Article published on Petroleum Insight Magazine.
In the more remote parts of Uganda, economic growth can be a challenge to stimulate. In the rural north, for example, there is little incentive for communities to receive outside investment, or for neighbouring countries and regions to strike up trade. This can swiftly become a vicious cycle of communities missing out on socio-economic opportunities and thus becoming less viable for the same future opportunities.
Similar issues can be experienced across many of the continent’s dispersed communities. However, an answer to the problem may lie in fuel, and the many and varied opportunities that new fuelling solutions can bring to underserved areas.
In 2018, Dalbit Uganda Limited built a petroleum depot with a capacity of 720,000 litres of Jet A-1 at Gulu, a town located some 340 kilometres from Kampala. This was in response to a tender from one of our key clients that needed supplies of jet fuel in the region to support its operations. Gulu Airport did not have sufficient resources on its own to meet the levels of demand from this client, but we were able to work with them to increase capacity on a challenging but rewarding project.
Planes now touch down to refuel in Gulu, rather than heading to Kampala enroute to South Sudan. By investing in the construction of aviation facilities, we were able to offer employment opportunities for local Ugandan citizens as well as boosting the capabilities of Gulu airfield and all the surrounding catchment areas. Dalbit has brought international standards to local set ups, with our Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), emphasising effective management in the handling of fuel storage facilities.
Fuelling solutions have provided a connectivity link with neighbouring countries as well, whose aircraft can now refuel at the depot. This has boosted investor confidence, further opening up the area for business. We have seen similar results since 2019, when Dalbit Uganda Limited moved to Arua, located in the West Nile region, and constructed a petroleum depot with a capacity of 300,000 litres that supplies Jet A-1 to commercial airlines. Airlines have cut costs by refuelling their aircrafts at Arua and this has helped open up opportunities for the business within the community as well as foster long-term relationships with neighbouring countries such as Eastern DRC, South Sudan, and Central African Republic.
These projects were not without their challenges. In the beginning, the lack of reliable electricity in the areas meant we had to rely on diesel generators and therefore were not able to work around the clock. At times, we had to import resources such as construction material and manpower from Kampala as it was not readily available locally. And it almost goes without saying that we experienced logistics challenges due to border closures because of the government’s Covid-19 lockdown regulations.
But it is vital that such work continues. To successfully drive social and economic development across areas outside of the continent’s largest cities, especially in traditionally underserved communities, companies in the fuel space need to look for these ‘win-win’ opportunities. We can connect communities, provide jobs, fuel economic growth, and make sure the same prosperity is on offer to all of the population. Not just in Uganda, but across the continent, whose fuel potential is still only just beginning to be realised.