Bujagali: Remembering Rippon Falls
As Ugandans around the world silently await the destruction of yet more of Uganda's ecology by the hands of our government, Henry Kiiwa Musoke speaks up and hopes to save Bujagali from corporate greed. Just like the Rippon Falls before it, Bujagali Falls will soon cease to exist.
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First published: July 30, 2005
A good number of us, Ugandans, do not have any idea what “Rippon Falls” is- or was for that matter. We have no idea what kind of beautiful scenery this area of Uganda was. We cannot fathom why, in the 19th century, it was this that brought Speke, and hundreds of others immediately after him, to this heart of Africa that was so hidden from, and yet sought by, the rest of the world. As these explorers gasped at its magnificence, the Rippon Falls was simply a neighbor in our midst, some backdrop to our daily lives. Now this neighbor no longer exists, as the Rippon Falls, once known as the Source of the Nile, once the source to the longest river in the world as it left from Lake Victoria on its way to Egypt, is submerged by something we are more familiar with- the Owen Falls Dam.
Before being fully drowned: Rippon Falls in the early 1950s just after construction of Owen Falls Dam. Much of what you see here is now submerged.
The destruction of the Rippon Falls and the ugly, rusty, aging concrete monster left behind can almost be forgiven to lessons from the past. During the 1940s, there was a growing move towards huge HEP plants in all corners of the world. But that was more than half a century ago and many lessons have since been learned, and the rest of the world has come up with solutions that have less of an impact on a region’s ecology.
About ten kilometers away from the buried Rippon Falls, is a still vibrant cousin. The Bujagali Falls are not so high of a drop but the enormous volumes of water, passing through with enough speed that the waters become white, make these rapids a site to see. Bujagali, whose banks are adorned with unique carpets of vegetation and life, has a lot to offer. Hundreds of tourists flock here as nature lovers, to see unseen varieties of birds and plants, as well as to do some intense white water rafting.
All this is known by the World Bank and the Ugandan Government as they move ahead with plans to build a 200-megawatt dam near Bujagali. They know very well what happened to Rippon Falls and they are well aware of the future of Bujagali Falls, if they continue with their plans. They have ignored all other sources of energy and alternatives to large dams, choosing to emphasize on Uganda’s desperate need for energy. They are well aware that a good number of us still use charcoal to cook even when availed with electricity in our homes. So where is this huge demand?
Uganda has no major thriving big city that warrants a continuous and deliberate destruction of our ecology to meet energy needs. What is abundant in Uganda is a good number of corrupt government officials collaborating with the less obvious but even more corrupt officials from agencies in Kampala, working for groups such as the World Bank.
The world already knows how corrupt African government officials are. What they need to look at is what often feeds that corruption. Surprisingly this corruption is initiated and fanned by the donors themselves under the veil of giving aid. Away from the checks and balances of western-like information hungry media, good record-keeping and much more, these officers get away with a lot when they are in Africa acting as distributors and financial controllers of the aid. Then there are those donors from country A that give aid, which the rest of us call LOANS, to African governments so that these governments can pay a particular company in country A to come to Africa and complete a lucrative contract such as building a huge dam. To make sure the right company gets the contract, bribes are exchanged and so on. No one is watching them in Africa where record keeping documents are so easily forged.
Why the World Bank insists on a project that many everyday Ugandans are clearly against is puzzling. Any Ugandan who knows their economy would tell you that they need the tourist more than the electricity, which is so disorganized in its distribution that it has become too expensive for a good majority of Ugandans. Ugandans have lived with power cuts for years and should be able to wait a little longer for better and less grandeur solutions.
There is actually now a thriving economy in Uganda that lives off of power cuts making it almost okay to be without power. For example, many Kampalans remain in town after work, when they know it is their turn for the lights to go out at their places of residence. Apart from improving people’s social skills of interaction without computers or television sets, this has provided good revenue for many bars, restaurants and hang outs that Kampala now has an extremely busy nightlife. One cannot be bored in Kampala when the sun goes down, any day of the week.
Unfortunately, it seems, our governments are still colonized, and the ordinary Africans are never well represented in these chess games with the West.
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First published: July 30, 2005
He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.