19 June 2019

Uganda: Kadaga Tells Govt to Abandon Murchison Falls Dam Project

The Speaker of Parliament, Ms Rebecca Kadaga, has tasked the government to abandon the proposed construction of a power dam at Murchison Falls in Murchison Falls National Park.

"On behalf of the citizens, I am seeking an assurance from the government that Murchison Falls is not going to be interfered with," she said, joining a chorus of opposition by environmentalists, tourism industry players and State Investment Minister Evelyn Anite.

In a June 7 notice, the power regulator, Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA), acknowledged receipt of an application by Bonang Power Energy Ltd, a South African energy firm, to build a hydropower-dam at Murchison Falls in Murchison Falls National Park in Nwoya and Nakasongola districts.

"Bonang Power Energy (Pty) Limited intends to undertake detailed feasibility studies and other activities leading to the development of the above mentioned power project whose proposed installed capacity [will be] 360-megawatts," the notice read in part.

The publication of the notice sparked outrage from environmentalists and tourism sector participants and prompted an online petition, which more than 8,500 people had signed by last Wednesday, to oppose the proposed dam.

Last weekend, Minister Anite said it was wrong for an investor to eye Murchison Falls to build a dam and asked the government and prospective energy players to explore other undeveloped sites, including those on Ayago River.

The cascading River Nile water that thunders down through a 43-metres deep gorge at Murchison Falls, according to the minister, is a natural splendour and "cash cow for tourism" that should remain untouched.

"I don't see the logic of constructing a dam and generating electricity there," Ms Anite said last Saturday, adding, "I agree with the bigger public opinion that we (government) should not."

Presiding over the plenary yesterday, Speaker Kadaga said the government must respond to the growing opposition to the dam project.

"The country is on tension; the hoteliers are on tension and our tourism industry is under threat, we need early assurance on this issue," she said.

The Tourism minister, Prof Ephraim Kamuntu, in a rejoinder yesterday, said "tourism is the major driver for our economy; our earnings from tourism is far bigger than coffee, tea, cotton and tobacco".

"What has happened so far was just a notice [on intention to develop dam at Murchison Falls]; it is not a project (yet)," he said, saying he had been inundated with petitions against the dam proposal.

The numbers

The number of tourists flocking into Uganda in 2018 increased by 300,000 to 1.4 million from the year before, bringing in millions more dollars, with Murchison Falls National Park being the second biggest contributor to the tourism kitty.

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