Destroy Murchison falls, then what ?
A lion-like a true king of the jungle, saunters off into ‘wonderland’. Until he awakes, the do-not-disturb sign, albeit non-existent, stands out. Here, in the serenity of the savannah, birds sing, a hyena laughs, and the air is generally musical. The wildly long necks of giraffes will occasionally emerge and the antelopes playfully run about. As the buffalo soldiers bath, the hippopotamus pretends not to be around and the elephants scoop some sand ashore. All of this, the calm waters of the Albert Nile, and the suspiciously tamed bushes will not tell of a rumbling just kilometers away. It is lord of them all, overseer of the park; the Murchison Falls!
Complete with a rainbow, the Murchison falls is a proliferate beauty. Imagine this, not one, but two waterfalls in one place all at once. The splendor of it all. A permanent shower atop the falls; a rain of sorts. Even as it humbles into what we would later call the Albert Nile, it does so with a hint of feistiness. Simply put: Murchison Falls is beautiful, the boastful kind. It takes on the role of mother of the park with a showcase like no other. Sadly, as nature goes about its day in this park; hunters chasing their prey, eating and getting eaten, this mother could be under attack. Literally!
A little over 300 kilometers away, in the buzzy city of Kampala, a bid to reduce this untamed falls into a dam was published. The Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA), might have its eye on these waterfalls and the reason; more than 300 megawatts of electricity. Of course, they insist that nothing is on paper yet and that the fury it attracted is uncalled for at this stage. “We wish to clarify to our stakeholders about this notice. ERA has not issued a license for the establishment of a Power Plant at Murchison Falls but received an application for a permit to conduct feasibility studies for a proposed plant near the falls,” they wrote. “The application by the developer is available for viewing. Do not hesitate to contact us for more information or clarity.”
But no, tourism enthusiasts would not have it and promise not to take this in stride. In fact, Amos Wekesa, a man whose passion for the sector remains arguably unmatched, allegedly threatened to go nude should they touch the waterfalls! “We want to destroy every forest, every swamp, every waterfall in our lifetime? Are we the last generation?” Wekesa lamented. “What are we conserving for the next generation? Imagine if our ancestors had destroyed everything?” He couldn’t fathom the selfishness of our generation and has repeatedly pointed it out. “We are living like we are the last generation. Look at how many forests and swamps we have destroyed in just one generation. It is just absurd,” Wekesa emphatically added.
Like many Ugandans, he is also quick to wonder if all this talk about the country having excess electricity and even exporting some should then hold water. “Some say, we have excess power (electricity) and others say 33.4m Ugandans don’t have access to electricity,” he has begun. “If you have excess, why do you want to destroy Murchison falls now?” But do we really have excess?
In an interview with New Vision TV, seasoned business journalist, Paul Busharizi illuminated this discussion. Asked whether we needed the extra 300 megawatts which ERA is considering ploughing Murchison Falls for, Busharizi insisted that we actually need all the power we can get. Drawing his explanation from the National Planning Authority documents, he said that to get to upper-middle-income, which is about $5000 per capita, the country would need about 40.000 megawatts of power.
“On the River Nile, there is about… er… there are sites, the last I heard, all of which can generate up to 4000 megawatts,” Busharizi explained. “So that’s including even Kira, Nalubale and Bujagali and of course Karuma and Simba now,” he said. “But there are other sites, one of them happens to be Murchison falls.” It begs the question, if the Nile, a force to reckon with, can only afford a paltry 4000 megawatts right now, where is the country even going to get the remaining 36000?
While Busharizi respects that getting any extra power is pertinent, he is quick to advise that the argument for the waterfalls shouldn’t be the dollar-for-dollar kind. “I think the argument cannot be that tourism will make more money than power generation, that can’t happen,” he offered. He however is tempted to speak of the spillover, the ripple effect that is, from power, “Right now only 30% of Ugandans have access to power, if you double that number, this country will be totally changed. It will be transformed!”
As tempting as that might sound, Busharizi advised that the country could instead take a stand and choose to preserve the waterfalls. “This is our unique site, we take it away, we will never have another one. You can’t create another one,” he explained. “It’s a beautiful thing to have, it is something that people will come and watch, tour about, and stuff like that.” When it is suggested that the country explore the other sites and only return after Murchison has generated enough forex, Bushariz responds, “Or we can decide as a country that this one is a no-go zone!”
Will Murchison falls solve the 36000 deficit? No! Are we just going to throw this beauty into another one of our wide hovels of deficit? Note that even if the other sites on the Nile could generate almost 3000 megawatts, it still won’t cut it! The answer, many will agree lies in finding alternative sources of power as opposed to destroying the environment. Right?