How Dr Michael Mngodo became Songas’ first Tanzanian Plant Manager

Tuesday July 21 2020

Dr Michael Mngodo - Songas’ first Tanzanian

Dr Michael Mngodo - Songas’ first Tanzanian Plant Manager. 

By Maliki Muunguja

The twin tasks of building local capacity and adjusting to the changes in the job market are integral to most businesses in Tanzania. Today, most companies have the task to obtain, improve, and retain the skills and knowledge of their employees.

Songas is one such company belonging to both the gas and oil sector, as well as the energy sector.

At the Ubungo Power Plant, Songas owns and operates 6 gas turbines with a total power generation capacity of 180Mw through sophisticated technology of aeroderivative engines that demands high skills, both to operate and manage the systems. The core engine of 4 gas turbines is the same used for jet engines that power the Boeing 747 aircraft.

For the past 16 years Songas has employed world class standards to operate the plant and therefore initially employed foreign management personnel and trained local nationals to manage and operate the plant. This has borne fruit as early this year, Anael Samwel was appointed the company’s first Tanzanian Managing Director.

More recently, Songas promoted Dr Michael Mngodo as the first Tanzanian Plant Manager.

Mngodo’s achievement provides encouragement that Tanzanians have the will and skills to take up roles that were previously held by expatriates - a demonstration of successful knowledge transfer to nationals. His rise up the corporate ranks at Songas is an inspirational tale that not only shows the strides that have been made in the oil and gas industry, but also serves as a reminder to college students and other youth aspiring to follow a similar path in this vast industry.

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Students studying sciences can stay the course and ultimately reach the apex.

Growing up, Mngodo had a predilection for science subjects. In fact, his passion for this discipline was so overt that it endeared him to his teachers, particularly one Mr Almeida during his time at Tambaza Secondary School in Dar es Salaam, where his strong foundation in Science subjects was firmly laid.

So impressive was his academic performance that he joined one of the very few special schools where the brightest of minds were admitted – Kibaha Education Centre.

Mngodo completed his high school at Kibaha, and was selected to attend two distinct academic institutions: one from a local higher education college, and another from Soviet Russia, The Peoples’ Friendship University in Moscow.

In 1978 Mngodo received sponsorship to enrol in a five-year Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering.

Even on foreign soil, he continued to impress. “When I graduated with a Master’s degree – passing with Honors – the University was so impressed that they offered me an opportunity to continue with PhD studies in gas and steam turbines,” says Mngodo.

In 1991, an astute Mngodo finalized his PhD and this marked his journey back home. But just before that, Mngodo was invited by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) to present a technical paper on Design of Transonic Region of Supersonic Nozzles, at the NASA’s 3rd International Aerospace planes conference in Orlando, Florida.

When he arrived in Tanzania he tried to get engaged in public service but that was short-lived.

He decided perhaps life in academia suited him best, however, all his efforts to find placement at different universities were to no avail. It wasn’t until 1993 when he was recruited by the state-owned Tanzania Electric Supply Company (Tanesco).

As fate would have it, Mngodo joined Tanesco at a time when the company was on the verge of implementing a natural gas-to-electricity project at its Ubungo Power Station in Dar es Salaam.

His first role at the power utility company was as an operator. This was around the same time Tanesco had finished installing an additional two new state-of-the-art gas turbines that required an advanced level of expertise to operate.

Mngodo’s enthusiasm and aptitude for technology-related matters resulted in an opportunity for further intensive training in Sweden.

After working at Tanesco for 11 years, in 2003 Mngodo ended his tenure as the Tanesco Emergency Power Project came to an end and the facility transferred to Songas. “I viewed the change as a blessing in disguise. It opened my world to new possibilities,” he says.

It didn’t take long for him to find another job, this marked the beginning of his journey at Songas.

He began working as an Operations Team Leader up until 2009 when he was promoted to Technical Manager. He served in that role until June 2020 when he was appointed Plant Manager having demonstrated the leadership and technical capabilities to manage a complex, world class gas to power generation plant.

As Plant Manager, Mngodo holds a vital and significant position which he says; “proves beyond a reasonable doubt that we [Tanzanians] are capable of doing anything we set our minds to.”

As he exudes passion that creates a certain level of dynamism pertinent to achieving one’s goals, Mngodo hopes that his story acts as a precursor to fuel the desire for success among youth. “One thing is just as important, however, “youth need to align their passion with their profession or career. These go hand-in-hand,” he says.

While espousing an aura of confidence, Mngodo goes on to acknowledge the vast growth seen in economics of power generation and related fields. But for this growth to be sustained, the energy sector needs a good command of computerized machinery operators, gas turbines technicians, electromechanical, mechanical and electrical engineers, control room operators. Mngodo acknowledges a shortcoming in such manpower in the sector as a whole.

Nurturing talent

Building on the successes recorded by predecessors such as Mngodo, Songas started a trainee program for graduates where students from the University of Dar es Salaam (Udsm) and St. Joseph University are granted a six-month internship. When the protégés complete their training period, those who are deemed fit are given priority to be recruited by Songas. Otherwise, they are easily absorbed by the market due to quality training and experience gained from Songas.

As Mngodo can attest, the engineering science field requires individuals who are fully focused on the job. He says through guidance and coaching there are many youth who stand a chance to compete in local and international job markets.

His commitment to mentoring the next generation of science-savvy youth has seen Mngodo engage in supporting platforms such as the ‘Young Scientist Tanzania’ (YST).

Mngodo believes that energy is one of the important sectors for the economic growth of a country because it stimulates productivity and is key to achieving Tanzania’s National Development Vision 2025 to become a semi-industrialised country.

Songas currently supplies around 20% of the country’s electricity to the national grid and has plans to increase its generation capacity from the current 180 MW to 245MW after agreements with the government have been finalised.

The upgrade represents a 37 percent expansion and forms part of the company’s continued efforts to support the Tanzanian Government in realising its energy sector reform plan that aims at expanding the power generation capacity by up to 10,000 MW by 2025.

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