Damn! Museveni ignores us on dam in Murchison

Sunday December 1 2019


By Bernard Tabaire

It is as if Ugandans never expressed themselves whether a dam should be built over Uhuru Falls, the baby cascade roughly 200 metres north of the mighty Murchison Falls.

The good Ugandan Cabinet led by Mr Yoweri Museveni, elected President of the republic, has just trashed the democratic views of Ugandans, which views oppose the consideration of the very idea of building a dam over Uhuru Falls in Murchison Falls National Park.
Unbridled hubris will one day be the ruin of some.

In June, news emerged that some upstart company from South Africa, a country reeling from rolling electricity cuts, wanted to build a 360-megawatt hydropower station in Uganda’s largest protected area.

Public sentiment was wholly against this patently boneheaded idea. An online petition quickly gathered thousands of signatures. In August, ministers sitting in Cabinet scrapped the whole thing. No feasibility study would even be entertained.
Not too fast, it turns out.

It appears Sabalwanyi Museveni either did not chair the said Cabinet meeting or when he was briefed about the decision of his ministers he did not give it much thought. Now he has. And the evil scheme is back on the grid.

“We have backtracked on an earlier decision where Cabinet had resolved that the feasibility study should not be conducted,” junior Tourism minister Godfrey Kiwanda on Wednesday told — appropriately — a stakeholder conference on the wildlife sector. That is the New Vision reporting. The feasibility study will now go ahead. Nothing is taboo.


That is a problem because, as astute observers of the way Mr Museveni conducts his business noted, the sluice gates are essentially open.
“Once we okay the feasibility study, the debate will shift,” said Dr Simon Nampindo, one of the incredulous attendees at the stakeholder conference that Daily Monitor quoted. “It will be a question of about how we mitigate the negative impacts that come with the development of the dam.”

Dr Nampindo, the director of the Wildlife Conservation Society, added: “This is because it is obvious that if you [do] a feasibility study, it is likely that it will have an economic justification as opposed to the scientific implication.”

See the way Mr Museveni has played the removal of constitutional clauses that would limit how long he rules as President. Whether it was term limit or age limit, the proposals started as outlandish musings. What those who denounced these ideas at the start did not know is that by doing so they were legitimising the issues, making them valid topics of national debate. In the event, there are losers and winners in these debates, never mind the rules. After all it is Mr Museveni and the NRM that decide who wins and who loses these sorts of debates.

In the same way, the feasibility study findings will create a point of national debate. And Mr Museveni and the NRM will decide who wins. The commission agents behind Bonang Power and Energy are odds-on favourites to win. They clearly have friends in high places. To hell with obscurantist environmental and touristic remonstrations! A shilling must be eaten whole.

The only way to stop “Uhuru Dam” is to borrow from the Mabira playbook. I suspect Mr Museveni hasn’t given up on granting the Mehta Group a part of the central forest reserve to grow sugarcane. It is the fiery public protests that put that on hold.

After we have signed yet another petition online, we should march on Parliament. We should go to court. We should strip. We are all Ugandans and Uhuru Falls and the park in which it is located are our common heritage.
Already, drilling for oil in the park is bad enough. Now dams!

By the way, why does the NRM government think development always equals building big new things and not preserving old small ones with inherent value? This is so ignorant a view it beggars belief. Yet you would think bush people would know better.

Let’s have Uganda’s online world have the last word here via Arnold Ongiro (Joshua) (@ArnoldJosh26), who wrote on Twitter late on Thursday: “Even if the fountain of honour claims to be in the know of so much, we have an obligation to question his presumed supreme knowledge, & do everything humanly possible in a bid to hold onto our precious natural resources.” #SaveMurchisonFalls

Bernard Tabaire is a media trainer and commentator on public affairs based in Kampala.