Save Murchison Falls

Murchison Falls is one of the most iconic sights of Uganda ‘’The Pearl of Africa.” It is said to be the world’s most powerful waterfall as the Nile gushes through a 6 metre gorge at the river’s narrowest point in its 6,670km length. The legendary waterfall is also the historical place of the Babiito dynasty of Bunyoro Kingdom which traces its origins back to this waterfall. A hike up the falls from the bottom is probably one of the most exhilarating hikes in the world as one has views of the falls from different angles. Midway through the hike, one sees both Murchison Falls and Uhuru Falls. Words and Youtube videos simply cannot do it justice, so I would advise everyone to visit. The falls are the centerpiece of the expansive 5,072 square km Murchison Falls conservation area, Uganda’s biggest and most popular national park. The park is home to elephants, Nubian giraffes, lions, leopards, hyenas, herds of buffalo, antelopes, chimpanzees & other primates, over 450 species of birds, and a vast range of biodiversity. These unique features attract over 100,000 visitors a year and this number is growing at an annual rate of 8%. The economic benefits are in the tens of millions of dollars from the park fees, chimpanzee and hike fees and the lodge fees paid by these visitors. But, for some seemingly unfathomable reason, the Uganda government wants to dam this thunderous waterfall. Of course the argument is that we need power, but we now have more power in Uganda than we can consume. So this government’s energy projects beggar belief, especially in times like this where the environmental crisis is claiming more biodiversity by the day all over the world. Is the Uganda government ready to destroy Murchison Falls or Uhuru falls for that matter? Over the last ten years the government has built 3 dams on the Nile in Uganda. In 2010, we watched helplessly as the beautiful Bujagali falls were destroyed by a dam, and then the Karuma, Ayago and Itanda falls. In Jinja, we suffered the brunt of the effects as tourism declined after the falls disappeared. But this time round, we are not going to just sit back and watch as our heritage is destroyed. We have to secure Murchison Falls for future generations of Ugandans and the entire world. In Jinja, before the construction of the Isimba dam in 2013, we had discussions with Ministry of Energy officials about this government’s energy strategy. We advised against the construction of many dams along the river and instead proposed the government focus on one mega dam –like the Ethiopians have done –as this would have a lower environmental impact. The Uganda government’s multiple dam construction strategy is akin to the construction of numerous pit latrines all over one’s homestead/compound. Pit latrines are most useful but digging many in one’s compound creates a hazardous nuisance. No sane Ugandan builds pit latrines in their front yard. So it is wise for one to construct one deep latrine tucked away behind the house. But the government didn’t listen. Six years later, the government still hasn’t learnt this and is now back to construct yet another dam on the Nile.

Have we not learnt from the environmentally tragic western capitalistic system of economics? The European and US capitalistic approach had initially failed to factor in economic benefits of nature into their capitalistic economic model. As such, environmental damage to the world at large as a result of the pervasive profit driven production and consumption took its toll on the environment in Europe, the United States and the world at large as a few individuals and nations benefited at the cost of the majority. And now, nearly 200 years after the start of the industrial revolution, Americans and Europeans have only just realised the damage the economic system has caused. Western countries are in panic, doing whatever is necessary to save the world from plastic and other detrimental effects of uncontrolled capitalistic production. Western governments have imposed strict taxes on harmful commodities and pursued brave subsidy programs to encourage greener living. Indeed Europeans and Americans have lost so much biodiversity that they now flock to sub-Saharan countries to see biodiversity like mahogany and mvule trees, elephants, birds and plants that their forefathers destroyed in their own countries during the madness of unbridled capitalism. One would think that Ugandans would ask themselves why a European or an American pays $1,500 for a flight to come to Uganda to spend a further $10,000 just to drive around Uganda and see the country we have. But, it appears our politicians are lost in maximising power and economic benefit whereas the average Ugandan is preoccupied by short term needs like paying school fees, constructing houses and going for Kwanjula (traditional wedding ceremonies). We barely ever take time to think about the environment –the very thing that sustains our life. Future generations will judge us very harshly, so I implore fellow Ugandans to come together and not only fight for Murchison Falls, but also start taking environmental issues seriously. Selfish leadership will capitalize on our ignorance and rob not only us, but our future generations.
There are many renewable energy alternatives that are now viable in Uganda. Solar energy is one such alternative that ought to be explored given the monumental leaps in the technology in the last 5 years. The government can learn from the UK, a country with minimal sunshine yet their government encourages citizens to use renewable energy. The UK used a two pronged approach that allowed individuals to take matters in their own hands and invest in solar energy using government grants and subsidies. As such wind turbines and solar powered homes increased to one million. The government also encouraged large scale investment in renewable resources.
The UK government’s solar energy initiatives were so successful that for the first time in 2016 the sun provided more energy to the UK grid than coal plants. Uganda has a lot more sunlight hours than the UK as it straddles the equator. There are many sustainable alternative means of meeting our energy needs.
Leave Murchison Falls be.
Mutalya Balye Daudi