Ugandan Tour operators have asked the Ugandan government not to approve an application for a license by a South African energy firm, Bonang power and Energy (Pty) Limited, to construct a hydro power dam along the famed River Nile in the Murchison falls national park area.
Located 305 kilometers north of Uganda's capital- Kampala, the Murchison falls National Park has one of the most spectacular views of the Nile cascading over 23kms breathtaking rapids.
On June 5th, the Ugandan government through the Electricity regulatory Authority (ERA) placed an advert in several local dailies, acknowledging receipt of a notice of intended application for a license from Bonang power and energy limited to construct a dam near the falls.
However addressing journalists in Kampala, recently, the tour operators, under their body the Association of Uganda Tour Operators (AUTO) implored the government not to approve the construction of the dam, saying it would erode the Murchison falls and affect tourism.
“There should be no approbation for this project. Thinking about construction of the dam at the falls alone, is bad enough, even when the government says it has not yet approved the planned project,” Everest Kayondo, the chairman Association of Uganda Tour Operators said.
According to the Ugandan government, Bonang Power and Energy (Pty) Limited intends to undertake detailed feasibility studies and other activities leading to the development of the power project whose proposed installed capacity is 360MW.
In the notice, the Electricity regulatory Authority stated that the generated power will be sold to the Uganda Electricity Transmission company limited and fed into the national grid.
The proposed project, is located within the vicinity of coordinates 2O 16’42.6”N (longitude) and 31O41’08.8”E (Latitude) which is said to be the exact area where the Murchison waterfalls are situated.
The project is planned to be established near Murchison falls in Kiryandongo and Nwoya districts.
Julius Wandera, the communications manager of the Electricity regulatory Authority confirmed to Masaabachronicle that the government had not yet approved the project, saying only a notice for feasibility had been issued.
The Tour operators however want the government to drop the project, noting that it is a bad idea for the tourism sector.
“The Murchison falls, combines three tourism aspects that is wildlife, hiking and the water falls so we cannot afford to lose them. We have already lost Bujagali and Owen falls in the center of Uganda,” Kayondo noted.
One of the largest tourist attractions in Uganda, Murchison Falls, also referred to as the Kabalega Falls, is a waterfall found on the course of the great Nile.
It breaks the stunning Victoria Nile that flows across Uganda’s northern region from the vast Lake Victoria to the deep Lake Kyoga and continuing to the northern tip of Lake Albert within the western arm of the great East African Rift.
To save the natural beauty, the operators penned a letter (s) to President Yoweri Museveni among other stakeholders, including-the Ministry of Tourism, the Electricity regulatory Authority, the Speaker of Uganda’s Parliament-Rebecca Kadaga and Ruhakana Ruganda-Uganda’s Prime minister asking them to say NO to the proposed project.
“It is shocking that a heritage site like Murchison falls can be considered for power generation. We should look at solar energy and not hydropower at the expense of natural beauty,” Pearl Hoareau Kakooza, the President Uganda Tourism Association said.
She said her association, had also petitioned the South African Embassy in Uganda, to engage Bonang power and Energy (Pty) Limited, about the proposed project.
According to Kakooza, Murchison falls, is the only unique tourist attraction Uganda has, compared to other countries.
Just like the tour operators, Uganda wild life Authority (UWA), also opposed the move to construct a power dam near the falls, and asked the government to find an alternative site.
Bashir Haggi, the communications manager Uganda Wildlife Authority, said Murchison falls, attracts the highest number of tourists to Uganda, compared to other tourist attractions.
“Last year alone, the falls attracted 96,438 tourists, compared to 80,000 tourists that visited Queen Elizabeth national park. The falls are the icon of Murchison falls national park, we call it so because the falls are a must see feature,” he said.
The tourists want the government to pronounce itself on the proposed project, within a space of two weeks, lest they take action.
Robert Kasande, the Permanent secretary in Uganda’s ministry of energy and mineral development, however appealed to the tourist operators among other stakeholders to allow the government finish the review process, which he said will consider views from all stakeholders.
“The feasibility study has not been undertaken; it is this study that will look at the environment and commercial aspects. The people making fuss over this are jumping the gun,” Kasande said.
He said the government had not yet decided on the exact site where a dam would be constructed, adding that there are plans for construction of more dams such as the 600MW Ayago dam, along the same river.
The tourists indicated that destroying Murchison falls, will not only affect the local communities but also the tourism sector which contributes 10% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the national economy.
The sector, also contributes 24% of the exchange inflows in the country, making it the biggest single foreign exchange earner to the country.
The application for a license by the South African energy firm to construct a hydro power dam along River Nile has drawn forth, a lot of heated blowback from a cross section of Ugandans.