Serving as a major leader of an African country that is home to sub-Saharan Africa’s third-largest oil reserves, has high and increasing demand for electricity and faces everyday issues with infrastructure—all while balancing entrepreneurship and motherhood—is no easy feat. Irene Nafuna Muloni is a power woman who does just that as Minister for Energy and Minerals in the Ugandan Cabinet.
A 1986 engineering school graduate of Makerere University in Uganda, Muloni ventured to the U.S. to pursue an MBA from Capella University in Minneapolis, Minn. From 2002 until 2011, she worked as the managing director of the Uganda Electricity Distribution Company Limited (UEDCL), and in 2011, she successfully contested for the Bulambuli District Women’s Representative in the 9th Ugandan Parliament. In May of the same year, she was appointed to the president’s cabinet.
BlackEnterprise.com caught up with Muloni to talk about her role, how women can impact the world at large and what African women in the diaspora, in particular, can do to contribute to the success of the continent.
BlackEnterprise.com: Minister Muloni, what would you say are three vital things that were the key to your career advancement as a global leader?
Irene Nafuna Muloni: [It was] having a passion to make a difference by helping people lead better lives, being a visionary, remaining focused, working hard and [having a] commitment and value for success and excellence. [Also] loving God and respecting humanity [are key.]
What would be the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a female leader, and how do you approach overcoming these challenges?
Multiple roles of being a leader, wife and mother and living as part of a community–all of that requires attention and time. This has made me divide my time so that I can attend to each of them, but it can be quite demanding to balance.
[It’s good to] know what constitutes your work and family life and the expectations of each of those sectors. [Other important] sectors include you, as an individual, your spiritual fulfillment, the immediate family, the work place, and the community you live in.
Your life will not be complete unless you attend to those sectors satisfactorily by fulfilling and meeting their expectations. The more fulfilling it is, the happier you become—although it’s very demanding. After all, success and happiness aren’t easy come by, so you have no choice but to work hard to earn them.
I try to allocate time for each sector but it’s very difficult to balance. This is what we are all made of. It’s a very interesting phenomenon.
What is your response to critics of Africa who cite allegations of corruption, stereotypes and issues with infrastructure and resources as a hindrance to doing business there?
Africa is the place to be, as it offers immense business opportunities with unrivaled double-digit returns on investment. It is blessed with abundant natural resources that require harnessing with value addition. Infrastructure development is what we need to focus on to support the development process by reducing the cost of doing business and building regional market blocks for our products and favorable competition.
Women, with their unique biological function, are part of the development process and have the same ability to perform as men. Cultural biases that have led to the discrimination against women are being overcome by women accessing education, developing skills and asserting themselves coupled with gender sensitive men supporting them. Women are now found participating is all sectors of life and must be given equal opportunity to harness their potential. They can no longer be under rated.
Issues of corruption need to be addressed decisively by each one of us playing exemplary roles in eliminating it, let alone the institutions set up by governments to deal with them.
What advice do you have for young women of the diaspora, particularly in the U.S., who seek to return to Africa and play a role in its continued growth?
This is the opportunity to be counted as part of those who contributed to the development of Africa. We are a blessed continent by the good Lord who created us and gave us abundant natural resources that we have to harness in the best way possible to make life better for ourselves and our people. Use the knowledge and skills acquired in the U.S. to add value and take advantage of the vast business opportunities back home, and make Africa the best place to live.
If you knew then what you know now, what career advice would you give your 21-year-old-self?
I am destiny’s child. I thank God for everything that has happened to me. I made the right choice of an engineering profession, and I am following my heart to make a difference to the lives of our people and humanity as a whole.