Time check 8am. I am having breakfast at Café, a White man walks to me and asks, “are you a lawyer?” With less anxiety being a question I am accustomed to, I reply “yes sir, how can I assist you?” And formal introductions ensue.
After a cursory discussion on Uganda’s legal system, the White man asks: “How much would an hour of your time cost?” I reply “as long as my plate is full I won’t charge a penny.” He sits and says “then I will cover the cheque,” thank you.
Counsel, he says, I am a tourist who often comes to Uganda because of the amazing weather, scenery and the game parks with a vast variety of wild life, as he affirms “it is indeed the ‘Pearl of Africa’ and Winston Churchill was right.”
Accentuated by his statement, I inform him of tour and travel companies to assist him around the Pearl of Africa. He quickly responds: “I have one I book with”.
Suddenly with an explosive sight burning with inquisition, he asks: “Have you been to Murchison Falls National Park?” I quickly reply “it is on my bucket list.”
With a smile, he says “put it at the top of your bucket list!” Intrigued and befuddled by his statement, I ignore my breakfast and sip my coffee as I think through his statement. I ask: “What is the White man planning after naming our national park with their names, should we worry about travelling to Europe to visit our national parks, or?”
In sheer astonishment, he says: “We named it?”. I realise I have to preach and market the Pearl of Africa as a patriot. Jokingly, I say: “It’s time we negotiate my cheque”. He replies: “Knowledge is power and a fair price deserves”.
We laugh it off, I inform him it is formerly known as Kabalega National Park and later named by Sir Samuel Baker, a British explorer after a geologist Roderick Murchison, president of the Royal Geographical Society then.
John Speke and James Grant were among the first Europeans to visit the falls in 1862. In 1926, it was a game reserve and covered an area of about 3,893 square kilometres and with the Falls, the total coverage area is about 5,072 square kilometres.
Winston Churchill visited it in 1907 and other British royals and movies had been shot there in the early 1950s include African Queen movie.
He asks: “How do you know all this? and not visit it?” I smile and say “it is public knowledge, vital to legal trade”
In a mild tone, I ask: “Why should visiting Murchison Falls National Park be top of my bucket list?” He replies: “The Park and the Falls maybe no more.” He shows me a newspaper with a notice of intended application for licences by Electricity Regulatory Authority for a hydropower dam project on River Victoria - Nile.
I read it and the expression on my face changes, as he asks: “I thought lawyers know all?”. I reply with a tone of grief: “We are learned friends, but only God can be all knowing”. I inform him “I feel like I have been beaten by a black mamba and this “application for licences” is sinking in like venom.
Counsel, he asks: “What does tourism contribute to Uganda’s economy?” I lightly reply that that is classified Information.
Tourism sector in Uganda contributes about $1.5 billion. In total, its equivalent Is just about or more than Shs6 trillion.
In the national Budget for the Financial Year 2019/2020, the government has allocated about Shs157 billion to tourism. He laughs with amusement and says “Uganda is a household with optical gold, and no effort dedicated to mine it!”
He proceeds and says: “Natures beauty is for generations rather conserve for all, it is a pay cheque and people travel from all over the world to come and have glimpse of this beauty at a hefty price”.
He concludes and says: “Justice is for all whether lands, birds and wildlife that speak in a tongue we do not understand, we are their voice, the government should find a balance for increasing population, technology and the ecosystems”.
My time is up, he says, “remember tourism is the most sustainable industry, which shall feed your economy for generations.”
In the equanimity of what is good or bad, I think to myself, a White man loves Uganda more than any of us. As I pondered on how to save the Pearl of Africa, for first it’s allowing the hydro power project at the falls and next thing de-gazetting the area covered by national parks.
I hear the thunderous falls singing there are other alternatives to hydro power like bio-gas, solar and nuclear energy. Let’s save our heritage and conserve for future generations.
Mr Owoko is a lawyer.