Protests at Association of Uganda Tour Operators about Dam at Murchison Falls
On Tuesday, December 10, 2019, the Association of Uganda Tour Operators (AUTO) led a host of stakeholders and partners from conservation, civil society, academia, students, local communities, and the media to reiterate their condemnation of plans by the Government of Uganda to sanction a feasibility study for a 360-Megawattd Hydropower Project at Uhuru Falls inside Marchison Falls National Park.
This followed a December 3, 2019 press statement by the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development whereby the Government of Uganda confirmed having signed a Memorandum of Understanding with M/S Bonang.
Energy and Power Ltd. from the Republic of South Africa and Norconsult and JSC Institute Hydro Project work together to undertake detailed feasibility studies for a proposed Hydropower Project at Uhuru Falls located adjacent to Murchison Falls in Murchison Falls National Park.
While addressing the press in Murchison Falls National Park, Everest Kayondo, the Chairman of Uganda’s tour operators body demanded that the Government of Uganda protect both Uhuru and Murchison Falls premised on their environmental and social, as well as direct and indirect economic value to Uganda.
“Murchison Waterfalls from the top all the way to the delta at its confluence with Lake Albert, including Uhuru Falls is a Ramsar site, designated to be of international importance under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, an intergovernmental environmental treaty established in 1971 by UNESCO to which Uganda is a signatory. The top of the falls also holds important cultural and historical regalia of great significance to the host communities from the many districts surrounding the park, who benefit from its existence,” Kayondo said.
He added that several studies had already been conducted to highlight the critical state of this protected area, including a September 2017 Environmental Sensitivity Atlas for Murchison Falls National Park by the Uganda Wildlife Authority, funded by USAID and the Royal Norwegian Embassy that re-emphasizes the protection of this Ramsar site. There was, therefore, no need for another study for a Key Biodiversity Areas (KBA) hosting many IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) red-listed species.
Murchison Falls National Park received an increase of 10% over a period of 12 months, commanding up to 102,305 (31.4%) of all Uganda’s park visitations and leading all the 10 national parks in visitor numbers, according to the statistical bulletin of the Ministry of Tourism Wildlife and Antiquities.
Tour Operators have since been joined in condemning the act by Uganda’s Speaker of Parliament Honorable Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga who questioned why the Energy Minister Engineer, Irene Muloni, opted to make the announcement at the Media Centre instead of subjecting the matter to debate in Parliament. The Energy Minister was, however, absent from Parliament when summoned to the floor.
On June 12, 2019, eTN published a similar article warning of mass protests by tour operators over initial plans for the proposed dam.
Subsequently, in August, Tourism Minister Prof. Ephraim Kamuntu had called a Press Conference stating that the Cabinet took a decision at its latest sitting that there will be no construction of the hydropower dam in Murchison Falls National Park only later to “eat his own wordss” on the same podium.
Ironically, the following day, the Honorable Minister had to shuttle 300 km west to Bulisa district in Bunyoro to hand over a dummy check of UGX 4.1 million (USD 1.12 million) to communities surrounding Murchison Falls Conservation area as part of the park’s revenue-sharing program to donate 20% of park fees to districts neighboring the park(s).
However, tour operators remain suspicious of government plans, convinced that the prize is Murchison Falls considering that Uhuru Falls is seasonal. More so that there are ongoing unprecedented massive infrastructure works in the park including road construction to the top of the falls which raises even more suspicion.