I have been following the Murchison Falls saga from the background now for the best part of six months. There has been a silent kind of dialogue between members of the public on social media, mostly fueled by speculation that the government, through its line agency, the Ministry of Energy, desires to utilize the site, as it has done with many other sites, to harness hydro-electricity from these world-renowned falls and by so doing, destroy the entire tourist potential of the site with the stroke of a pen.
Widely known as the most powerful waterfall on earth, the iconic Murchison Falls, also known as Kabalega Falls, is a waterfall between Lake Kyoga and Lake Albert on the Victoria Nile that forces itself though a narrow gap between rocks cascading 43 metres into the scenic, wildlife-filled setting of Murchison Falls National Park.
The falls is a unique work of nature, way up there on the global tourist bucket list and it is truly a sight to behold. For those who have taken the trouble to traverse the country, it is one of the most astounding tourist attractions in our country which is so richly endowed.
Apparently the Falls attract 32% of the foreign tourists visiting Uganda. One wonders how on earth such a unique, site could ever be under consideration for development as a hydroelectric power dam. It is unfathomable!!!
What for me has been most disturbing, is the eerie silence that has surrounded this whole matter. At one time it was rumored that there was a quack South African investor that was being considered for a PPA on this site. The silence of the government especially, has been deafening!
Being as they are, the principle stakeholder and the would be driver of such an initiative, the lack of a position by government on such a monumental matter, heightened the mystery around the whole affair and this led me at one point, to believe that the whole issue was merely the subject of speculation or that it was the work of someone’s very fertile imagination. Nobody seemed to have a position on this matter and then it went silent for a while.
All of a sudden, the whole matter seems now to have re-surfaced and I have heard that the Minister of Energy has clarified on the matter and stated that what is targeted for development as a dam is Uhuru Falls, which is a mere stone’s throw from the main falls and whose development would inadvertently adversely affect Murchison Falls, almost as badly as the development of Murchison Falls.
For the last couple of years, tourism has been by touted by government as the main foreign exchange earner for Uganda and owing to our usual, sloppy way of doing things, we have not yet even reached a quarter of the potential that we could reach in exploiting this resource which, in our case, is premised on natural endowments.
At every twist and turn, the local tourism enthusiasts expound on the tremendous economic spin-off that would emanate from a thriving tourist industry.
In every country where development happens, it doesn’t happen in isolation. Development has to be managed in a coherent manner and there has to be a careful balance between potential revenue streams, since the desired end result is the same; almost always to spur increased all-round economic benefits for the citizens.
Much as you may convince us that we are actually in need of harnessing further sites for hydro-electricity, does this have to be done at the expense of the tourism sector and one of our most prime tourist attractions, moreover one that can never ever be restored? Why are we our own worst enemies? This can never and will never be the solution.
As Ugandans we are intended to be the principle beneficiaries of the power that will be generated by developing this site, but more to it, we are also the beholders of the irredeemable beauty of these unique falls. It’s almost like we are “cutting of our noses to spite our faces”.
Are we so short of other potential sites and so short of imagination that we now have to resort to this kind of wanton destruction? Or is this a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing? The move would also, no doubt deprive many locals of an income and they would then not be able to afford the power that would be generated. Who would be the true beneficiary then?
A scenario where the Ministry of Tourism continues to promote our rich heritage and unique endowments as the Ministry of Energy desecrates our best sites is one of the most absurd scenarios. We need to avert this madness fast. #SaveMurchisonFalls
Baingana, is a Director at New Bukumbi Coffee Factory & promoter of Agro Tourism.