A licence application by South African firm, Bonang Power and Energy (Pty) Limited, to construct a hydro power dam at Murchison falls, a waterfall between Lake Kyoga and Lake Albert on the White Nile, has sparked a public backlash from rattled environmentalists, tourism enthusiasts and politicians.
Murchison falls, is the centrepiece of the Murchison Falls national park. This stretch of the river draws elephants, giraffes and buffaloes; while hippos, Nile crocodiles and aquatic birds are permanent residents.
The People Power Movement led by Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine (Kyadondo East MP) says the proposed give-away will greatly diminish the country’s tourism sector since Murchison falls is one of the largest tourism attractions in the country. Joel Ssenyonyi, the group’s spokesperson, said recently that establishing a hydro power dam at the falls will destroy a great piece of tourism that has attracted many foreign visitors.
“As a country, we export power; why can’t we balance things up so that we retain the power we need and deal with the shortfalls? It is also high time we invested in other energy sources such as bio gas and solar if we feel the electricity we have is not enough,” he said.
Ssenyonyi said government needs to invest more in tourism because it’s the country’s leading foreign exchange earner raking in about $1.6 billion a year, instead of destroying bits of it.
The Association of Uganda Tour Operators also condemned the proposed dam at Murchison falls, saying it will diminish marketing efforts to attract visitors to Uganda. Everest Kayondo, chairman of the Association of Uganda Tour Operators, told a press conference at Hotel Africana that, “The tourism sector was earmarked by government of Uganda as one of the five key growth sectors for the country’s economy in the second National Development Plan. For the government to go against its word and destroy this sector is to act selfishly….”
The tourism sector Annual Performance report 2017/18 shows that over the past 10 years, tourist arrivals into Uganda have steadily climbed from 850,000 in 2008 to over 1.4 million in 2017 and it continued to be the leading foreign exchange earner for the Ugandan economy by generating $1,453 billion compared to $1,371 billion in 2016.
Kayondo added that giving the falls away will cause loss to the Ugandan tourism business owners and many Ugandans who depend directly and indirectly on the Murchison falls for employment and livelihood.
Hoteliers, allied to the Uganda Hotel Owners Association (UHOA), have also petitioned President Museveni to save the falls. They argue that Murchison Falls national park combines three tourism aspects; wildlife, hiking and the waterfalls, which the country cannot afford to lose.
They say the country has already lost Bujagali and Owen falls.