“Power Africa” initiative could help continent surge forward

By Sarah Lovejoy

I heard a familiar voice coming from the radio in a small roadside shop where I’d stopped to buy some airtime. It was US President Barack Obama. More exciting than hearing his voice, however, was the knowledge that we were standing on the same continent. I paused to listen, and the shop-owner smiled as he saw me recognize the voice. “He is next door,” he said, reminding me that Obama was on the Tanzania leg of his week-long Africa visit. Marking the first visit of his second term, and his first significant travel in Africa as US President, the trip was long-anticipated. We listened together for a few moments, and I reflected on how unique an experience I was having. Here I was in Africa, listening to the US President speak on what was to him both home and foreign soil, with a man to whom it was entirely native. And yet our interests were linked. It was at once both very Ugandan and very American. I felt as though I was experiencing the event from both sides, which is surely not something many can boast. My friend Claire coined an apt phrase, Ameri(Uganda)ca, which I think applies. It was a pretty AmeriUgandaca moment.

US-DIPLOMACY-OBAMA-AFRICAAs I read more into the details of Obama’s Africa trip, I realized just how momentous an occasion it was. Of course both heralded and criticized, it is agreed upon by all that the trip was significant and holds great potential. Critics have faulted Obama for not visiting Africa earlier or more extensively, comparing his involvement to the large-scale initiatives of Clinton and Bush (AGOA and PEPFAR, respectively). But others have countered with “better late than never,” and on an even more positive note, that his announced future plans are “well worth the wait.” By far the most notable event was Obama’s announcement of “Power Africa.” An initiative to double access to electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa and bring power to millions currently living “off the grid,” Power Africa is an ambitious plan. Ambitious, but in all the right ways.

Officially partnered with 8 countries, Power Africa aims to bring 10,000 megawatts of electricity to the countries of Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Tanzania, and Nigeria in the next five years, and will focus on responsible resource management of oil and gas in Uganda and Mozambique.

This energy push will be supported by both the US government and affiliated organizations and by US private sector companies. Seven billion dollars will come from the US in the next five years, and $9 billion has been promised by various private companies looking to power an additional 8,000 megawatts of power.

Though at first glance this looks like an enormous American good-will mission, such an assumption couldn’t be further from the truth. As President Obama stressed over and over, this is no handout. “We are moving beyond the simple provision of assistance, foreign aid,” he said, “to a new model of partnership.[1]” This is an investment, a partnership, and a step forward and upwards for both the US and the African nations involved.

In a line that would never find a home in a speech about a new foreign assistance plan, President Obama promoted the American benefits of Power Africa: “This is not charity. This is self-interest.” He explained, “Our fortunes are linked like never before, so more growth and opportunity in Africa can mean more growth and opportunity in the United States.” This is not financial aid but financial investment.

As a foreign assistance mission, the focus on power would be significant and substantial. But as a partnership? The most apt term I’ve heard it labeled is catalytic.  The focus on power is right on target for sky-rocketing development. Tony Elumelu, head of Heirs Holding, succinctly highlights the genius of the plan: “You can decide to take on everything on earth and do nothing. But to take power alone and give it a strong push means that in the next 5 years this continent can totally transform.[2]” The possible benefits are two-sided, incentivizing each side to hold up their ends, and fostering long-lasting cooperation and success. In their coverage of Obama’s trip, the New York Times explained the significance of increased electricity across Africa; electricity “would mean light for schoolchildren to do their homework after sunset and refrigerators to keep food from spoiling. It would also mean more jobs and more development.” With access to power, education, entrepreneurship, and trade have the potential to surge years ahead of their current state. Power also means access to internet, something BOSCO has seen the value of for years now. Reliance on foreign aid will be a thing of the past, replaced with a bright future of collaboration and business partners.

What are the logistics of this grand new partnership? Where will the billions be going? To give a sampling: the $5 billion from the US Export-Import Bank will support US exports in developing power projects on-site in Africa; another $1 billion from former President George W. Bush’s Millennium Challenge Corporation will aid with start-up power systems; Aldwych International and Harith General Partners go progressive and are investing a combined $1.8 billion in wind power.

Another major stream of funding is being funneled into start up grants. The USADF (U.S. African Development Foundation) will be offering $2 million in grants of up to $100,000 in its “Off-Grid Energy Challenge.” The challenge caters to African-owned and operated enterprises that are using proven technologies for off-grid electricity benefitting rural and marginal populations (read: projects like BOSCO).  Again, this move from handouts to start ups and grants promises payback and thus solidifies interest and commitment.

By far the greatest thing about the Off-Grid Energy Challenge, though, is that it puts the solution in African hands. This is no presumptuous White House sweep-in. Washington has, it seems, recognized that Africa most likely holds the best-fitting key to its own future. The competition only awards prizes to fully African-owned and –operated organizations, and seeks to discover “how Africa’s challenges on power can best be solved from an African perspective.[3]

Tony Elumelu speaks about his company’s investment of $2.5 billion (as of yet the single largest private-sector pledge):

 “It’s a partnership. You need American government, African governments, development NGO’s, America and African private sector…We need to work together to make this happen… This is why I believe the president has chosen these six or seven countries – these have shown transformational leadership so others can see ‘if you want your country to improve, put the right policies and environment in place…That also becomes a subtle signal to the political people to make sure their environments are competitive.”

His is not a large-scale donation. It is an investment. Elumelu warns, however, that the hardest part is ahead of us. In order for transformation to take place, serious commitment is crucial: “It’s not the number of [Obama’s] visits that make it important; it’s the seriousness with which he engages.” This commitment applies to both the US and the work on the ground. Both sides, it seems, will get what they put in.

As Obama said in one of his last speeches in Tanzania, “The world is investing in Africa like never before.  In fact, we’re close to reaching a historic milestone where foreign aid to Africa is surpassed by foreign investment in Africa.  And that’s great news.”

I look forward to tracking this initiative in the coming years, and anticipate many new ideas stemming from Africa’s increase in power. To be cheesy, power is power. As BOSCO understands so well, the simple gift of power, of internet access, can open the door for exponential growth. The intersection of information and ideas made possible by connectivity creates avenues for which the possibilities are endless.  It is great news, indeed.

Sarah Lovejoy is originally from Tacoma, Washington and currently studies in the Program of Liberal Studies at the University of Notre Dame. She is excited to be interning with BOSCO-Uganda during the 2013 summer and will be providing regular updates from Gulu, Uganda during the 2013 summer.


Towers for northern Uganda: BOSCO-Uganda Aims to Expand ICT Infrastructure

Obstacles We Face are Daunting
A typical communications tower in northern Uganda

He’s installed, repaired, or maintained 339 communications towers worldwide, has a patent for a certain type of cellular tower structure and, already this year, he’s logged over 80,000 miles of international flights. Jim Hulse and his wife Connie have endured extreme temperatures, tropical diseases, and even para-military kidnappings in their career as missionaries; a career that has brought them to nearly every continent.  Hulse, a successful communications tower entrepreneur, turned missionary tower-builder, has seen his fair share of success throughout his career. And he’s not quite ready to stop yet: Even as he nears his retirement years, he has big plans in mind as he aims to team up with BOSCO-Uganda.

Hulse, born in Goshen, Indiana, graduated from technical college and acquired several licenses in the communications field before going on to serve in the Army in the 1960’s.

Blessed with an entrepreneurial spirit, he went on to create three profitable communications businesses, including a tower business which brought him acclaim in his field as well as financial security. However, on a November evening in 1992 at his church, his life was turned upside down; a new normal would prevail for him and his wife.

“I arrived early for the evening service and was looking at a mission magazine about short term mission trips when it happened. All of a sudden a strong power from God filled the body and a vision appeared,” Hulse recalls.

“Jim, I am going to use you in the mission field,” Hulse recalled God saying to him.

“It was an awesome experience.”

After the revelation and newly-provided direction in his life, it took Hulse and his wife a whole year to completely shut down their successful business ventures. Hulse says, “It took a huge step in faith to let God provide [for] our needs and totally rely on him, not knowing how we we’re going to pay our bills.”

Life as a Missionary

Towers for Jesus was established by Hulse to build communication towers for Christian radio stations around the world. He has been told by engineers in his field that Towers for Jesus is by far the most successful and expansive organization for constructing, implementing, and maintaining Christian radio towers around the world. Committing to this work full time has come at a tremendous financial and physical cost for Hulse and his family: They have invested all their retirement savings into their missionary venture and have had numerous near-death experiences in the process.

Hulse was captured by the KGB in both Russia and Moldova, has been bitten by poisonous snakes, rescued while adrift at sea, and survived three emergency airplane landings, including an off-airport landing in Siberia. His wife lost vision permanently in one of her eyes after enduring a long and painful fungus infection which was contracted in the jungle during a tower build in the South American country of Suriname. A testament to their physical stamina, Hulse and his wife have endured dozens of long intercontinental flights every year to remote locations around the world. His work has taken him to the Amazon jungle, the most remote places in Africa, and even tiny, remote sea islands.

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Jim and Connie Hulse founded Towers for Jesus, taking them on missionary tower-building pursuits around the world

An unassuming man by nature, Hulse treads quietly with a humble, yet confident spirit. He needs some prodding before launching into missionary stories that can, at times, seem to leave his listener in a state of disbelief. It’s clear that one would need dozens and dozens of hours to hear the full breadth of experiences he has had as a missionary tower builder. Besides simply building Christian radio towers around the world—an accomplishment on its own—Hulse insists that the real work has been through his direct encounters with the people and cultures he has met along the way.

“We have helped bury the dead with shovel in hand, prayed for people with leprosy in India, fed the starving, helped the injured, given clothes to the needy and have done our best to serve the Lord,” Hulse says.

A Vision for Retirement

Having served as a tower-building missionary for over 20 years, Hulse and his wife are ready to stop traveling the world. However, unlike many retirees who envision living in a warm climate somewhere in the southern US, Hulse thinks northern Uganda is just the right fit for his golden years.

After a spring trip to Gulu confirmed his desire to spend his retirement years working in northern Uganda, Hulse plans to (quite literally) set up shop in Gulu, renovating a workshop space provided by the local Archdiocese. This space will become his hub for training a local workforce in the kind of engineering skills which are so rare in rural African communities.

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Hulse constructs the base of a communications tower.

Hulse’s primary objective will be to guide this local workforce to provide high quality construction for a network of communications towers and water wells throughout northern Uganda and possibly into South Sudan. BOSCO-Uganda will be a primary beneficiary of Hulse’s work as they look to expand their ICT and long-range Internet network further across the northern Ugandan region. To expand, BOSCO-Uganda will need a network of towers built, capable of connecting the point-to-point network which relies on transmitted micro-wave signals to share the Internet connection across all of the rural ICT sites.

Hulse’s retirement dream is not yet a reality, however. BOSCO-Uganda and Towers for Jesus are currently seeking funding that would cover startup costs for Hulse and a local workforce to establish their base in Gulu and get started on communications related construction projects.

Hulse clearly is a big dreamer and has an uncanny combination of know-how and endurance, helping him achieve his objectives in the most remote, difficult, and unlikely of places around the world. Throughout his career, he’s simply tried to go where he’s been called.

“I know we can start a great tower ministry in northern Uganda. I see the Lord opening many doors [and] I’m ready to start in Gulu any time.”

There’s no doubt that if the doors open in Gulu, the towers will begin to rise.

Three Lessons on Life in Gulu

By Sarah Lovejoy

Usually, “we’ve come so far” is just a passing phrase, implying change or growth but not necessarily distance. In reflecting on my past few weeks, however, I discover much of both. I’ve flown 14,603 miles from the US to Uganda, driven from Kampala to Gulu, and traveled to the local districts of Alero, Amuru, and Lacor. Lots of distances. As for change and growth, where to begin?

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The Catechists Training Centre (aka The CTC)

Exactly three weeks ago, I was Sarah Lovejoy and I lived in Tacoma, Washington. Today, I am Amarokuc Sarah and it feels like home whenever a boda turns in to the BOSCO Uganda/Catechist Training Center driveway (where we live). I knew two words of Acholi when I arrived. Now, I can greet someone at any time of the day and count to 10. I had never taken a boda; now, I’ve done so riding sidesaddle while protecting two boxes of cupcakes. It is amazing to feel myself being shaped by my time here. Some ways are small, and some more significant. Three weeks into this journey, I think it’s fitting to share 3 lessons I’ve learned:

1. Life is too wonderful to take too seriously. For the first few days (ok fine, weeks) of work, I was always caught off guard when someone cracked a joke. I didn’t pick up on sarcasm or ridiculous instructions at all. I was in what I’ll call “US work mode.” I thought that “professionalism” necessarily meant serious. I wanted to do a good job and was thus focused on work alone during my work hours. I found myself frustrated when I felt like I wasn’t getting much work done. Now, I look back and laugh! I am getting more work done than last week, and also getting in many more laughs. I’ve bonded with coworkers and neighbors, and feel so much more at home for it. At the end of the day, it is relationships that make it worth it. This culture has opened my eyes to laughter; not as an add-on, but as a part of life itself. Everywhere, I find laughter and smiles: taking a walk, in the grocery store, at the market, on bodas. Of course, there are times when life is difficult and serious. The people of northern Uganda certainly know this well enough. But life here, more often than not, provides an opportunity for joy and friendship. Each day is another day we are lucky enough to live, and a smile not given is a smile wasted.

Sharpening literacy skills with a few students during a downpour

2. Rain is a good thing. Even when it takes the power out. Reflecting back, some of the best times I’ve had here have been in the midst of a downpour. During my first week, while at Bardege Community ICT Center, the power shut off and people flocked to the Center for shelter from the torrential downpour. The room was cozy and still impressively quiet, and I spent a blissful 2 hours reading with two beautiful schoolchildren. In spite of our language barrier we read book after book, equally excited when we could share words in addition to our smiles. After the worst of it had let up, Lindsey and I walked back to the Catechist Training Center, also in the rain, with two boys who would become some of our closest friends. Normally we would have taken a boda, but our fear of slippery driving conditions allowed us to branch out and forge a new friendship. A week later, a rainy Friday night without power stopped us from going out in town, but inspired an evening spent swapping stories and playing cards by flashlight here at the Catechist Training Center. Once again, rain led to friendship! Another small lesson that life is meant to be enjoyed, and not taken too seriously!

3. Don’t go running at 4pm. Lindsey, Claire and I had been wanting to go running for awhile, so one day when we all finished work early, we decided to head out. We were eager to see the sights and get some fresh air. Little did we know, 4pm air is still incredibly hot; we were gasping as soon as we started. But we were in for a far greater surprise than the heat. Apparently, 4pm is the time school gets out. We unwittingly ran straight through a schoolyard just as the students were being released for the day. Already a daily spectacle, three muzungus in colorful shorts, running at one of the hottest times of day was just too much for the kids. Our ears rang. Not just with giggles or whispers, but full on I-haven’t-ever-seen-anything-that-funny belly laughs. Our run was made more difficult by our own uncontrollable laughter at the whole situation. A few brave souls decided to run a half mile with us in school shoes and uniforms, making the run even more memorable. Suffice it to say, we went later the next day and avoided the schoolyard altogether.

Sarah Lovejoy is originally from Tacoma, Washington and currently studies in the Program of Liberal Studies at the University of Notre Dame. She is excited to be interning with BOSCO-Uganda during the 2013 summer and will be providing regular updates from Gulu, Uganda over the next two months.

Alero Training Week Pairs Knowledge with Smiles

By Sarah Lovejoy

This week’s Alero-based Training of Trainers (TOT) is off to a wonderful start. Opening with responses to the question, “What is a computer,” including one man’s first time ever touching or even seeing a computer, the session wrapped up with photo editing.

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Community members attend an ICT training in Alero, Uganda

The BOSCO team expects continued success throughout the week-long training, which is held at Alero’s Community ICT center. Usually a youth center, the main room of the building was transformed to a modern classroom with a projector and temporary blackboards. BOSCO brought an additional solar panel to power the 10 training computers. Though the sun was weak due to on and off rain showers, the computers were up to the challenge and suffered no problems. The training featured people of various backgrounds: site managers from Lira and Alero, a university student and a catechist, among others. Eager attendees articulated their expectations and fears, set ground rules, and learned the basic distinctions between hardware and software, keyboard and function key basics, and how to take, store, and edit photos. All in an Alero day’s work.

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Future trainer’s first glance of a computer caught on camera, “I’ve never seen a computer before in my life.”

 In articulating BOSCO Uganda’s expectations of the trainers, BOSCO staff member Robert Komakech laid out three key components: Commitment, Management Capacity of the Site, and Sustainability. In summary, trainers are responsible for the successful up-keep of their sites. They should use the knowledge gained at the training session to foster a sustainable community center that is safe and open for all. BOSCO provides the key equipment and guidance. Yet, Komakech reminds us, “This is not for BOSCO. It is the Alero ICT Center, not the BOSCO ICT center. We just help implement.”

BOSCO phases out after a one-year period, at which point the community center belongs entirely to the community it serves. If the sense of the community pervading the training session is any indication, the centers its trainers return to will be booming successes. At the end of the day I was struck by how joyful it had been. The level of laughter matched that of the learning, which is saying something because it was obvious that a great deal had been taught and received. Blending technology, development, and community, the day was a perfect example of all that BOSCO stands for.

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Having fun with the photography lesson

Sarah Lovejoy is originally from Tacoma, Washington and currently studies in the Program of Liberal Studies at the University of Notre Dame. She is excited to be interning with BOSCO-Uganda during the 2013 summer and will be providing regular updates from Gulu, Uganda over the next two months.