Uganda: Celebrating Engineers and Engineering Practice in Uganda


Ralph J Smith, emeritus professor of Electrical Engineering at Stanford University, California and author of Engineering As a Career defined engineering as the application of science to the optimum conversion of the resources of nature to the uses of humankind.

The field of engineering is also defined by the Engineers Council for Professional Development, in the US, as the creative application of "scientific principles to design or develop structures, machines, apparatus, or manufacturing processes, or works utilising them singly or in combination; or to construct or operate the same with full cognisance of their design or to forecast their behaviour under specific operating conditions, all as respects an intended function, economics of operation and safety to life and property.

The term engineering is derived from the Latin ingenium (meaning cleverness) and ingeniare, meaning (to contrive, devise).

It is not surprising that engineers have a hand in both the ancient and modern wonders of the word from the pyramids of giza, the hanging gardens of Babylon to the great wall of China.

In the modern era, engineers continue to advance social economic development through planning and implementation of infrastructure projects.

Local examples of such include the newly commissioned Isimba Hydropower Station, the ongoing Karuma Hydropower Project, Entebbe Expressway, the ongoing Kampala Flyover project, the new Nile Bridge in Jinja, Kabaale International Airport Project and various building projects that have changed the skyline of Kampala.

I had always dreamt of becoming a medical doctor from my childhood days while in primary and lower secondary school. The dream was cut short when I was denied the chance to study Biology at A-Level in Ntare School because I hadn't scored a distinction in the subject. I can, therefore, say my ambition to become an engineer began in S5 at Ntare School. Initially my preference was Electrical Engineering, but a career guidance session facilitated by Silver Byarugaba, an old boy and then a senior official at UNRA changed my mind and I ended up giving Bsc. Civil Engineering the first choice.

To cut the long story short, I pursued a Bsc. Civil Engineering from 2006 to 2010 on government scholarship and graduated in 2011. I started practicing civil engineering in 2010 before my graduation and have since worked both in the private sector and public sector for contractors, public service and implementing agencies on a number of projects.

I have had an opportunity to work with the best brains not only in Uganda but all over the world.

A case in point is at Isimba dam where a panel of experts across the globe were always engaged to advise the implementing agency (UEGCL) on technical and quality related issues on the project. The knowledge and experience obtained from these interactions can never be underestimated

Jordan Peterson once said experience is the best teacher and the worst experience teach the best lessons.

When I look at photos of the first excavation of Isimba dam to the first concrete pour to now a complete facility generating 183MW of power, I have to give it up to the brains behind this mega project. But like most projects, especially public projects, the project was not spared criticism and certainly most of it uncalled for.

Being on the receiving end of the criticisms is not fun because Africans are very good at criticising. But why are engineers the most underrated and criticised?

Herbert Hoover, the 31st President of the United States of America from 1929 to 1933 once said "The great liability of the engineer compared to men of other professions is that his works are out in the open where all can see them. His acts, step by step, are in hard substance. He cannot bury his mistakes in the grave like the doctors. He cannot argue them into thin air or blame the judge like the lawyers."

Mr Ambazimana is a registered engineer

and a corporate member of Uganda Institution

of Professional Engineers.

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