At least 2,533 people have signed a petition to block the planned construction of a power dam near Murchison Falls, which could see the disappearance of the falls, a key tourism attraction to the area.
This overshoots the petitioner's target of 2,500 people. The petition was put online by Amos Murungi, who describes himself as an environmentalist, after power regulator, Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA) published a note inviting public views on the planned feasibility study of the area by a South African firm that would eventually construct the power dam.
ERA's advert said the dam will be constructed near near Murchison Falls in Kiryandongo and Nwoya districts. It went on to state the exact area by geographical coordinates as between 'Longitude 2º16’42.6”N and Latitude 31º41’08.8”E.' A google map search of the advertised coordinates reveals that the dam will be constructed at the Murchison Falls on Victoria Nile - a tributary of the R.Nile.
Tourism enthusiasts took to social media on Sunday to ask the government to stop the idea altogether. ERA said in a statement on Sunday posted on its Facebook account: “We wish to clarify to our stakeholders about this notice. ERA has not issued a license for the establishment of power plant at Murchison Falls but received an application for a permit to conduct feasibility studies for a proposed plant near the falls,” ERA said.
Adding that, “The application by the developer is available for viewing. Don’t hesitate to contact us for more information or clarity. Regards.”
The firm that wants to do a feasibility study and eventually construct a power dam is Bonang Power Limited from South Africa. On its website, it says Uganda “seeks to build new hydropower projects at Ayago, Uhuru, Kiba and Murchison Falls and will generate 2,550 MW of electricity…. leading to a more reliable power supply and a key factor of economic development.”
Murchison Falls is situated in the Murchison Falls national park in the northern part of the Albertine Rift Valley. It is well known to be one of Uganda’s ancient conservation areas. The park covers an area of about 3,893km2 and it is known to be one of Uganda’s well-protected area.
Amos Wekesa, the executive director of Great Lakes Safaris, took on social media to encourage Ugandans to sign the petition, which they said would be delivered to President Museveni. Under the hashtag #savemurchisonfalls, Wekesa implored Ugandans to share their pictures online while at Murchison Falls.
“Those of you, who have been there, know they [Murchison Falls] are a national asset not Wekesas or any other tour operators. The government collects all the revenue and if you haven’t been [there], please go and you don’t have to use my company,” Wekesa said.
Meanwhile Murungi, the petitioner wrote: “The Delta area which forms part of Murchison Falls national park is the best the place to see the rare shoebill stork. A boat cruise to the Delta area where the shoebill is sighted offers great opportunity to see the game as hippos, crocodiles, lots of bird species among others.”
Tourism is the highest foreign exchange earner, having raked in $1.37bn last year. The only sector that comes close is diaspora remittances when Ugandans abroad sent in $1.2bn last year. Up to 1.4 million people entered Uganda in 2018. Losing falls is familiar to Ugandans after the construction of Bujagali hydro-power in Jinja saw the disappearance of the Nile Falls in Jinja.