The planned giveaway of Murchison falls for a hydropower dam has sparked online outrage with several Ugandans signing an online petition to block the move which could see the disappearance of a key tourist attraction in the East African nation.
By the time of filing this story, over 4,900 people had signed the online petition and initiated a hashtag #SaveMurchisonFalls to block the plan.
This comes a few months after environmentalists blocked attempts by a private investor to clear part of Bugoma forest in Hoima District to set up a sugar plantation.
In a June 7, 2019 notice, the power regulator, Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA) acknowledges receipt of an application from Bonang Power Energy Limited, a South African energy firm for the generation and sale of power from a plant to be set up near Murchison Falls in Kiryandongo and Nwoya districts.
“The Electricity Regulatory Authority has under section 29 of the Electricity Act 1999, received a notice of intended application for a license from Bonang Power Energy (Pty) Limited for the generation and sale of electricity from a hydro power plant proposed to be established near Murchison Falls, in Kiryandongo and Nwoya 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 is 360 MW,” reads part of the notice.
The generation power will be sold to the Uganda Electricity Transmission Company (UETCL) and fed into the national grid, according to ERA.
The tourist treasure in the middle of the controversy is among the areas American rapper Kanye West and his wife Kim Kardashian visited when they came to Uganda late last year.
On social media, many have come out to call for united voice against the plan with many posting heartfelt messages with beautiful pictures of the falls attached to their posts.
Government is yet to give a response to the above effect. However, ERA on Sunday insisted that it had not issued a license for the establishment of the power plant but instead received an application for a permit to conduct feasibility studies for a proposed plant near the falls.
"The application by the developer is available for viewing. Do not hesitate to contact us for more information or clarity," ERA said in a statement issued on June 9, 2019.
On its website, Bonang says Uganda “seeks to build new hydropower projects at Ayago, Uhuru, Kiba and Murchison Falls and will generate 2,550 MW of electricity…. leading to a more reliable power supply and a key factor of economic development.” Murchison Falls is situated in the Murchison Falls national park in the northern part of the Albertine Rift Valley. It is well known to be one of Uganda’s ancient conservation areas. The park covers an area of about 3,893km2 and it is known to be one of Uganda’s well-protected area. Mr Amos Wekesa, the executive director of Great Lakes Safaris, took to social media to encourage Ugandans to sign the petition, which they said would be delivered to President Museveni. Under the hashtag #SaveMurchisonfFlls, Mr Wekesa implored Ugandans to share their pictures online while at Murchison Falls.
“Those of you, who have been there, know they [Murchison Falls] are a national asset not Wekesa’s or any other tour operators. The government collects all the revenue and if you haven’t been [there], please go and you don’t have to use my company,” Mr Wekesa said.Meanwhile, the petitioner, Mr Amos Murungi, who describes himself as an environmentalist wrote: “The Delta area which forms part of Murchison Falls national park is the best the place to see the rare shoebill stork. A boat cruise to the Delta area where the shoebill is sighted offers great opportunity to see the game as hippos, crocodiles, lots of bird species among others.” Tourism is the highest foreign exchange earner, having raked in $1.37bn last year. The only sector that comes close is diaspora remittances when Ugandans abroad sent in $1.2bn last year. Up to 1.4 million people entered Uganda in 2018. Losing falls is familiar to Ugandans after the construction of Bujagali hydro-power in Jinja saw the disappearance of the Nile Falls in Jinja.