Tourism and conservation enthusiasts have accused government of peddling lies on the proposed power project to along the Murchison Falls.
The Minister for Energy, Irene Muloni last week told journalists that Cabinet had recommended for a feasibility study to be done before a decision is made on whether or not a power dam should be built at Murchison Falls.
“In order to make a scientifically informed decision, Cabinet reviewed its decision yesterday December 2, 2019 and agreed that a feasibility study is undertaken on the Uhuru falls site. In making the decision, Cabinet considered the need to have the feasibility study undertaken because that is the only scientific way to determine the impact of the project on the environment, tourism and ecology at the proposed site,”Muloni said adding that the dam will be constructed at Uhuru falls which is adjacent to Murchison falls.
On Tuesday, a group of over 100 enthusiasts in tourism, conservation, civil society, hoteliers and students visited both sites before addressing journalists about the latest developments.
“The Uhuru falls government is talking about is seasonal and it dries up during the dry season. We are wondering how government is to construct a dam on a seasonal fall,” the chairman, Association of Uganda Tour Operators, Everest Kayondo told journalists during a press conference on Tuesday on top of the Murchison Falls.
Explaining in details, Kayondo said the Uhuru falls’ name coincided with Uganda’s independence in 1962, a year in which the country experienced heavy rainfalls that saw water ranch off from the usual course via the Murchison falls to form another fall, which was named Uhuru, a Kiswahili name to mean independence.
A Uganda Wildlife Authority tour guide who said has been in the area for over 15 years told this website that indeed, in February, during the dry season, Uhuru falls dries up and water is only found at Murchison falls.
According to Kayondo, the feasibility study is used to hoodwink the public on what is exactly is going to be done by government.
“We are worried, the feasibility study is a gimmick but they are targeting Murchison falls because it cannot be that government is going to construct a dam on a seasonal fall. Why would the company supposed to construct the dam be the one to finance the feasibility study,”Kayondo wondered.
“It is like a referee who makes a pass for him to score a goal in the net. This is just a ploy.”
Last week, Energy Minister, Muloni told journalists that the dam is to be constructed on Uhuru falls which are 25 kilometres away from Murchison Falls, adding that the latter will not be touched by the developments.
“Uhuru Falls and Murchison Falls are separate falls that are 25km adjacent to each other. Our focus is on Uhuru site,”Muloni said.
The activists however lashed at the minister for telling a lie in the broad daylight.
There are no 25km separating the two falls as the minister said but only a rock which is less than 100 metres separates the two. We are aware members of the cabinet have not visited this place(Murchison falls). You should visit it to stop making lies about this place. It is high time you accustom yourselves with the place other than making blatant lies to the public,”Kayondo said.
The tourism and conservation enthusiasts said they are worried of the country’s future if the falls are destroyed to pave way for construction of a power dam.
“The Nile which is a kilometre wide squeezes into seven metres to cause a bang of water with such a beautiful scene at the Murchison that a third of tourists to Uganda come to view. It is only comparable to the Niagara(Canada and USA) and Victoria falls(Zimbabwe and Zambia). How do you remove a natural heritage that brings in a lot of money for you to borrow money to construct a dam? It does not make economic sense,”Kayondo said.
Despite being funded to a meagre 0.1%, in 2018 the Uganda government saw tourism contribute 10% to the Gross Domestic Product and 25% of the total foreign exchange earnings.
“If we lose the tagline of being gifted by nature that we have always boasted of, what will we be left with? Other countries are increasing their efforts of reversing the environment and our government wants to destroy our natural heritage? It makes no sense,” said Sarah Kyerere, the chairperson, Association of Ugandan Women in Tourism Trade.
The activists said government ought to reverse its decision of constructing a dam on the Murchison, or else the country would lose the falls, just like it happened at Bujagali and Nalubaale dams along the Nile.
A number of people have warned government against the move to construct a dam near the Murchison, saying the same would cost the country’s tourism sector greatly because the spot accounts for 30% of the tourists to Uganda.
However, government insists the feasibility study will allay all the fears over the proposed dam.
The Tourism Minister, Prof. Ephraim Kamuntu last week said the feasibility study will be the only way to determine whether the natural endowment at Murchison Falls will be tampered with or not after construction of the hydropower dam.
“If the study tells us that we can maintain the natural beauty after the construction of the hydropower project, then we can go on with it.”