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Chinese Face Acute Worker Shortage on $2B Uganda Dam Project

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Photos Courtesy of Uganda Ministry of Energy
Sinohydro Corp., which in December launched civil works on the 600-MW project, said it urgently needs skilled personnel to ensure construction is completed by 2018.
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The main contractor for the $2-billion Karuma hydropower project in Uganda says the project is facing an acute shortage of suitable electrical engineers and skilled labor to operate the machines.

China’s Sinohydro Corp., which in December launched civil works on the 600-MW project, said it urgently needs the skilled personnel to ensure construction is completed by 2018.

“We have, so far, recruited 168 workers, both Chinese and Ugandan, out of the required manpower of 2,500 for the project,” said Liu Jianguo, deputy project manager.

The firm had pledged to create at least 10,000 jobs for both Ugandans and Chinese during construction of the dam on the Nile River and on its associated transmission lines.

Further, the company had reserved the jobs of welders, porters, carpenters, masons, cooks and cleaners for Ugandans, while more specialized jobs—such as in electrical and mechanical engineering and the skilled trades—have been reserved for qualified Ugandans and Chinese.

“We have acquired 10 sets of construction equipment, we have got the bridge financing from the [Export-Import Bank, and] we have 50 Chinese engineers and 100 local employees,” said Jianguo.

Additional jobs also will be created for local residents to supply construction materials such as steel, sand and aggregates.

The project was delayed for more than 30 months due to lawsuits on the project's procurement process and the withdrawal of financiers—the World Bank, the Germany Development Bank and the European Investment Bank, among others—after a fallout over the dam’s design and capacity.

Funded by China (85%) and Uganda (15%), the project will double the East African country’s installed capacity to 1,109 MW from the current 509 MW.

The project also will make the electricity grid more accessible. Currently, only 5% of Uganda’s 30 million residents can do so.

China previously confirmed increasing concerns over the rising number of Chinese workers in Africa. China estimates the number of workers at 1 million, but the country said it would address the concerns.

Zhong Jianhua, China's special envoy to Africa, late last year told Reuters the government had made Chinese companies aware they could not use only Chinese workers.

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