A recent notice by the Electricity Regulatory Authority saying it received an “intended application for a license” from a South African company to establish a 360MW hydropower dam “near Murchison Falls” has kicked up a storm on social media, inspiring a #SAVEMURCHISONFALLS campaign.
According to the notice dated June 7, “Bonang Power and Energy (Pty) Limited intends to undertake detailed feasibility studies and other activities leading to the development of the above-mentioned power project”. It invites “affected parties and local authorities in areas affected by the project to make comments and lodge objections (if any)” about the proposed project to the authority.
The notice has triggered comments and objections, probably more than the authority bargained for and unlike any other such proposal in recent memory. The affected parties — who span the whole country and include tourism operators, the Uganda Wildlife Authority, and social media users — are against building a dam on yet another falls and “destroying” a popular tourist attraction.
However, some digging by Simon Kaheru, the journalist, reveals that Bonang Power, the South African company behind the application seems incapable of undertaking a project that size. For a company with such aspirations, Bonang Power’s online presence is lacking and finding notable infrastructure — energy or otherwise — it has constructed is next to impossible.
On its website, Bonang Power says it is an “African Independent power producer… formed to develop sustainable green energy generating capacity for Africa… with clean, renewable hydropower.”
It claims to have been established in 2014, completing two projects since then. Still, it lists three projects: Uhuru Hydro Power in Uganda, Lichinga SolarPV Station in Mozambique, and “New Hydro and Solar Projects in Angola”.
The description of Uhuru Hydro Power says Bonang plans to “construct more hydropower stations in Uganda… with a bid to generate 2,550 MW aimed at boosting its goal to industrialise the country.” It adds: “The new hydropower stations in Uganda will be built at Ayago, Uhuru, Kiba and Murchison Falls and will generate 2,550 MW of electricity”.
Interestingly, Bonang acknowledges that the capacity of its planned projects exceeds Uganda’s installed capacity of 1,182.2MW. Reading on, it becomes clear that the company either has a problem with numbers or verifying information. It claims Uganda’s current capacity is “850MW of power with a vision of generating 17,000MW of power by 2020.” The figures are wrong: the combined capacity of projects under construction is only 750MW, according to the ERA.
Licensed power generation plants under construction
|Nyamaghasani 1 HPP||Hydro||6|
|Nyamaghasani 2 HPP||Hydro||15|
|Siti 2 HPP||Hydro||16.5|
|Achwa 1 HPPS||Hydro||41|
|Achwa 2 HPPS||Hydro||42|
Bonang’s claims of constructing an energy project in Mozambique at Lichinga also don’t stand up to scrutiny. Press reports from last year indicate that a company from the United Arab Emirates, Phanes Group, in partnership with the Mozambican Reputação Moz plans to construct “three photovoltaic power plants with a total capacity of 200 megawatts” at Lichinga, Marrupa and Mandimba districts. The proposed plant at Lichinga will have a capacity of 100MW.
Indeed, the only mention of Bonang’s involvement in a project at Lichinga appears on its website. Unlike the Ugandan “proposal”, there is no regulatory notice or press report saying it constructed the plant or plans to. Bonang’s description of the project also doesn’t offer any useful information: it mentions press reports of a solar plant in a different district — Mocuba. That plant exists, but Bonang played no role in its financing or construction.
Bonang doesn’t disclose what projects it constructed or plans to construct in Angola. And with good reason: at this stage it’s fair to conclude that the South African company is just making things up. The first paragraph on the “New Hydro and Solar Projects in Angola” page on its website is lifted wholly from an ESI Africa article — the article says nothing about Bonang, in case you were wondering. The rest of the material comes from an overview of Angola’s energy sector published by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Export.gov website.
Other details provided by Bonang Power on its website — which is rife with grammatical errors — do little to support its big ambitions. The profile of founder, Ernest Moloi, mentions nothing about his previous work, achievements, experience, or qualifications and instead rehashes the company’s “About Us” page.
The website lists two other “employees” as part of its team, in addition to Mr Moloi. The chief commercial officer and senior technical advisor both work for a “venture capital and growth advisory” firm, according to their LinkedIn profiles. The firm, Matt&Co Advisory (Pty), lists only three portfolio companies and clients on its website — also rife with grammatical errors — despite having been in operation since 2011. The three include Bonang Power and an “eservices group” that is seemingly owned by Matt&Co since they share offices — we couldn’t find any more information on the eservices group and it does not have a working website.
Talking about offices, Matt&Co Advisory, Bonang Power and the eservices group have offices at the same location, 195 Jan Smuts Avenue in Johannesburg. But as Mr Kaheru found, that address is of a “commercial property that also offers co-working and virtual office space”. He adds: “I did not dare imagine that a large energy company in South Africa might be based in a co-working or virtual space to build and run massive dams in places like Murchison Falls.”
Other than their own websites and profiles submitted to platforms and databases like CrunchBase, there is very little information about Bonang Power’s founder and its team online.
Mr Moloi did a laudatory interview with Forbes Africa in 2012 and that’s it. (Forbes, and by extension its African arm, is not a reliable source and has a history of not fact-checking stories.) Then, he was the “sole owner” of “one of South Africa’s four biggest, wholly black-owned civil engineering companies”. He talks of pitching an idea to the Ugandan government to “build a toll road from Kampala to the corridor of Kenya” and plans to build shopping malls in the country.
We found nothing else on Mr Moloi other than that interview; well, unless you consider the comment he made on an ESI Africa article and left his mobile phone number. It doesn’t look like he’s spoken at industry conferences, written commentaries, or been asked to comment on issues he is an expert in — the sort of things executives usually do. Bonang’s team is not any different; their online presence is thin and does not speak to their supposed expertise.
In addition, Matt&Co Advisory updated its ‘Our Team’ section on its website to add two more members after we sent an email on Friday asking about the company’s links to Bonang Power. One of the two individuals added is the ‘Venture Principal’ — the same person Bonang Power says its senior technical advisor. Matt&Co Advisory’s Garrett Matthews, Bonang Power’s chief commercial officer, did not respond to our emailed questions.
We asked the Electricity Regulatory Authority what it knew about Bonang Power before issuing the statement, and whether it’s a serious player.
“The law doesn’t require ERA to know about a company before receiving an application. What ERA does on receipt of an application is verification of whether it’s complete and complies to the requirements or not,” Julius Wandera, the authority’s communications manager, said in an emailed response.
He adds: “Thereafter the application is advertised in the media calling for public views. ERA’s analysis of the competence of the company, the feasibility of its proposals etc., comes after the applicant has been presented to the public. A public advert of an application is part of the vetting process. Public views are therefore part of the vetting process for the application.”
Mr Wandera said the public is reading its advert as if the authority has issued a licence to construct a power plant on the falls yet it is a notice announcing that the authority received an application from a South African energy firm “for the generation and sale of power.”
Still, he adds, “what the public is doing is purely correct: react to the advert and provide views — and that’s exactly what ERA intended when we put out the advert. Those views will be very important for ERA in the review and response to the applicant.”
It may yet turn out that Bonang Power has the capacity to build what will be Uganda’s second biggest hydropower dam. The available evidence, however, doesn’t support its lofty ambitions.