Entrepreneur Revitalizes Transportation on Lake Victoria
Lake Victoria had been the home of bustling water ferry traffic that connected Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. But over recent decades, the ferryboats aged and the traffic dwindled.
South Africa-born shipbuilder Robert Smith has set out to bring the traffic back. In 2008, Smith, who lives in the United States, registered EarthWise Ferries Uganda Ltd. to create a profitable lake transportation system. His goals were to employ local builders to construct fast, safe and environmentally responsible ferries that would efficiently move people and goods throughout the Lake Victoria region. He aimed to bring in additional business to the local communities on the lake by boosting tourism.
In 2010, EarthWise was awarded $100,000 from the African Diaspora Marketplace competition sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Western Union Company. EarthWise was one of 14 African business ventures to receive an award that year out of more than 700 entries.
The EarthWise team includes Ugandan, South African and American experts in business management and is led locally by Ugandans Calvin Echodu and Anthony Esenu.
In May 2011, EarthWise launched its first ferry, the MV Amani, connecting Kampala with the SseSe Islands in Lake Victoria. (In Swahili, Amani means peace.) Today, an estimated 1,600 people move from Kampala, Uganda, to Mwanza, Tanzania, daily.
In the coming weeks, EarthWise expects to launch a second ferry. Like the first, it will be a two-level vessel outfitted with a state-of-the-art global positioning navigational system and sophisticated communication equipment to keep it on course and aware of safety issues relevant to passengers and crew.
"The ferries will restore and create a vibrant economic corridor that will in turn create jobs and uplift the poor," Esenu said.
"The focus of EarthWise Ferries Uganda is to rebuild infrastructure," Smith said. "By rebuilding water transportation, we hope to energize rebuilding of the rail sector, as one depends on the other in moving goods across the lake."
"The result should not only be many jobs created, but lower prices on the dinner tables of everybody," Smith said.
BY KATHRYN MCCONNEL
All Africa News