Israel’s expertise in sustainable technologies and resource management could play a critical role in Uganda’s advancement as a developing nation, parliament member Benson Obua-Ogwal told The Jerusalem Post Saturday night.
“We are convinced that Israel is ahead in many ways compared to Uganda,” Obua-Ogwal said in an interview at Moshav Hadid where he was a guest. “When it comes to technology, they’re way ahead. When it comes to sustainable development, especially in the area of energy, they are way ahead of Uganda. We would like to borrow a lot from their experience and expertise.”
Obua-Ogwal, a member of the Uganda Peoples Congress party from Moroto County, Alebtong, and the shadow minister for East African Community, is on a six-day private visit to Israel during which he also is participating in some semi-official government meetings. While here, he is to meet on Monday with Knesset administrators to discuss a memorandum of understanding soon to be signed between the two parliaments to foster collaboration, particularly in areas of technology and sustainable development.
A draft of the memorandum obtained by the Post defines the memorandum as “a framework for parliamentary cooperation within which the parties work together towards a more comprehensive, equal and mutually beneficial strategic partnership for sustainable development.”
The memorandum focuses on mutual pursuit of “social responsibility, food security, sustainable economic development, education, energy, security and environmental excellence” and the joint promotion of “technological innovation, science, as well as information technology.”
In addition, the document calls for cooperation on issues like gender equality, reduction of maternal mortality and strengthening reproductive health, as well as parliamentary processes.
While in the Knesset on Monday, Obua-Ogwal plans to tour the various components of the country’s new Green Knesset program.
Launched in January 2014 by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and Director-General Ronen Plott, the program aims to transform the legislature into a sustainable structure that runs on energy-saving principles.
Its most prominent project involves the installation of a 3,600 sq. m. solar rooftop, as well as an overhaul of the water, air conditioning and lighting systems.
In addition to these ongoing upgrades, two electric-vehicle charging spots have been installed in the Knesset parking lot, and plastic water bottles have been eliminated from committee meetings.
Meanwhile, both the Economic Affairs Committee and the Internal Affairs and Environment Committees have banned hard-copy documents from their meetings.
“We are also thinking about a green parliament, which is going to be very instrumental once the memorandum goes into effect,” Obua-Ogwal said.
The structure of Uganda’s parliament building would be an ideal fit for adopting some of the same environmental measures the Knesset is implementing, he explained.
“Our parliament’s main chamber has a flat roof,” he said, noting that the roof easily could accommodate many solar panels. “There’s a U-shaped horseshoe that also has a flat roof.”
A new building is also currently being planned adjacent to the old chambers, Obua-Ogwal added.
Improvements in parliament houses, both in physical construction and governance, can easily trickle down to benefit all citizens, according to Obua-Ogwal.
If two parliaments work together, they are indirectly involving all of the people of the two countries, he added.
“The partnership will go beyond the parliaments,” he said. “We have outreach with the community.”
Following the signing of the memorandum of understanding, Obua-Ogwal hopes to see other cooperation opportunities between the two countries unfold, particularly in the environmental sector. For example, Jerusalem and Kampala could participate in a twinning program, he suggested.
Despite the fact that the city of Lira in northern Uganda receives among the most intense sunlight in the world and is replete with flat roofs, solar-panel installations are not as abundant as they could be, he explained, adding that Uganda as a whole still lacks any commercial- sized solar fields.
During the height of the Lord’s Resistance Army Insurgency in northern Uganda, camps for internally displaced persons actually made widespread use of solar energy to pump water on location, Obua-Ogwal said. Nonetheless, once the conflict largely subsided, most of the infrastructure was disbanded along with the camps, he explained.
“There was a very good learning curve, which we should have maintained,” Obua-Ogwal said. “People go to fetch water kilometers away. But if you pump the water the way they were doing in the IDP camps, you could, by gravity, spread it by a radius of 5 kilometers and the clean water would reach people’s homes.”
Such a system would be ideal since Ugandans still live mostly in rural areas and practice subsistence farming, he added.
About twice a year, some 300 Ugandan agriculture students come to Israel for nine-month periods to study farming techniques with the hope they can bring tools acquired here back to rural Uganda to “change the perspective” of local farmers, Obua-Ogwal said.
Until recently, Obua-Ogwal lamented, much of the Ugandan government attitude toward implementing sustainable policies has been largely “laissez-faire.”
“But of late there is strong leadership in the Kampala city executive director,” he said.
Obua-Ogwal, therefore, is interested in bringing the executive director to see places in Israel like the rehabilitated Hiriya garbage dump, which has been transformed into the green and blossoming Ariel Sharon Park.
“That was mind-blowing to see how a waste land, a mountain of garbage, has been turned into something spectacular,” he said. “Why should we wait for the environment to be damaged and then start reclaiming?” By signing the memorandum of understanding, the two parliaments will be able to enjoy a “symbiotic relationship” and continue to build upon an already strong history, Obua-Ogwal stressed.
Although the cooperation likely will bring more concrete benefit to Uganda, as the country learns from Israel’s technological and policy advancements, Israel, too, will profit from the long-term partnership, according to Obua-Ogwal.
“Israel can be understood much better through this kind of partnership,” he said. “I don’t think we have anything tangible that we can give Israel, but that love, that understanding, that support in the international arena is very important.”