About twenty civil society organisations (CSOs) keen on environmental matters in Uganda have appealed to President Yoweri Museveni to declare that no dam will be built at Murchison Falls or any other place in Murchison Falls National Park which is a great tourist attraction.
“Your Excellency, you should address the country and commit that your government will never build a dam at Murchison Falls and or allow any other harmful activities in the Murchison Falls landscape,” they said in an open letter to the president, adding that only his word can be trusted by Ugandans.
This follows recent revelation that government okayed South African energy firm Bonang Power and Energy to carry out a feasibility study in the contested spot to see if a hydropower dam can be built there.
The CSOs in their letter want Museveni’s government to cancel the contract for a feasibility study as well, thus if it has been reached.
“In view of the fact that ERA had already invited the public to comment on Bonang’s application for a feasibility study for the proposed dam, we call on you and your government to cancel any undertakings with Bonang Power and Energy to avoid future legal liabilities that may be used as an excuse by government to change positions to allow a dam to be built at the Murchison Falls.”
The activists instead urge government to invest the resources that would have been spent on the dam into clean renewable energy “especially off grid solar that can meet the needs of poor and vulnerable groups such as women, youth, rural communities and others.”
In September 2019, the Minister for Tourism, Ephraim Kamuntu, indicated that cabinet had agreed to instruct the Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA) to stop the feasibility processes by Bonang Power and Energy that preluded construction of a dam at Murchison Falls. This followed a call by ERA in June 2019 to interested stakeholders to submit comments on an application by Bonang Power and Energy to undertake feasibility studies for construction of a dam at Murchison Falls.
There was a huge public outcry against the planned feasibility studies. This prompted Kamuntu to make the aforementioned cabinet pronouncement. However, the minister did not provide information as to whether the instructions to ERA to stop the feasibility processes were a government commitment or a mere statement that can be changed any time. As a result, Ugandans and all those who love nature continue to live in fear of the plans to develop a dam at the Murchison and Uhuru Falls.
The economic value of Murchison Falls landscape is a God-given gift to Uganda and should be protected, they say.
The 2017 study conducted by NEMA with support from UNDP on the economic value of the Murchison Falls conservation area and Budongo forest clearly indicates that the economic value of the above ecosystems is over USD 60 (Shs114 billion).
The environmental activists say that the biodiversity values are benefits in perpetuity and are enjoyed by the majority equitably. This is unlike the benefits that will be enjoyed from the proposed dam and or oil developments.
“As you are well aware Your Excellency, todate, only over 20% of Ugandans have access to electricity despite huge investments being made in the sector. To make matters worse, over 90% of Ugandans still depend on biomass to meet their cooking energy needs because electricity is unaffordable.”
The Murchison Falls remain one of the most iconic tourist attractions and it is the reason why the Murchison Falls landscape has been attracting some of the highest numbers of tourists in the country. This means that the falls contributed to the above tourism earnings. No serious country committed to equitable development would destroy such a vital tourism asset in exchange for electricity, they say.
Some of the CSOs that have petitioned Museveni are; Oil Refinery Residents Association (ORRA),
Citizens Concern Africa (CICOA), Action Coalition on Climate Change (ACCC), Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO, South Western Institute for Policy and Advocacy (SOWIPA) and Action Coalition on Climate Change (ACCC).