UGANDA (eTN) – The grand opening last week of the Chobe Safari Lodge also brought about renewed controversy, when the Chief Executive of the Madhvani Group, Mr. Mayur Madhvani, again raised the issue of wanting to build a golf course in the park with President Museveni, this time in the neighborhood of the just-opened Chobe Lodge, in the upper part of the Murchisons Falls National Park.
Several years ago, a similar request evenly brought to the President was eventually defeated by a broad alliance of conservationists, then leading tourism stakeholders and the Uganda Wildlife Authority’s (UWA) then chairman John Nagenda, who led a spirited fight, using candid language against the plans to turn the Mweya peninsula into a 18-hole golf course.
Although the group was later offered land outside the park near the Katwe village to construct a golf course of their own, and offers were extended to work hand in hand with the Kasese Golf Club and send their clients there by shuttle bus, nothing ever came of these counterproposals as it was “all or nothing” for the developers to either have a golf course on their door step or none at all.
The Mweya peninsula’s narrow stretch of land connecting it to the main body of the park, is known for many animals moving in and migrating out from the peninsula, like elephant and buffalo. It was suggested then that a golf course would have impacted too heavily on these movement patterns, leave alone the impact of using imported alien grass species and the subsequent need to constantly fertilize and water the fairways and greens, with runoff water polluting the Kazinga Channel and Lake Edward.
The latest attempt to have a golf course carved out of Murchisons Falls National Park this time will most likely also meet with equal resistance, and it is understood that John Nagenda is already “marshalling his troops.” It was pointed out to this correspondent by sources close to UWA that there is apparently a golf course at Pakwach, which again could be used for a partnership between the Madhvani Group and the club. Guests wishing to play a round or two could easily be transported there by shuttle bus, instead of cutting large swathes of forest in the immediate vicinity of the lodge to create an 18- or even 27-hole course in a pristine wilderness area second to none in Uganda.
The next few weeks will also tell if tourism stakeholders and industry leaders do have the proverbial “cojones” to stand up for what it is right and speak out against golf in the park, as was the case several years ago or if a weakened and fragmented opposition to the proposals will hand victory to the intending developers.