Excerpt from the profile:
“Our mission is quite simple: utilising enterprise solutions to address poverty. My interest is in justice, and infrastructure is one of our pillars,” she says. “We are identifying infrastructure projects, designing economic transformation initiatives around infrastructure, leveraging infrastructure in a way that you optimise the social and human development goals.
Finding no interest for building African infrastructure in the West, Whitaker turned to China. She went to Beijing and began interviewing companies, trying to identify Chinese companies that cared about the environment, would not pay bribes, and that cared for the social as well as economic dividends.
“We found one that we encouraged to come into Uganda on a railway project – the China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC). We don’t work directly for them, but we work with them, we advocated for them because they are one of the top state-owned enterprise companies.
“We said ‘OK, come to Uganda, we will bring you into Uganda, we will help you, but we want you to sign a binding commitment that you won’t pay bribes and understand that if you do pay a bribe we will turn you in.’”
CHEC agreed and signed, also agreeing to maintain a local staffing rate of 60% at every level; to build an academy that will train 15,000 engineers; and to invest in local capacity.
Whitaker also describes another groundbreaking feature of this project. “We recognised that we would be vulnerable because we are turning to the Chinese who don’t have the highest reputation as far as quality and price is concerned.
“So we said to CHEC, ‘We need you to put up the money for an independent auditor, selected by the Uganda government, that will audit your price and audit your quality.’ They also agreed to do that, and now, after four years, the new railway will be built.”
It has a regional focus, although Whitaker is only involved with the Uganda part of the project. The network will run from the Kenyan port of Mombasa, through to Kampala and then on to Rwanda – a fully interconnected standard gauge railroad.
It is a bold vision, but as Whitaker says: “I am not an African optimist or African pessimist, I am a realist – and I believe Africa is in a good place.”