The long journey from Source of the Nile to source of dollars

Sunday August 4 2019



Bernard Tabaire

Bernard Tabaire 

By Benard Tabaire

If all that has been said of the Source of the Nile in Jinja had been turned into action, the site would probably be earning Uganda what the entire tourism sector earned in 2018 — a little more than a billion dollars. On the higher side probably, but more talk and more inaction about development of the source is such a bummer.
A small story appeared in the Daily Monitor last Thursday with the headline, “Govt to upgrade Source of the Nile tourism site.” The Nile’s source is probably the most talked about potential tourist hotspot by officialdom in Uganda, but where talk has led to nothing over the years.
Early in 2013, someone named the Source of the Nile one of the seven natural wonders of Africa. The others are the Red Sea Reef, Mt Kilimanjaro, Ngorongoro Crater, Okavango Delta, Sahara Desert, Serengeti Migration — for its annual multimillion wildebeest caravan. (Some day South Sudan may rise from its troubles and credibly lay claim to owning the world’s largest such migration for its elegant white-eared kob — accompanied by the tiang — that treks from Boma National Park into parts of Gambela in Ethiopia and then back).
What is there to wonder about the Nile’s source? Apart from some slight spin of water somewhere in the river, I have never seen a more underwhelming tourist attraction.
The trick, of course, is to create a compelling story around the source and its long river and sell that. Just build it around Busoga (and I suppose Ganda) lore and you are off to the bank.
But what have we heard and had so far? Hot air — call it evaporating water. When the wonders announcement came down, the tourism minister at the time, Maria Mutagamba, promised, according to a Monitor story, that the central government would take over the responsibility of managing the area, taking it away from the local government authorities in Jinja. And there was even a plan to plan a plan titled “Sustainable Development Plan for the Source of the Nile”, which was expected to take effect in the 2013/2014 financial year.
Hats off to our media for repeatedly writing breezy stories that go nowhere. In October 2016, Monitor carried a story with a straightforward introduction that said: “The Mayor of Wuhan City in China, Mr Yong Wan has pledged infrastructural support towards the development and beautification of the source of the Nile River in Jinja Town.”
Everyone loves that source. In September 2018, The Observer gushed: “Imagine having a romantic treat in a luxurious restaurant under the river Nile!
“It may sound like a dream, but thanks to the recent visit of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, such a restaurant will become a reality in a couple of months at the Source of the Nile in Jinja.
“In his address to the Ugandan Parliament on July 25,” The Observer reported, “Modi announced a multi-million dollar project to redevelop the Source of Nile ahead of the 150th birthday of Mahatma Gandhi who led India’s independence struggle.”
In a couple of months.
Back to the Thursday Monitor piece. The eminent member of officialdom quoted is Mr Jimmy Kigozi, the principal tourism development officer in the ministry of Tourism. He said that a master plan (it is rarely just a plain plan with government things) is ready for the development of tourist sites on both the Jinja and Njeru sides of the Source of the Nile.
Strategic Friends International, whom you may have heard about regarding the resettlement of people from the oil refinery area and other such undertakings, is the one that has designed the 20-year plan. The artistic impressions of the area on their website are interesting.
As with many stories, this one says nothing about the cost or even implementation phases. I trust we are not waiting on the men from the East: Mr Wan or Mr Modi.
It was encouraging, however, that the tourism sector budget rose dramatically in the current budget to Shs193.7 billion, up from Shs32 billion the previous financial year. That’s an impressive demonstration of intent. And maybe the source of one of the world’s longest rivers may finally prove to be the source of some serious dollars.
Fingers and toes curled.