The AES Corporation is the world's largest power provider. In 1995, the Ugandan government invited the company to help meet the needs of Uganda's chronic energy problems.
The government and AES faced hostile criticism from environmentalists over plans to construct a $500m, 250 mega-watt, 30 metre high hydro facility on the Victoria Nile in Uganda, which meant relocating the local community.
The case for the project was supported by a World Bank survey of businesses, which revealed lack of reliable power was the major deterrent to investment in Uganda. It stated that 12 weeks of production were lost to power cuts every year. That meant Ugandan workers found themselves out of work - and unpaid - for almost a quarter of every year. The location of the site became a high-profile and controversial issue, attracting interest from the world's media. Confronted with hostile reporting, AES appointed Weber Shandwick at the end of 1997 to provide issues management counsel surrounding construction of the project. The resulting campaign has just won a Golden World Award from the International Public Relations Association.
To communicate the merits of the project to communities in Uganda, the US and Europe and negate the hostile international media coverage of the project. To introduce the project to a variety of audiences who influence the World Bank's decision to grant financing, including donor agencies and environmental groups, and to shore up international support for the project.
Strategy and Plan
The most vocal opponents of the project lived in Europe and the US. At the time, only three per cent of Ugandans had access to power. The WS team aimed to place the project into context, and paint opponents of the dam as far removed from the harsh reality of subsistence living in Africa.
An international consultation programme, co-ordinated out of London, Washington and Kampala, was carried out over two years. Communications activities were driven from Uganda, to emphasise domestic ownership of the project. Outside Uganda, WS sought to mobilise Ugandan supporters of the project.
A number of workshops and public hearings in Uganda, London, Amsterdam and Washington were convened to allow people to register their concerns with AES.
This involved correspondence with development secretaries from donor nations and target politicians in Europe and the US, and dialogue with corporate financiers, diplomats, environmental groups, Africa-centric businesses, media and development NGOs.
Community information officers were also appointed around the project site and public hearings were also arranged. AES engaged in a variety of community projects throughout the protracted development stage, including schools refurbishments, the construction of clinics and boreholes for water, along with vocational training and jobs programmes.
Preference was given to displaced landholders and labourers from communities affected by the project. In addition AES commissioned the Uganda Manufacturers Association to survey its members, which revealed that 90 per cent believed the Bujagali project to be good for Uganda. Research was commissioned from Steadmans and Associates. They found that 96 per cent of NGOs surveyed supported implementation of the Bujagali project.
Measurement and Evaluation
An argument, which had been dominated by NGOs, was widened to a more constructive debate in the media, both local and international. Even editorial matter that was broadly negative in its general approach mentioned the benefits of the project. Local papers, such as the East African, Daily Nation and New Vision, ran pieces.
CNN, The Financial Times, The Guardian, The Independent and New York Times all ran pieces. WS set up a website - www.bujagali.com - while regular newsletter updates were circulated to stakeholders in Uganda and the international community.
Additionally, AES commissioned radio broadcasts in Uganda, and conducted several interviews for the BBC World Service and other broadcasters.
In December 2001, the World Bank approved financing for the development of a hydro project on the Victoria Nile in Uganda.
The Bujagali project is the largest private investment in the history of East and Central Africa, giving Uganda the means to meet the challenge of providing electricity to its population - allowing citizens to, among other things, refrigerate food and medicines.