Hundreds of people have died in East Africa in the last 12 months due to vessel accidents. What measures do you take to ensure safety?
The most common problems causing accidents are overloading (due to unreported cash sales that are charged for passengers over the base load, which is then split between the crew) and the pressure on the crew to go to sea under adverse conditions. The smaller handmade ferries on the lake usually have no safety equipment and are easily capsized when the conditions on the lake become adverse. We have developed a system where overloading is not only not tolerated, but is avoided by the vessel reporting the displacement via sensors on the ferries. If overloaded, the system is designed to shut the gearing down so that the ferry cannot leave port. We also, of course, have every modern tool available to the marine industry to give the crew what it needs to conduct a safe passage for our passengers.
Describe the expected economic impact your ferry services will have on the East African region.
The EarthWise Ferry system provides a safe and economically competitive mode of transportation around Lake Victoria. There are 30 million people who reside around the circumference of the lake. Today, transportation between both major and smaller cities, not to mention the smaller islands around the lake, is slow, unsafe and often too expensive for a large part of the population. Through a comprehensive ferry system, many of the needs of these passengers will be met.
Your future plans for the business?
In 2013, EarthWise will institute an international passenger ferry service between Kampala, Mwanza, and Kisumu. A smaller ferry operation will be set up to service the Ssese Islands. EarthWise plans to continue to re-establish the passenger ferry system on Lake Victoria. As these operations mature and the operations’ personnel are hired and trained, EarthWise will move into the freight services business. The freight service on Lake Victoria is growing along with the economies of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. As these economies continue to grow, the need to move agricultural and manufactured goods between these countries will also expand. During the next decade, EarthWise plans to take advantage of this expanding market opportunity.
What advice would you give other entrepreneurs looking to do business in Uganda?
Doing business in Uganda, though rewarding and definitely worth pursuing, will take longer than you think and cost more than you think to get off the ground. I have seen several vessels around the lake that are rusting, having never been completed. Clearly the businessmen that aspired to commence with their ferry or water-transportation business had great plans and enthusiasm. They also clearly ran out of money and steam. Prepare for a long journey to sustainability, and do your best to build in as much reserve capacity as you can. If your business is highly regulated like the marine business that we are in, make sure you communicate with the officials that are overseeing you and stay on good terms with them as much as possible. They are just trying to do their job, so impatience and anger is not helpful. You have to be tenacious and courageous. Without those characteristics pushing you and your team, it will be very easy to get discouraged and as a result your business venture may end up rusting on the shores of the Lake.