In what could pass for a subtle rant, government mouthpiece, Ofwono Opondo voiced his concerns at what he termed ‘flip-flopping” by Ugandan ministers on the Murchison Falls issue. He echoed many of Ugandan’s cries on the issue surround falls being reduced to a dam. The indecision, the sneaky feel of the discussion therein; all of it begs the notion that everything about these events is wrong. Below is what he opined through the government media arm, whereof he is head:
Ofwono Opondo speaks out
In the last three months, Cabinet has vacillated with statements over the possibility of permitting the development of hydro-power dams on Uhuru and Murchison Falls (devil’s cauldron) along River Nile three times. That vacillation is causing anxiety and suspicion that perhaps the government is acting under pressure from a dubious hand, up to no good, and the public is spoiling for a big fight.
The flip-flopping first began when it emerged that a South African company, Bonang Power and Energy Limited had applied to the Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA) to be granted permission to conduct a feasibility study in order to build a hydropower dam on Uhuru Falls just five hundred meters adjacent to Murchison Falls.
Murchison Falls is the lucrative, and panoramic escapement at which point river Nile gushes its waters with a huge force one hundred forty-three feet down through a seven-meter narrow canyon. Both are located within the expansive Murchison Falls Game Park, currently the biggest tourist attraction for its varied wildlife, game, birds, Sir Samuel Baker trail, river Nile and multiple Falls along its way through to South Sudan, Sudan, Egypt, and into the Red Sea.
Following the public disclosure by ERA as required by law, many Ugandans and other interested parties especially concerned with the environment and tourism expressed strong and widespread opposition to any idea that the site should be sacrificed for a power dam. Indeed ERA conducted its evaluations and issued an outright rejection because, among other things, Bonang didn’t submit legal documents showing its legal status in Uganda, shareholders, share capital, or company directors. The technical evaluation showed that massive water would be diverted upstream of Murchison Falls. At that time ministers promptly came out to assuage public anger that no such development would be considered.
While Cabinet is free to review its decisions, this shift coming after a promise and ERA evaluation, ought to be explained to persuade a suspicious and angry public, considering that Uhuru is so near Murchison Falls. It appears that after the rejection, Bonang went back to some godfather, and hence this reconsideration hoping that the Energy minister can order ERA via cabinet to review its earlier findings.
Yes, a feasibility study is a scientific method to assess a project’s environmental, social, cultural, and economic impact, viability, and sustainability. However, the flip-flop by ministers leaves gaps. And looking back to similar projects like the botched Naguru Housing Estate, Shimon Demonstration School, and most recently the Lubowa Specialised Hospital, ministers and all concerned government agencies ought to come clean and ensure that effective and credible due diligence is exercised and investors are not left to ride rough shoulders as if they are doing Ugandans favors.
The joint statement issued this week by Energy minister Irene Muloni and that of Tourism, Wildlife, and Antiquities, Ephraim Kamuntu leaves more holes gaping than offering a thorough, consistent, coordinated, and persuasive explanation why the change. The statement doesn’t disclose when and why the investor has suddenly shifted interests from Murchison to Uhuru waterfalls. This lack of thoroughness is fueling more suspicion that ministers are responding more to investor pressure than measured considerations.
Secondly, from their own admission in providing the coordinates of the two waterfalls which they say are only five hundred meters apart, it is not hard to see the near impossibility for a large scale construction leaving Murchison waterfalls unscathed as they seem to suggest. And we don’t have to conduct a scientific study to establish that because the construction of Bujagali, Isimba, and the one ongoing at Karuma, for hydropower dams are all available and self-evident to instruct any mind.
Obviously, there shouldn’t be any contention whether Uganda still needs more power dams and energy to power its industrialization and socio-economic transformation. With only a twenty-five percent reach of electricity to Ugandans, we are still too short and need more electricity generation and distribution from multiple sources. As the government through ERA clears Bonang to conduct the study, we must mobilize Ugandans with multifaceted expertise to challenge any findings and where possible use the courts to thwart this dangerous adventure.
But as Muloni submitted in her statement this week, there are other potential sites already identified like Kiba (400MW) Oriang (392MW), and Ayago (840MW) that are non-controversial as Uhuru and Murchison whose development could be undertaken first instead of raising the hubris government is most unlikely to win at this point.
Without being sentimental, the thunderous devil’s cauldron, together with Uhuru, and their Delta areas where the tower of giraffes, antelopes, lions, warthogs, bushbucks, buffalo gangs, school of hippos, bask of crocodiles and over 450 bird species co-exist in the dense forest cover is an amazing natural place. It’s inconceivable that while other countries are building artificial tourism sites, we in Uganda seek to destroy ours more so when there are other alternatives for hydropower dams. Like the government was forced to abandon its plans to give away Mabira forest to the Mehta group in 2011 for sugarcane growing, l believe that with joint, steadfast, and coordinated well-informed efforts, the renewed assault on Uhuru and Murchison Falls too ought to fail.Read More
A dance with pots. Herein the ladies rave with several pots lined up vertically atop their heads. But that’s a basic description; there is more. Hands out, waist in, and neck held high, this is a dance of pride!
It is a showcase of skill and then some more pride. The long yet elegant strides, waist jiggle here and there, the giggle, it is quite something, this dance. The Acholi pot dance is one to watch.
See, it almost never starts right away. First comes the tease, as if a reminder to the audience that the ladies come from the land of Acholi. A beautiful Ugandan people based in the Northern part of the country. It’s a dive into almost all the Acholi dances as if to tell of the many skills abreast. But experts will argue this is because it has evolved.
In fact, whilst speaking to a local daily, Stephen Rwangyenzi, the founder and executive director of Ntinda-based, Ndere Troupe, says that there are areas where they have made deliberate changes and simple additions to attract the audience to the dance. “The carrying of pots in the Laraka-raka dance and telling of stories around the dances was my addition to make the dances attractive,” he begins. “But I endeavor to perform the first part authentically and then make the additions later.”
It should just be a tune and the straight into the pot dance, but a lot has changed. In most cases, it begins with the Laraka-raka dance, a different dance, a more vigorous one. Also called Lamokowang, this dance’s signature call comes from the cries of a wire-stricken calabash. But this for another day; back to the dance of pots. Quickly yet gently, the ladies will withdraw to the back as the men make way and fade off into just providing the sound for this showcase. Soon the elegant damsels each return with a pot in hand. First is one, just the one. Then they dance, boast even, as if to say, “…look, I can dance and carry a pot at the same time.”
But they dance, they making some sort of line and occasionally break away to explore the different angles of the stage. As if to get the audience wondering what is next, they giggle and sometimes share a laugh among themselves. They break into twos or threes and tease the audience. Look at their pots and smile, then gyrate their waists a little bit and walk around some more. This is a warm-up!
At this point, first-time watchers are wondering what the pot in hand is for. They slowly bring it to the center, around their abdomen, and shake their waists. It’s a tease, they know it’s working, so they smile. Then slowly, smiles getting brighter by the second, the pots are uniformly put on each girl’s head. That’s the moment it makes sense. The men have all faded at this point and the womenfolk, looking like gazelles, begin to boast. Woo them; dance to their tunes, literally!
The Acholi girl mostly boasts glowing skin and long legs. She is the master of her waist. The art of waist wiggling, therefore, comes easy. So even as the pot goes to the head, she must find a balance, a way to still wiggle and keep the pot atop. Note, however, as the pot goes on the head, the true dancer is one who also makes subtle jumps, yet still manages to keep the pot in place without holding it.
Then one by one they start running off the stage, and back to where more pots await. They must return with two pots each and this times move even firster as the instruments get louder. Looking like queens, they keep going, testing and pushing themselves further. One-pot will soon become two and three and four and five and more, all piled atop each other.
Get this: it is done while musically walking around with their newfound ‘crowns’. Sometimes the music goes lower, slower maybe and then firster and this girl leave the crowd fascinated and also curious as how one can walk around carrying not one but several pots.
At this point, the sound of the calabash has been replaced with a more melodic instrument, sometimes the Adungu from West Nile is borrowed. Also called the African guitar, the Adungu provides for a melodic atmosphere, more relaxed and elegant. A flute could be used sometimes! See, everything must feel Ugandan once the Acholi take to the pot dance. And the girl will walk, sway, suave, boast to the tune of this music, all the while carrying their pots.
The more skilled the girl, the more pots she carries, and the more vigorously she dances. Quickly she can be seen returning to have the men put another pot on the already long crown of pots. At one point, their helpers have to get on higher ground, or a table to add a pot on their heads. But these girls love the tease. They like to keep the audience wondering how many more they can take.
The tall girls look even taller and the shorter girls find that they must carry more pots if they are going to outcompete the other girls. Also, know what to do when it looks like a pot my drop. In fact, it is not rare that you see once staggering about trying to keep the pots in order. “When it is about to fall, I reduce the speed and then pretend like I am spreading my hands out,” Clara Achen, a folk dancer with the Gulu-based Dhako dance group says. “Then I breathe slowly, try not to mover my head until it is stable.”
Clara maintains that it takes time to learn this skill, and for the naturally talented, it could take them just a month to get very good. “But other people, especially the ones who have never carried anything on their head can take even years,” she adds as a matter of fact. “So they carry maybe one or two while others carry even 10.”
The story here
Note though, that though widely danced by the Acholi, researchers argue that the pot dance originated from Teso. They also argue that since it is popular among the Langi, a tribe sandwiched between the Acholi and Iteso, this makes sense. Asked if this was true, Gabriel Komagum, a traditional dance trainer and student of Music Dance and Drama himself, says he doubts that but then thinks anything is possible.
“I don’t think so, but since the Iteso is just about a little over 100kms away from the north, anything is possible,” he says. He however goes on to explain how the dance found its baring among the Acholi people, a tribe from which he hails. “First of all, this is a courtship dance,” he states. “As they danced, the men would look for the young lady who could carry the most pots on her head.”
One thing is for sure, this dance is a symbol of culture; a showcase of love, skill and pride. In fact, the choice of the pot; a two-mouthed pot, has been known to be used for other rituals like, the welcoming of twins into a family. Many call it the ballet of Uganda. And indeed, like ballet, it exudes elegance and balance!Read More
My very first mountain-climbing attempt was Mount Wati, in Arua district, West Nile. Mount Wati stands at approximately 1,250 meters above sea level and it is believed that back in the day, rebels used to hide in the mountain to monitor advancing government soldiers. Today, the mountain makes for a
great hike, a chance to bond with nature, and an opportunity to experience very scenic views from the top.
I arrived on a Friday just before sunset and set camp right next to Miriadua falls. The falls are stunning and the gushing sound made the campsite feel very homey as if to say “welcome, you are not alone.” Miridua falls made for a practical camping spot too as the cascading water created a great shower spot that evening. My trip was during the dry season and our guide, Gerald Iga, insisted that we didn’t even witness half the beauty of the waterfall, as it gushes with even more power and vigor during the rains.
The next morning, and the group I traveled with, began the much-anticipated hike. We drove about one hour from Miriadua falls to Mount Wati and started our hike from the base of the mountain at about 11 am. The climb was a test of perseverance and patience. Trekking through savannah grassland and steep rocks, we felt the hot West Nile sunrays on our backs and stopped occasionally for rest and my personal energy boost of water (mixed with glucose), groundnuts, and biscuits. Our guide was very helpful and he led us as we navigated the rocks, at some points on all fours! It’s hard to describe how thrilling and enjoyable the experience of mountain climbing is. As you climb, all vanity ceases and all dependency relies on your instincts and Mother Nature.
Climbing with a group is a bonding experience like no other. As much as you have yourself, I’d say a first-timer is more likely to summit when climbing with others. As the great African proverb goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” One step at a time as you climb and truly live in the present moment, you never quite know when exactly you will reach the top as it all depends on the group pace. We encouraged and supported each other along the way and through dry grass, through bush and thicket, through the rocks, we kept ascending.
The summit was surreal. A sense of accomplishment engulfed me as I overlooked the vast savannah. At that moment, we were standing at the highest point in West Nile! Triumph and jubilation filled the air. I rested, relaxed, took pictures, and gazed at my surroundings. I was proud of myself, and I knew that very moment would be indelibly etched in my memory.
The mountain descent was a shorter expedition though nonetheless challenging. Resisting the pull of gravity, we made our way back through the rocks and eventually onto the mainland. I completed the hike at about 6 pm and headed straight to camp to freshen up, enjoy a bonfire, and indulge my palate with local dishes of the Angara, Enyasa, and Osubi.
On Sunday, we made our way back to Kampala. Both fatigued and excited, nostalgia for Wati and the entire experience immediately sank in as we set off. On our way, we stopped at the market to buy some kitenge (East African cotton printed fabric) which is much more affordable in the West Nile region than in Kampala city. I still haven’t made a dress out of my kitenge, but when I do, I know that I’ll have something to remember my first mountain climbing experience and the glory of the West Nile.Read More
For the first time, African travellers have liberal access to over half the continent, the 2019 Africa Visa Openness Index published by the African Union Commission and African Development Bank, reveals. The report was launched on Monday on the sidelines of the Africa Investment Forum, which
opened in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The progress on visa openness in Africa follows growing momentum for greater integration between countries and signals that policymakers across the continent are pushing reforms, making it easier for African businessmen and women, investors, students and tourists to travel.
This fourth edition of the Index shows that 47 countries improved or maintained their visa openness scores in 2019. African visitors no longer need a visa to travel to a quarter of other African countries, whereas visa-free travel was only possible to a fifth of the continent in 2016. Currently, 21 African countries also offer eVisas to make travel more accessible, up from 16 in 2018, 13 in 2017, and 9 in 2016).
The 2019 top performers on visa openness rank among the top countries for foreign direct investment in Africa and benefit from strong levels of growth, including in tourism. The Index shows that Seychelles and Benin remain the top two countries on visa openness in Africa, with their visa-free policy for all African visitors. Ethiopia moved up a record 32 places on the Index and entered the top 20 most visa-open countries in Africa.
African Development Bank President Akinwumi A. Adesina said, “Our work on the Africa Visa Openness Index continues to monitor how Africa is doing on the free movement of people. Progress is being made but much still needs to be done. To integrate Africa, we should bring down the walls. The free movement of people, and especially labour mobility, are crucial for promoting investments.”
The Visa Openness Index has inspired reforms in more than 10 African countries including Ghana, Benin, Tunisia, Ethiopia and Kenya, unlocking the tremendous potential for the promotion of intra-regional tourism, trade and investments.
Despite the gains shown in the report, there is a need to move further. In 2019, only 26% of Africans are able to get visas on arrival in other African countries, up by only 1% compared to 2016.
Countries need to make more progress on visa regimes, including introducing visas-on-arrival. By breaking down borders, Africa will be able to capitalize on gains from regional integration initiatives such as the African Continental Free Trade Area, the Single African Air Transport Market, and the Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons.
“It cannot be stressed enough how crucial integration is for the development of the continent and the fulfilment of its people’s aspiration to well-being. I congratulate those member states that have taken measures to ease the procedures for the entry of African nationals into their territories, and urge those that have not yet done so to join this growing momentum,” said Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union Commission.Read More
Are you in Uganda? Then you just can’t miss this awesome dose of adrenaline rush. Many even call it the top adventure to do in Uganda’s adventure capital, Jinja. It entails overriding 8 major rapids of the river that are well spaced over a scenic 24-kilometer stretch. Regardless of whether you chose the
half-day or full-day excursion, you will leave with both physical and emotional rewards.
If you are feeling stressed, the roller coaster-like ride will treat your mind and soul to internal healing and nourishment.
Over 1,000 who don’t know how to swim have successfully and safely rocked it since it began taking place over 20 years back. This is partly because safety is the main concern of the rafting agencies and standards of their equipment are second to none.
To start the day, you will be served breakfast to fill you with sufficient energy ahead of your expedition. You will then be split into groups of six people each with similar appetites for adrenaline. Each will be led by a coach who has been rafting for over 10 years. He will ensure you are comfortable but most of all confident to rock the day. Shortly after boarding the raft boat at a calm stretch of the river, he will give you a safety briefing—purposed to enlighten you on how to have a trip that is free of regret and fear.
Having rafted countless times before, our safety crew knows the river very well and will keep you safe throughout. You will swiftly come to your rescue just in case you fall out of your boat after it has hit a high wave. The rapids you will counter are on the bigger side but prior to confronting each, the raft will be consulted to determine which line to pass take through. This will limit the number of times your boat will flip upside down. The beauty of rafting the Nile unlike an ocean or sea is that its water is not salty, it is fresh. As such, neither your eyes nor skin will be damaged. On the contrary, they will look exquisite and renewed in the end due to the healing effect of the mineral-rich water.
Our photography crew will be stationed at different strategic parts of the river to get highlights of your excursion.
Halfway into your adventure, you will have a lunch stopover at one of the islands surrounded by exhilarating rapids and a rich concentration of beautiful birds.Read More
UWA the body that manages the country’s wildlife recently released 5 Rothschild giraffes into North Eastern Uganda-based Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve. This reintroduction exercise will now bring the total number of giraffes to 15, 10 of which are females.
Presiding over the event, Dr. Panta Kasoma, representing the Chairman of the UWA Board of Trustees, that the re-introduction of giraffes in Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve is in line with UWA’s strategic objectives among which is the reintroduction of extinct species.
He maintains that the exercise was looking to uphold conservation and keep the animal populations fairly distributed and high. “Especially the endangered species, we must pay attention to them,” he said. We are happy that we now have giraffes in Pian Upe after very many years, and we hope this will further enhance tourism in the reserve.”
This will not only stop at the giraffe populace, as only last year but impalas were also transferred. “We translocated up to 92 impalas into the reserve areas,” UWA’s Charles Tumwesigye said. “These translocations are good, we have seen an increase in antelopes, zebras, cheetahs…”
This is an ongoing process, one that is expected to yield results, protect the endangered long-legged giraffe but also see it thrive in a place where its population is wanting.Read More
For art lovers, the recent launch of the Leonardo Opera Omnia Exhibition undoubtedly welcomes the news. The exhibition that will be running from 19th November 2019 to 5th January 2020 at the Uganda National Museum in Kitante has caused quite the rave. According to the Uganda TRead More
The African Language and names are quite dramatic. Never shying away from saying it as is seen. So, if you are searching for historical attractions with legendary stories that are reminiscent of Roman mythology, narrow down your search to Mabere Ga Nyina Mwiru. It is a cultural and Eco-tourism
gem found at one of the most impressive waterfalls of Fort Portal. You can think of Fort Portal as one of Uganda’s most scenic town, lying in the shadows of Mountain Rwenzori.
In the thick of this tour, one must follow underground trails that lead into chambers of ancient caves made of solid lava ash. Created as a result of volcanic eruptions that rocked the Virunga region over 500 years ago, these natural caves are well preserved, with zero interference from humans. And as such, they still boast beautiful rock formations. This includes a thriving system of bristling stalactites hanging from the rocks overhead, and stalagmites surging up from the ground.
Scientists maintain that they were formed when calcium carbonate reacted with water from an adjacent waterfall that flows from Uganda’s highest Mountain, Rwenzori. The bi-product of this reaction is a milky substance that drips from the “tits” of rock formations that resemble breasts. “That is how locals came to call it: Amebere Ga Nyina Mwiru, meaning the breasts of Nyinamwiru,” one Ignatius, a guide at the site notes.
Interestingly though, historic stories beg to differ; legend passed on from generations among the Batooro insist that the “breasts” were cut off from the chest of a beautiful Mutooro girl called Nyinamwiru. This followed the orders of her father King Bukuku of Toro, a decision based on a prophecy that she would one day get married and have a son, Ndahura, who would kill the king and take over his throne.
A hike through Mabere Ga Nyina Mwiru will enable you to absorb the area’s extraordinary wildlife and the fascinating history of the Bachwezi dynasty. This heroic tribe of Bantu cattle keepers lived here prior to their mysterious disappearance prior to the 19th century. As you stand by the permanent waterfall, the fascinating steaming sound and cold breeze engulf all and sundry.
Throughout this family-friendly tour, the guide will help you safely navigate through a labyrinth of caves and appreciate all their unique features. You can crown your guided visit here with a hike to the neighboring Kalyango hills and Kyenganywa hill. From their summits, you will see some of the most scenic crater lakes of Africa.
Such a gentle hike; it often jokes that even patients recovering from a hip surgery could take it on. The beauty about this is that it is also easy on the little ones and can be explored as a family.
What to know
If traveling in peak and rainy months like, bring a pair of waterproof shoes like gumboots. The trail gets quite messy with a lot of water and mud during this time. If you get wet, they will give you a chance to shower and change afterward at the cottage here. The tour costs Shs7.500Ugx for locals and Shs10.000 for non-Ugandans.Read More
I watched with a pained heart as pictures of a flooding Kampala sauntered back and forth on the various social media streets. Like most of our realities, these had soon been turned into memes, hilarious memes. Boda-boda riders and obviously desperate passengers ploughing through the murky waters was a hit.
But once you put the jokes aside, and looked at the floods as a real problem, it was not funny. Not one bit!
Kampala is the country’s biggest city, and one would even argue that it is the only city really. That means we should be able to have tourists who want to see, live and explore the city. But how are we going to tell a busload of tourists that they can’t go to some parts of the city because they will be flooding? Get this, some of these flooded areas are journeys out of the city into the various destinations our tourists might be looking to explore. This, therefore, begs the question, how did we get here?
Uganda is a country of an estimated 44million people, about 20% of whom make up the urban population. So while 80% live in rural areas instead of the developing urban areas, major cities have been plunged into a population boom of mostly low-income earners who make up a large part of the city’s slums.
True, of the total of 259 urban centers in the country, Kampala was top among the destinations for many young people. Though Wakiso district takes the lion share of the population, the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) places Kampala City’s population at nearly 2 million people.
Sadly with the country’s population generally growing at 3.26% annually with over 1million Ugandans born each year, many more will migrate into the city in search of greener pastures. Note that the district that is Kampala has an area of about 189 km2, of which 13km2 is Lake Victoria and other waterways. Sadly, these are not clear waterways as they have been burdened with our poor waste disposal habits.
To contain this population and its habits, the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), the body mandated to run the city, has been left with a lot on its plate. A baseline survey Development Research and Training affirm these worries with daunting statistics.
While Kampala Central Division leads in access to clean water with 100%, in other divisions, access to clean water was as follows; Nakawa (45%), Makindye (66%), Kawempe (86%), and Lubaga (70%). Overall, 25% of households do not have access to safe water sources. Note that those in want of clean water live in the slums whereof nearly 50% of the city’s people reside.
But then again, many of these slums are right in the belly of our wetlands and nature is angry! But that will be for another day, for now though, let me wrap up this discussion with a picture of our un-organic waste, that among other things has been known to cause flooding. And by this dear folks, I am talking garbage, and specifically our un-organic garbage.
Did you know that the over 20-acre KCCA owned garbage collection point is choking with a chunk of un-organic garbage? Before it finds its way to this Kitezi garbage collection point, this garbage would have caused clogging in the already overwhelmed trenches. This, which includes plastic bottles, polythene bags, straws among other things, will render the overwhelmed drainage systems useless. This conversation is only just beginning!Read More
To quote the urban youth: “It is not a looker”. Not one bit! How the shoebill stork, (often just called the shoebill), which should be nowhere near the list of the most sought after birds then becomes one of the most sought after birds become bedazzling! Oh yes, it really is. Not only does it feature in the list of beauties, it actually tops it.
It’s named clearly curved out of its massive bill, which is a replica of a shoe, the shoebill is an excellent fisher. Many will even argue that it is unmatched. Scientists maintain that thanks to the sharp edges of its mandibles, this bird can reduce prey to mince. Just like that; the shoebill becomes one of the most fascinating birds to behold.
Like the Ugandans, the Shoebill’s life expectancy is 50 years and has been around for over 11,000 years now. True. Imagine a bird that has been around since the times of King Pharaoh of Egypt! Awesome, right? But this, researchers, worry could easily come to a screeching halt as fishermen have taken to killing this bird. They associate it with a bad omen, a thing that attracts bad luck whilst fishing. As a matter of fact, researchers at Nature Uganda, noted that there is a little under 1,000 of them left in Uganda.
They mostly seek solace in the country’s swampy areas and shallow lakes. Specifically, they have been spotted at Mabamba swamp, Lugogo Swamp in Ziwa Rhino Reserve, Lake Albert, the lower Nile in Murchison Falls Park, and Lake Mburo. To go on bird-watching in these places, one would need clear guidance and the internet is awash with these. Because it is a rare sighting, it would be also good to know which times of the day it is most seen.Read More