Kiira Motors cars: Should Ugandans keep silent?

When Prof Tickodri-Togboa and his Makerere University engineering students first burst into the Ugandan innovation limelight with their Kiira Motor cars a few years ago, with President Museveni being driven in one of them, Ugandans were naturally elated.

Of course, any development that technologically propels our country forward must be commended and objectively supported.

This demonstration of progress in engineering training at Makerere University, like the progress in IT training first spearheaded by Prof Venacious Baryamureeba or revival of agricultural research and training that we spearheaded at Makerere in the 1990s, must equally be recognised, encouraged and nurtured.

This, however, does not mean avoidance of objective scrutiny and focus on realities of what are possible, and identification of potential pitfalls going forward.

Since the launch at Makerere of the Kiira vehicle concepts, Ugandans have avoided airing critical analysis of what it all means, and is possible, partly to encourage but more so to avoid being labeled “spoilers”- a fear that has allowed too many frauds and obvious bad things to happen in our country.

Speaking out

Returning to Kampala on Monday, following my nomination to contest the Agago North County constituency MP seat, four things about this KMC project set my alarm bells ringing and have forced me to speak out at the risk of being misunderstood.

First was the superficially attractive aert on the launch of the “Kiira Motors Project” in the Daily Monitor of Monday December 7 2015, with pictures of President Museveni, Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda and glossy vehicles (KMC designed?) included, and the expansive declaration in the aert’s opening paragraph that “Kiira Motors Project is moving closer to build Africa’s first homegrown family of vehicles...”

Second was the background of the project leaders as outlined by them on Radio One’s Spectrum Talk Show Monday evening. Paul Musasizi, the chief executive officer of Kiira Motors, and his lady associate talked of having obtained their engineering degrees from Makerere and their Masters from USA, but made no reference to experiences gained in major vehicle manufacturing concerns.

The consultant (not from a reputable motor vehicle consultancy firm), on the other hand, linked his stature to the fame of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in a way that reminds one of Mike Mukula’s frequent banding of his Harvard credentials, and to his origin from Michigan- the graveyard of many American auto firms.

Third were the screaming headlines of Uganda’s dailies the next day December 8 2015, after the launch of Kiira Motors Project- “Makerere Car To Hit Road 2018” (New Vision,) “Aancing: Uganda To Start Assembling Vehicles In 2018” (Daily Monitor)- that we no doubt lapped up without considering the truth that no such complex engineering project has ever been turned into reality in our Uganda in just two years!

Fourth is the timing of this launch, in the middle of our general election campaigns when all critical eyes are focused on the elections.

In our electioneering excitement, this launch is akin to a secretary giving the boss a letter to sign (without reading) when he is rushing out for a long awaited appointment with his beautiful girlfriend!

No objective conditions for KMC success

In their paid aert, promoters of Kiira Motors Project present three business strategies to be implemented in five phases, and a set of foundations and guiding principles to justify their project and optimism.

Without delving into details, it is clear that much of what is proposed is basically partnership for vehicle assembly coloured with the hope that national capacity will be built around it to manufacture KMC vehicles.

In their own words, their third strategy is “Development of the Kiira Vehicle Technology for ultimately establishing KMC as a Standard OEM by 2040”.

Where does the claim that this project will move KMC “closer to build Africa’s first homegrown family of vehicles” then arise from? What is the basis of this claim when you compare us to South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt and even Kenya?

Technologically, Uganda has no capacity whatsoever to implement the proposed KMC project. We have rudimentary and extremely low levels of practical engineering and technical training in our few universities and technical institutions, with their obsolete labs, ill-trained teachers and few apprenticeship opportunities, and we do not have a single parts manufacturing capacity.

Where will we access experts and skilled labour to man the project without the robust technical training such as that Malaysia did when preparing for industrialisation, and Kenya has been doing, and without conducive remuneration and economic environment to retain the required skilled manpower?

Who will be the parts manufacturers economically suppling a capacity of 600 vehicles per year? Even just



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