chinese construction firm China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), which is undertaking the Shs 7.6 trillion project.
Government officials who negotiated this aspect of the contract must be commended for thinking strategically.
Too often, contracts signed by the government lack the necessary foresight that would enable Ugandans to reap maximum benefits from the concerned projects.
With the country spending big on infrastructure development, local content is of paramount importance. But local content only makes sense in the presence of a pool of skilled indigenous labour to take advantage of it.
No country can ever develop by relying on outsiders to do everything. The Chinese, the Indians, the South Koreans and the Turks, among others, have obtained the skills that are in demand here today by building their own roads and railways over the years.
In the near future, Ugandans must be able to build their own highways, railways, bridges, dams and airports, and it begins with adequate training of key personnel such as the UPDF is doing.
If the SGR is to be extended to South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda as planned, it presents immense opportunities for Ugandan engineers and other technicians to get employment, learn skills and transfer technology.
Hopefully with more such training programmes, the UPDF will be in position to undertake future mega infrastructure projects in Uganda and perhaps neighbouring countries.
Unless Ugandans are armed with the requisite skills, not only will they be unable to play a significant part in the construction of their own infrastructure, it will also take the Chinese to manage the same projects for many years thereafter in the absence of skilled indigenous labour.
In addition to compelling foreign contractors to use locally available goods and services where possible, the government should, as in the SGR case, seek to have Ugandans trained in the necessary skills needed to propel our country’s transformation aspiration.